Thursday, December 31, 2009

Building a Multi Purpose Test Track

Being Thursday and the second last day of my days off work (where did the time go) I thought I'd better do something constructive otherwise I'd regret it once I got back to work next week.

I've been wanting to have a little test bench with some track and points for a while, and figured this is as good a project as any to do over the last few days of the holidays. It's a simple job, a piece of 1,200mm long laminated board, a pair of points, two parallel tracks and a few bits of wire. Sounds simple enough and should only take a couple of hours I figured.

Well, probably six or seven hours later and it's still not finished, but is at least working in a sense of the word. 3803 runs happily back and forth through the points and along both tracks, crossing over from one to the other without stalling, derailing or shorting out, which means that a. the track work of the points is to a reasonable standard, b. I got all of the isolating cuts in the pcb sleepers in the right spot, and c. I managed to wire up the point switches and feeder wires the correct way.

Except that is, for one set of feeders which I wired to the rails the wrong way around (they looked right when the track was upside down!), although this unintentionally tested out the globe used to show if there were any shorts, as it shone brightly upon switching the track power on. I've read much debate about using globes as a short circuit detection and protection device, but in this case it worked fine and within a split second I knew I had a problem.

Mounted to one end of the board is the Power Cab panel, and wired between it and the main bus wires is a switch to allow for quickly cutting power to the track if need be. The wire was all stuff I had laying about. The bus wires are probably thinner than what you'd use on a layout, the feeder wires to the track are probably too big, and the wires from the bus to the point switches is very fine and possible too small for the job, although having said that it all works ok!

Still to be added are some brackets to hold the point switches firmly in place, Kadee coupler height gauges added to the end of each bit of track, one pair with the good old No.5 couplers and one par with the finer No.78 couplers. I also want to add some under track magnets to test that the couplers are uncoupling as they should, and having this little test track will also enable me to experiment with some other ideas I have as well. One of the long ends of track may also be raised sightly at the end to test that rolling stock does roll freely enough on a given grade.

The length is just long enough for a Garratt to clear the point blades on the short side of the points, and
a 38 and a four wheel RU hopper also fit meaning that some simple shunting, coupling and uncoupling between a loco and a piece of rolling stock can be done. Having the two tracks parallel will also allow speed matching at low speeds to be done relatively easily.

Overall it's been a good little exercise though. I've learnt that a couple of ideas I had don't work as well in practice as they do in theory, and it has pointed out some ways in which I can do things a bit quicker the next time around. It's also shown that have managed to make a huge mess of the bench in a very short time, and this is something I need to work on improving as well!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Modeling Nook and Reminiscing

With Christmas out of the way, and a couple of weeks rest for the injured toe, I've got back into sorting out the modeling nook, previously known as the spare room wardrobe. It's a little odd in its design, due mainly to my use of existing items laying about, but it works.

There's a set of three drawers on the bottom, of decent size and perfect for keeping all those accumulated modeling projects. The "priority drawer" has a Lloyds 421 Class diesel and three Hanovale GHG Brake Vans in it. These are things that I must get to sooner rather than later!

Another drawer is full of paints and painting oriented items, and it's good to have them all accessible and in the one spot. The other drawer if full of older and odd rolling stock that doesn't have a box so is best kept in a drawer to keep them safe and free of dust.

On top of the three drawers, is an old desk with two drawers side by side and the legs removed. It's the old type where the legs just screw on so no harm was done removing them. This given the final desk top the correct height and a couple more drawers to put things in.

On top of that is the old trestle table
that I cut down so it is a neat fit inside the modeling nook. This is important so that no items can roll off the sides or back and disappear never to be seen again. Hinged off the front of this is another piece of the old trestle table top (the item responsible for the smashed toe! ) which gives me an extra area to work on, and when not is use it simply folds down to allow the nook doors to be closed.

On the desk are three multi compartment storage thingies contain various nuts and bolts, couplers, track gauges, switches, rail joiners, thumb tacks, reed switches, micro switches, motors and all manner of items that I think will come in handy for modeling jobs.

On top of these is another length of timber, where the "fast moving projects" will sit. Hopefully having the things I am part way through doing out in the open will make sure they don't get forgotten, and when I can't fit any more on that shelf it's time to finish something before starting something else.

There's still a lot more to do, lots more shelves to put in, and apart from the desk top and what's below it everything else may change over time as ideas come to mind. But for now, it's great to have somewhere permanent to work on things, and I even manages to get some more work on some points done that will be used on a simple test track that will have Kadee height gauges, uncoupling magnets and a slight graded section, all for testing rolling stock in one way or another upon.

Amongst moving things around I opened a box containing some rolling stock I built when I was in my mid teens in the mid 80's. An AR Kits GLX louvre van in blue, BDX open wagon in dark grey/black, MLE flat wagon in dark grey with sort of timber coloured decking timbers, and two Trax MRC refrigerated wagons.

