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Grouse101

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Blog Entries posted by Grouse101

  1. Grouse101
    It was a freezing cold, rainy day in late 2019. My girlfriend and I were putting down a membrane in the front garden to stop the weeds coming through the bark chippings. I'd been dragging her out in the garden against her will to do things like this for months and it must have been around this time that she realised if she ever wanted to be able to feel her fingers again and have nails free from mud then she'd need to find me an alternative indoor hobby.
     
    It was shortly after this that we visited Cannock Chase with the intention of going for a run, but we'd left it rather late, the sun was setting and it was raining. Instead of running we eat scones in the heritage railway cafe and had a look around the station. There's a little model shop at one end and we had a look around, this was when she said, "would you like a train set for Christmas?". This implied consent sparked something.
     
    Model trains have run in the family. My granddad had a layout that he built for my dad and uncle. I don't remember it, but apparently it used to fold out from the wall and sounded very impressive. My Dad still has most of the engines and wagons. My Dad wasn't as passionate about modelling or trains as granddad, but over the years he built up quite an impressive Hornby collection and a selection of track.  I remember setting it up in my bedroom when I was a kid and being told to be very careful with the boxes and polystyrene. We didn't have enough space to have something permanently out or properly modelled, but I'd got my hands on a Hornby track plan book and picked out the coolest looking layout with an elevated section. It must have taken him ages, but Dad got all the track and pinned it to a plain 8ft x 4th sheet of MDF for me that would live up against my wall when not in use (I even insisted he use foam ballast). But for the last 20ish years I'd not thought about trains and everything had sat in my parent's house gathering dust.
     
    Around the same time I was given some Argos vouchers from work and they were doing a 20% off Hornby. It was fate! I purchased the Tornado Express set. A lot had changed in 20 years in the world of model railways, the track wasn't steel anymore, the points had changed design, DCC was now a thing. It came with the standard 6ft x 4ft track mat, so my initial plan was to recreate this. Off I went to Wickes to pick up some boards and set about building a base in the garage, buying up the expansion sets whilst the 20% discount was still on. But it didn't stop there...

  2. Grouse101
    One of my biggest gripes with model trains when I was a kid was that you could really only run one train on one track at one time (I didn't know about blocks or isolating sections at the time and probably couldn't have been bothered with them even if I had). Not very realistic in my opinion. Trying to run two trains through one controller usually ended in disaster and even if you had separate tracks and controllers, flicking the wrong set of points could result in some expected behavior. When I discovered that DCC was readily available at a reasobale price I knew it was something I had to implement. I've always been pretty good with computers and technology so when I read that I could build a DCC base station and control trains via the computer for significantly cheaper than buying an off the shelf digital controller I was sold!
     
    I opted to build a DCC++ base station (https://github.com/DccPlusPlus/BaseStation/wiki/What-is-DCC--Plus-Plus) using a generic Arduino clone from Amazon with a generic motor shield plonked on top (I'd never heard of Arduino before and I don't know how, it's amazing! I now use three on the layout to control everything, more on that later). The code to upload into the board is available free from the genius that designed the base station (what a amazing guy). Total cost was probably around £20. Tornado is DCC ready so I purchased my first decoder and wired it all up. Nothing happened. My brother was visiting at the time and, as he's pretty handy with computers, I'd got him involved with it. After a few hours of messing about with settings and connections I think he was ready to pack his bags and head home. The main issue we had was that the only power supply available to us was one I'd mutilated for a project many years ago and I suspected this was part of the issue. I eventually bit the bullet and chopped the end off my brand new Hornby power supply to expose the wires and hooked them up. HAZZAH! Lights appeared on the motor shield and Tornado took her first trip under digital control.
     
    I started off using the DCC++ graphical user interface which was developed alongside the base station, which I don't think is supported any more. Then I discovered JMRI. I now use this to control all my locomotives, points/turnouts, sensors, signals and whatever else I can attache a servo to. More on JMRI later as I'm still getting it set up.
     
    DCC++ and JMRI is such a powerful (and cheap!) combination if you're prepared to put the time into understanding it and setting it up.
     
    I  Digital

  3. Grouse101
    I honestly thought that my layout would be something that would keep me busy for a few weeks at most, I'd recreate the Hornby track mat, get a couple of trains and happily run them occasionally. However, two things happened shortly after I'd purchased the Tornado Express that made me think that I might want to do a bit more: 
     
    1) The real Tornado visited the Severn Valley Railway and we went to see it. Such an impressive sight in real life! We spent some time in the museum and I started to catch the bug. 
     
    2) I got talking to a delivery man about local history. He asked if I was aware that my house was built on a railway line. I explained that he was mistaken and that the Harborne branch line actually ran a short walk from the house. He said that he was aware of that, but our house was actually built on the Cape Hill Brewery spur that connected the Mitchells & Butlers brewery to the branch line. He was spot on! 
     
    My interest in the Harborne branch line and local railway history grew massively from that point. That's when I thought it would be far more enjoyable to try and model that rather than just copy the Hornby plan. But this would be a much more ambitious project... 


     
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