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For One Night Only...




Blacklade had its first tentative public appearance a few weeks back, when I took it along to the CMRA Workshop event as a display item. It's been taken along to a society area group meeting twice, but this was the first time it had gone into the wider world.


Chiltern Model Railway Association is the federation of model railway clubs and societies in the South East of England and beyond (Indeed over the last few years they've picked up members well into the North of England, and seem to be growing into the nearest thing to a national association of clubs we have.) As well as organising the St Albans exhibition each year in January, for a good few years they've run an event for members of CMRA clubs at Watford in July. Essentially it's a bit like the demonstrators section of an exhibition - except that there is no general public, just the folk demonstrating and other club members . (There's also a programme of talks and a couple of traders)


It's a good event , and I've gone for a number of years and enjoyed it (both my club and a couple of societies I'm a member of belong to CMRA). This year I decided to take something along to display, under a society banner


The theory was that the layout, spread across two tables on its side, would be a demo of DCC for layout control - as opposed to DCC for loco control. I don't claim to be any kind of guru , techie, or expert, but after being involved with a club project and my own layout where all the points etc were DCC controled without a conventional panel , I suppose I must know more about it than most. With three types of point motors, and three types of decoders on view , working signals interlocked with points , and route control by macros , I was hoping there would at least be something to talk about and show.


If I'm honest , I wasn't exactly knocked down in the rush . A couple of people were interested to see the working signals, and whenever a potential punter came in view I gamely launched into my "what this is all about" spiel. I'd prepared some handouts on DCC , plus a sheet giving the background of the layout and a copy of the DOGA OO Intermediate standards, but I think only one of the DCC sheets was taken. However I did get a potential invitation to demo at a show so someone must have been moderately impressed, and I think there were some tables that were quieter than mine


While in theory Blacklade was there as a static item, I did bring some stock on the sly, and for the last hour and a half I turned the layout right way up and ran it . What I hadn't realised was that Bradfield Gloster Square was also going to be there , and inevitably made my little effort look like a clockwork torch in competition with Spurn lighthouse. Even worse , the gremlins came out for a carnival as soon as they saw one of the Bradfield team was watching - and no layout on the circuit runs as flawlessly as Bradfield . I think part of the problem may have been that access to the fiddle yard is tight, and it is difficult to see if all wheels are on the track - some stock may not have been on the rails when it left the fiddle yard....


Once this was sorted out, things settled down and it ran reasonably smoothly while a couple of people from the adjacent EM gauge tables were watching. The main weakness of the layout has been reliable throwing of the points - the Marcway points are very stiff , and I didn't cut adequete recesses in the cork before laying them. In the run up to the show I had done a lot of work digging out the cork around various points to free them up , and this paid dividends. I also refitted the Hoffmann point motor , which in one direction was buzzing - meaning that it wasn't moving quite far enough to work the cut-off switch . The overall result was that everything bar No 1 crossover worked every time and point derailments, except at No 1 crossover (which has teeth and likes a Hornby 31 for breakfast) stopped.


In the run up to Watford Workshop I also , finally, managed to sort out various ragged edges to the ballasting , and touched in exposed cork with brown cork acrylic, as well as touching up a few bits of the hard standing. That dealt with the obvious defects - the rest of the scenic work had to wait till after Watford (and merits a separate post)


One discovery was that Blacklade is most comfortably operated from a chair at the station end , with the layout set up on a pair of tables. Unfortunately the clutter in the study at home has prevented it ever being set up as originally intended - on top of the bookcases and modelling cupboard. It only ever gets set up in the sitting room with the (very basic) legs....


I also had a running session with the layout the week after Watford . One of the Bradfield crew recommended a Peco railer, which does seem to help get things on reliably in the fiddle yard. The main problems seem to be with the parcels train - the body of the kitbuilt Van B was lolling to one side enough to catch the bridge abutment and derail (I've tightened up the fixing screws on the bogies as far as I can , though one bogie is still loose) and the 31 and No 1 crossover kept disagreeing. As this is one end of the runround loop, and as at present the Hornby 31 is the loco that works the two parcels trains and the trip TTA , this is unfortunate. One solution may be to get on with the detailed body for the old Airfix 31 (not to mention the fitting of Kadees) on the theory that Hornby 31s are a little track sensitive, DMUs seem to cope, and a loco with a slightly coarser wheel profile may be better


(This is in no way a problem of the track standard - it's a question of the wire from the point motor to the tie bar being a little too flexible leading to closure not being quite positive enough. A more drastic step is replace one or both Tortioses with Cobalt Blues - meaning shorter, stiffer wire, over £30 and a certain amount of rewiring work.)


It's clear I need a second 31 if I'm to run loco hauled stock as a DMU-substitute - that will have to go into Pl 3 as the only platform long enough, and that doesan't have access to the run-round loop. So the Hornby 31 will still be needed, and it's not as if I'm adding an extra project to the list


Also on the subject of Pl 3 , despite efforts to ease the clearances of the edging slab - through repeated rubbing with an Xacto knife handle to crush the balsa down - the 108 seems to stick , derail and somehow this scrambled the decoder. I tried to reprogram in haste, forgot that the MERG point decoder is sensitive to programming commands , and scrambled that... Reprogramming the thing requires flyleads , taking down the layout etc so that was the end of a running session.


I hope this is the last time for this particular problem. Some time ago I removed the NCE AutoSwitch which was supposed to switch off the rest of the layout when programming - because it didn't seem to be doing anything. I fitted a DPDT switch instead - and that doesn't seem to be doing anything either. It looks like I have somehow created an inadvertant connection across the isolation of the programming track (the fueling point siding) . However all this meant I had an unused NCE Auto Switch in the decoder bag, so I installed it between the MERG decoder and the DCC bus.


Oh and a fault book is now in operation , to identify any gremlins...

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