It was abit like opening a time capsule looking at these models again. None are masterpieces by any stretch, but each had something that shows that even as a young'n, I had a bit of an eye for detail of sorts and tried to make things look as good as possible with what skills and materials I had at the time.

The MLE has the deck painted in timber colours rather than just grey, and even though I don't remember doing it, it's something that I wanted to do to the Austrains FME's I bought recently to replicate the prototype better. Obviously even back then I had the same idea!

One of the MRC's has had masking tape added to the roof to simulate the malthoid sometimes used on the real thing. I remember building these two MRC's at school during the last couple of weeks when we had activities rather than schooling. One of the teachers had a modeling class for the two weeks which was a good time to use to build these two.

The problem I have with these five models is that with a little work they could be made into quite respectable models, but then as they are they are kind of like a reminder of my early days in the hobby and a yardstick of my skill levels back then. In some ways I think they should be left as is and not improved upon, as they do bring back some fond memories from that time of my life.

Hopefully over the next few days I'll get some more stuff done before going back to work on the 4th of January 2010.

On that note, I'd like to wish you all a very Happy New Year, and I hope that 2010 is a safe and prosperous year for everyone.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


I'd like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and I hope that Santa has had the elves working on plenty of model train stuff for everyone who's been good.

And hey, even those who've been bad will still get some coal, which is handy if you happen model steam!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Safety First People!

If only I had heeded this advice!

Sunday was a lovely day for working both in and out doors. So I thought I'd get to work and make the bench top for inside the wardrobe, which will be referred to as the modeling nook from here on in.

I had a large trestle table top in the garage made from some seriously thick ply of some description, which I thought would be an excellent piece to make my desk top out of.

So after measuring the space it was to fit, I set the table top up on three saw horses, carefully marked where it needed to be cut for length, set up the guide for the circular saw, made sure the bit being cut off was supported by the third saw horse, checked the floor to make sure there was nothing to trip over, made sure the power cord was behind me, checked my surroundings for anything that might be a problem, and begun to cut through the table.

Now as I was setting this all up, I thought to myself that I really should put some shoes on. I'm one of those that loves to walk around the house barefoot and typically only wears shoes when venturing out in public to the shops and what not. But seeing as how the garage floor is always swept clean and there is nothing to injure my feet on typically the garage is a shoe free zone.

So anyway, as the circular saw cut through the last milimetre of the table, the end removed proved not to be as balanced as I had predicted, and preceded to drop quickly and surely to the ground, rotating so that its edge was at approx 90 degrees to the ground just before it reached it. Unfortunately my big toe on my left foot was in the path of this piece, which is about 1,000mm x 400mm give or take, and quite weighty.

It landed sqaure across the nail, which immediately began to bleed rather profusely, and my initial thought was that I had broken it. I managed to hobble back up to the house and yelled for some help. My wife came to the rescue with a towel and some ice, and after a few minutes of sitting quietly I came to the conclusion that it's probably not broken, but by the same token is not in real good shape. I like putting pictures on my blog but I'm sure nobody wants to see a pictorial version of these events!

So for the rest fo the day I sat on the lounge, foot elevated, cursing myself for not listening to that little voice inside my head, which obviously knew that things were going to go bad. Needless to say I didn't get any more work done.

So if nothing else, let my pain be your gain, and please, take care when doing any jobs around the house. Take that extra few minutes to make sure you have your shoes, your safety glasses, gloves or whatever else you need to ensure you get done what you want or need to without putting yourself in danger and injuring yourself.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Getting Into The Closet!

Things are still progressing steadily on the spare room layout. I've got the week after Christmas off so I'm trying to get a lot of the tedious stuff out of the way, and hopefully the weeks holidays can see some real progress made. The aim is to at least have some track laid by the end of the week off and have run a train, however this may be a little optimistic.

As previously mentioned the corner units were made and mounted, and the centre module has been built and mounted as well. I used some small pieces of aluminium angle to join the modules together as they each step up (or down) from one another, and this proved to be an easy, simple, light and effective way to do it. Down the track I may have a better idea but this works for now.

The fascia boards of the corner units will curve around with approximately a 650mm radius, and with the track being around 70-80mm away from the edge, I should end up with a minimum track radius of about 740mm (about 29") on the layout which is fairly good considering the overall size restrictions. Fascia boards top and bottom are going to be painted black, and all going well, the following link shows the effect I am aiming for, although I do not with to insinuate that my modeling skills are equal to this ........

