To build a reasonably quick, stand alone layout that works....
Use as a challenge for a post retirement project, to build a complete model.
Should fit in the back of a Peugeot 107.
Use available locos and rolling stock â€“ therefore EM gauge.
A small goods yard, recycling some of the backscene from Cardinal's Wharf.
Research for an appropriate track plan resulted in the study of some of the designs on the micro-layout website run by the late Carl Arndt.
In an effort to maximise the operating variations that could be included, the â€œmicroâ€ designation has probably been exceeded, since the visible area will be 48â€ by 18â€, with a fiddle yard at either end (cribbed from a layout featured in RM for Jan/Feb 2009 â€“ sorry I cannot remember the name to give it due credit). Assuming a standard wagon length of 3â€, the layout has been designed to handle blocks of three wagons.
Start of work around the end of October 2010
As a review of the concept, a full size plan (actually a piece of expanded polystyrene) was presented to the collective wisdom of a meeting of the North West Somerset EM Gauge Society Area Group (or NWSEMGSAG for short). Amongst the suggestions received, the following have been adopted.
- operation from the front, so that you can actually enjoy the layout yourself
- 3 link couplings. I had a wish for automatic operation but was talked into continuing with 3 links, which appealed to my lazy streak. I may regret this.
First step has been to work out the critical section of pointwork where four turnouts overlap. This has been designed the old-fashioned way, using a series of templates, stitched together with sellotape. These were then stuck to a piece of conti-board as a work bench. Materials were obtained during a brief wallet emptying encounter with C & L. Three turnouts have been made from scratch and two have been salvaged from the previous layout, Cardinal's Wharf. Not investing in Templot probably made this process more difficult than it need have been, as did the use of salvage material.
In parallel, the raw materials for the base board had been bought, exercising my newly acquired membership of the B & Q Diamond Club! An insulation batt for the foundation and some ply for the ends, back and front. Legs are some trestles which again have been salvaged from Cardinal's Wharf. Ends and back have been glued and screwed together around the base to provide some (limited) rigidity at this stage. For the moment, the front has been left off, until it is clearer how large the aperture can be. This means that the base, ends and back tend to wave in the breeze a bit.
Bringing the baseboard and trackwork together begins to give an idea of how it will look (nothing much but turnouts). I have also stripped some of the low relief buildings from the industrial end of Cardinal's Wharf and set them in position to get an idea of what else will need to be built. I think I am short of about 18â€ of low relief background and the balance of the layout means that I will need something in the left foreground, both to balance the Langley low relief warehouse at the back, right-hand corner and to act as a view blocker for the hole in the sky at the left hand end where trains will enter the fiddle yard. A bit of research will be required to find a suitable, decrepit warehouse that will fit the space. Further development has demonstrated that the space within the warehouse will be needed to house the ends of the turnout actuators and other assorted plumbing and wiring.
By about Christmas 2010
With the main track in place, I turned to wiring and turnout actuation. I had decided on manual actuation (wire in tube) at the outset but had not figured out exactly how this would be installed. There was no going back to a nice set of Tortoises, as the baseboard construction left no space for dangly point motors. First thought was to build straight runs down the front edge of the layout, with angle cranks turning the motion through 90 degrees to where it was needed. However, the idea of burying mechanical linkages under scenery, resulting in major excavation if anything went wrong, seemed to tempt fate unnecessarily. After testing the collective wisdom of RM Web (particular thanks to Scotcent), I was reassured that wire in tube would survive 90 degree curved corners (although obviously not right angles) and so that is how four of the turnouts are driven, with wiring from simple DPDT switches that were salvaged from Cardinal's Wharf. The fifth is more of a challenge as it forms the far end of a crossover linked to one of the others, and I wanted the two to act simultaneously. When you think about it (which I did rather too late in the proceedings) this means that one has to push while the other pulls. Either you need to link the turnout from the opposite side (which means the wire in tube does an S curve under all the other turnouts) , or it has to turn through 270 degrees â€“ or you need a mechanical link to reverse the thrust. I opted for the latter; it may not be pretty but it does seem to work and it is accessible (under the future warehouse) should anything need attention.
The wiring was done in odd moments over Christmas and New Year (in between ministering to the various family visitors who all arrived sick) and was slow and painstaking. It did, however, work second go â€“ I spotted that I had missed out a link on the common return on the first attempt.
As a final step, I cleaned up the wiring so that it looks a bit more organised than the knitting shown in the photo.
New Year 2011
I may have finished with the main baseboard, but there was still the small matter of the outriggers for the two fiddle yards. This has meant building some longer bearers to link the two trestles and to design an arrangement that will fold up with minimal effect on the overall envelope of the basic â€œcoffinâ€ when it is packed to go in the car. This in turn has required some work on the entry/exit arrangements and the transition to the casettes in the fiddle yards. Using a casette made from the same materials as I have bought for Cardinal's Wharf (B&Q strip wood and aluminium angle), the height of the outriggers has been adjusted mainly by trial and error. They are hinged on wooden blocks so that they stand out very slightly from the end of the main board and thereby leave space for the chocolate block wiring at the control end. The chain is not intended to take any serious weight, but rather to limit an uncontrolled descent, while the main support comes from a couple of hinged ply sections that sit between the fiddle yard and the bearer. Again, trial and error is a wonderful thing â€“ and â€œnoâ€ they are not the same depth!
With trackwork in place end to end, the next step was to see whether a loco would run through it all. At this point, my smug satisfaction with the wiring evaporated as it became clear that I had cunningly designed a short circuit into the system. Yes: the green light on the Gaugemaster handheld controller glows green when the power is on, but it takes a couple of moments to cut out and I had clearly not been waiting long enough.