As well as getting some more module work done, I decided that if I was going to turn the wardrobe into a built in modeling nook, I really should give it a nice fresh coat of white paint before I start putting a desk, shelving, layout modules etc in there. After taking a shortcut and not masking the cornices when I painted the room I got a little yellow paint on them, so I figured why not just do the wardrobe in ceiling white, and what's left over I can touch up the cornices with. I'm nothing if not budget conscious and if I can make something dual purpose then all the better.

With a fresh couple of coats of white on the walls and ceiling it's certainly a lot neater, and much brighter in there as well which is handy. I had contemplated not bothering doing it but I'm glad I did and now think I would have seriously regretted not doing it. Definitely another case of taking a bit longer, spending a little more, and doing it right the first time.

The only thing that's had me a little bit puzzled was how was I going to run the top and bottom deck of the layout into the wardrobe, with the small problem of there being a door in the way? I considered cutting two tunnel sized openings in the door, but then realised that to open the door up, they'd need to be quite wide as once the angle of the door increased the track wouldn't fit through it, so that idea was out. The other option was to simply remove the door, but then you'd be able to see everything on the modeling desk, which knowing me will quite often be in a mess! Being that the room is still the spare/guest room, a degree of neatness needs to be adhered to.

So after contemplating the problem for a few day I hit on a solution. What if I unhinged the left hand door that was the problem, and instead of it being hinged to the frame around the wardrobe, hinge it off the other door, creating a single folding door that once open takes up almost no more room than the single right hand door takes up anyway. The doors are hollow so are not particularly heavy, so a decent length piano hinge should do the job.

So off to the local hardware store I went, and upon finding the hinge section, was slightly put off by the price of piano hinges. $49.00 for a 914mm piano hinge wasn't absurdly expensive, however I didn't think one would be enough to hold a full door. 600mm ones were about $29.00 but once again I'd need two so would still be up for about $60.00. There were some 1,800mm ones there which were perfect, but I was scared to look at the price.

After finding the hook they should have been hanging on instead of just laying against the wall, I was slightly confused to see it was priced at $19.50. Less than the 600mm ones and less than half the price of the 914mm ones. So I walked up to the counter and asked the guy if he could just check the price first, and after scanning it it came up $19.50. He couldn't explain why these ones were so cheap compared to the shorter ones, but kindly offered to charge me a lot more for the one I had if it made me feel better about it all!

Once home, the left door was removed, the piano hinge mounted to the right hand door with half a dozed screws initially, and the other door was lined up and also attached with about half a dozen screws to make sure it all lined up and opened and closed like it should. Once that all seemed ok, it was on with drilling the rest of the 72 1mm pilot holes needed in total for all of the screws! Thank goodness for cordless drills is all I can say!

So I now have a pair of doors that still look exactly the same, take up barely anymore room than one door when open, and it will be a lot easier to get trains into the wardrobe now. All I will need is a couple of 100 - 150mm lift out sections that can be removed to close the doors, and replaced when the doors are open if I want to run trains into the wardrobe branch, which is not necessary anyway. I will rig up some form of micro switch that kills track power around the bridge sections so that no trains take the sharp 90 degree turn towards the floor if the lift out sections are not in place.

All going to plan I'll get some more module work done this weekend and progress will continue at a steady rate.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Getting Cornered

Steady rather than startling best describes progress on the spare room layout at the moment. The thing that had me a little puzzled for a while was exactly how I was going to attack the corner modules. Not that there is anything tricky about them, but sometimes you just can't quite figure out the best way to go about it.

So, instead of mucking about with bits of wood, trying to place them in situ, arranging and rearranging to no real avail, I went back to the old grid paper, pencil and ruler and within a couple of minutes it was all clear.

So armed with a drawing and some timber, I went down to the garage and knocked up the first corner module. The funny thing is, I was very careful to make sure everything was square and straight, as it should be, but was a little disappointed to find that it didn't fit squarely and evenly against the wall? I rechecked it and it all appeared ok, but then I thought I'd check the wall. Lets just say that the walls are not quite as square or as straight as I thought they would be! In any case we are only talking about a few millimeters and in the end it won't make any real difference.

So armed with one module it was easy enough to simply copy it to make the second one, and after a bit of fiddling with heights they are now basically mounted in each corner. All I know have to do is figure out how to make the second level of the right hand corner which still has me a little stumped. Maybe I need to get the pencil and paper out again!

For those interested in the details, the timber is around 40x19mm pine, the corner module is 850mm in each direction, the width where the base will go is 200mm, and the diagonal brace will allow a smooth transition of the front fascia which will curve around on about a 700mm radius, with the centre of the diagonal brace supporting that curving fascia and baseboard.

I've also put together the module that runs between the two corners, and now just have to decide the method of joining them together so it's strong, will always join in perfect alignment, is simple and reliable. The challenge being that none of the corner modules are at the same height as the wall modules due to the track climbing across the back wall in both directions.