At this point, I was diverted away from the layout and became embroiled in the construction of my first etched loco kit, which is a story recorded elsewhere.
Having finished with the construction of Washington, I moved back to the layout â€“ with attention concentrated by having volunteered to host a joint meeting of the local EM and Scale 4 groups. A heavy cold and some wet weather provided the ideal opportunity to settle down and chase through some of the lumps and bumps in the trackwork. I ran all the locos that are reliable runners through the turnouts to identify where any derailed or hesitated. The first lesson was that most of them needed to have their wheels cleaned and the track needed a good scrub. This reduced the hesitation quite considerably, leaving odd areas where the track was fractionally out of gauge or a corner had tightened slightly. I also took the opportunity to sort one or two small glitches in a couple of the chassis.
Unfortunately, the short circuit remained â€“ despite my best efforts to track it down and, again, frustration resulted in a further diversion onto another project, which was written up as The Tail of a Terrier, resulting in the addition of Wandle to the collection of available locos. Successive attempts to identify the source of the short were unsuccessful, so that work began on a further Terrier, to be produced with a split frame chassis. This reached the point where the frustration with the split frame arrangements exceeded the frustration with the short circuit, so that I had yet another go at tracking the short.
- revisited the design of the circuit and convinced myself that the logic worked and
- suspected a faulty switch, taken apart the wiring and replaced the switch (which, with hindsight, was perfectly serviceable until I had to remove it rather brutally) and
- rewired the feed so that it came directly from the controller, rather than being daisy
chained from another switch
- I finally had the light bulb moment.
The turnouts are operated by wire in tube. The wires therefore assume the polarity of the rail to which they are directly attached. At the switch end, two adjacent omega loops have opposite polarities. When switched in a particular combination, the omega loops touch, thereby creating the short.
I think I have finally found it and I may also have invented a new way to create a short circuit.
At this point, I decided that I had put off a decision on couplings for long enough. My original plan (following the advice from my NWSEMGSAG colleagues) had been to use three link and play around with a shunterâ€™s pole. But the experience of coupling and uncoupling, while I tested the track and tried out some of the operational moves, convinced me that I needed to try an automatic coupling. After some thought, I opted for Alex Jacksons and mapped out where magnets and electromagnets need to be planted. I suppose it should have been obvious, but the magnets require a passing contact delivering 12v dc, while the spare output on the transformer delivered 18v ac. A helpful suggestion from this list pointed out that most of us have a boxful of spare transformers that deliver a range of voltages for charging mobile phones and any number of other electronic devices around the house; inevitably, one fitted. Problem solved.
Nonetheless, there was a certain appeal in reducing the number of mains plugs to be supported and there was an available output from the transformer. Advice from 51A Models, who had provided the electromagnets, was to wire a bridge rectifier into the circuit and this seems to have worked. This was therefore adopted as the preferred solution.
I am afraid that the fiddliness of the AJs resulted in yet another diversion back onto the split frame Terrier chassis, getting it to the stage of motor, gearbox and wheels in place, but still with something fundamentally wrong. It came close to being dropkicked over the back hedge into the field of bullocks but, by a hairâ€™s breadth, lived to fight another day. However, another loco project beckoned, so Christmas 2011 came and went with little more to show in the way of progress. But persistence pays dividends and the jigs, that had been bought in Autumn 2011, were finally tried out, resulting in some couplings for some of the rolling stock destined for the layout. Couplings were fitted to both ends of the brake vans and to the outer ends of the three wagon rakes. Seeing the couplings doing what they were meant to do over the magnets provided the necessary morale boost to get a reasonable sample of rolling stock fitted.
With the winter loco project out of the way, there was little excuse to go on avoiding the AJs. But despite much twiddling, I struggled to get reasonable performance. Hosting another meeting of the NWSEMGSAG provided some useful suggestions for improving my installation of the couplings, but it was the consistent derailing, when wagons were being pushed, that began to suggest that AJs were not the right answer for Vintnerâ€™s Yard. I thought hard about changing to Sprat and Winkle and it was only the sight of a box of samples that someone else had rejected, and trying to visualise how they would fit on some of my rolling stock, which put me off starting again. A flippant remark on this list prompted me to think again about what was causing the derailments. Rather than blaming the swing resulting from the bunker overhang of my two smoothest running shunting locos, I measured up the buffer spacing on some of the dumb buffered wagons and discovered that the gap between the inside faces was rather larger than on wagons with new fangled sprung buffers. In other words, I was living with the consequences of a decision taken by the pattern maker for Woodham Wagon Works some 20 years ago! However, at least now understanding the cause of the problem, it was possible to cobble up some kind of a fix. In the meantime I was making great progress on the Stroudley block set, which was the current fall-back project - not that an 8 coach passenger train was going to be much use on a 4 foot long goods yard!
The solution adopted was to add a bent wire arrangement under the buffer beam, with lengths of wire protruding forward and rising vertically just inside the buffer face. This then allows them to be adjusted so that they sit far enough inside the buffer to avoid locking on the sharpest curve. The metal was darkened with gun blue so that it is as unobtrusive as possible â€“ and, in any event, less obtrusive than a Sprat or a Winkle.
This may seem like a very long first instalment, with relatively little to show for the layout â€“ other than 4 feet of over-complex trackwork. However, the point of going into print at this stage is that I feel that I have finally beaten all the â€œoperationalâ€ bits into submission and â€œonlyâ€ the pretty bits are left. Therefore I hope that there is less chance that this will be one of those threads that starts describing a planned layout - and then slowly runs into the sand as the practical problems emerge. After 20 months work (on and off), I would like to think that there will be slightly more visible progress and, although it may all happen more slowly than I would like, the rest should all be do-able â€¦â€¦ famous last words.