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Initially inspired by Peter Denny and his Buckingham branch, I have for decades operated my model railway using home made block instruments to communicate between signalmen.  We have added sounds to our trains but what could be more evocative of the old railways than the tinkle of block bells?


I think that block instruments make a tremendous improvement to model railway operation and are being increasingly used, certainly I hear them more frequently now at model railway exhibitions. Several of my friends have made block instrument: one has even bought a real L&Y Railway instrument - for several hundred pounds - but  the only commercially produced instruments that I know of were  made by Triang in the 1960s –

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 Though simple they were very effective. I am not aware of any RTR block instruments being available since then.

I think the time has come for some enterprising company to re-introduce them. It might be that Hornby, as successors to Triang, still has the original tools but that is a bit of a long shot. We now have better and cheaper manufacturing technologies and there are many more small innovative, imaginative enterprises, catering for a much wealthier and more sophisticated  market than in Triang’s day, so please let these companies know if you agree with me.

See the following link for a good description of the Triang product and how it can be used:
http://www.hornbyguide.com/article_details.asp?articleid=1


 


 

 

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Edited by clecklewyke
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There are small number of layouts on the circuit that use bells for communicating between "boxes".

I used to be an operator on Clutton until it was retired that used this system It certainly added another dimension, especially as the signalman at Clutton had nothing to do with driving the trains. The trains were driven to the signals, most of the time.

 

Gordon A

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I had a set of those and put them on Ebay and they made quite a bit as they are quite rare.

When new they were quite expensive so not many buyers 

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3 hours ago, Gordon A said:

 

I used to be an operator on mClutton until it was retired that used this system It certainly added another dimension.....

Hi Gordon. I too have operated Crescent at exhibitions, I might even have been the “other”other signal man.

 

Frankly I cannot imagine any other satisfactory way of operating a steam age layout which connects between two or more supposedly remote locations. In an ideal world we would have an operating session session during which not a word was spoken, all communications being done by bells and by the drivers observing the signals. My wife thinks we’re mad…

 

ian Everett

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I know people have very mixed views about it but since getting involved with Buckingham and having had the pleasure of operating other layouts worked by block instruments, it just seems so logical and very railway like.

 

It wouldn't work well unless the layout is designed for them to be included and unless the running of a train involves more than one operator (unless you have an Automatic Crispin!). A continuous run where one operator controls the whole move, setting the points in the fiddle yard, setting the signals and then driving them round renders block instruments a bit of a nonsense but I have always thought of such layouts as "running rains" rather than operating.

 

There have been a couple of articles in MRJ about making block instruments, including one by Peter Denny way back in the day.

 

But yes, a reasonably priced ready made block instrument would be something that I would be happy to pay for.

 

Real block instruments look great but are probably too big for many layouts. A small replica of a real one would be a winner. Of course real railways had their own designs and so a RTR one would have to be a bit generic but perhaps even a set of "one size suits all" electronics and a few different designs of laser cut wooden cases might do nicely.

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With more than a dozen signal boxes on my loft layout it would be pandemonium !!

 

Agree though I think there is a market for these. The old tri-ang ones go on ebay for silly money.

 

Brit15

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2 hours ago, t-b-g said:

 

But yes, a reasonably priced ready made block instrument would be something that I would be happy to pay for.

 

 

Another customer here!

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2 hours ago, t-b-g said:

(unless you have an Automatic Crispin!).

 

A remarkable device, I remember the article in an early 70s RM describing it.

 

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At the risk of staring a noise war.

 

Personal experience of being next to a layout at an exhibition with block bells.

 

Hopefully, never again. 

 

 I agree that they are good fun to operate, but the increased frequency of use with a model compared to the prototype, made them very annoying after the novelty very quickly wore off.

 

(Sits back and waits for comparison to DCC sound)

 

 

 

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20 minutes ago, newbryford said:

At the risk of staring a noise war.

 

Personal experience of being next to a layout at an exhibition with block bells.

 

Hopefully, never again. 

 

 I agree that they are good fun to operate, but the increased frequency of use with a model compared to the prototype, made them very annoying after the novelty very quickly wore off.

 

(Sits back and waits for comparison to DCC sound)

 

 

 

 

I would agree wholeheartedly. When you are operating a layout with muffled block bells and block instruments, the last thing you want is another layout nearby, or even across the hall, belting out loud  "tings" across the whole show.

 

We had that situation and "Was that you or them over there?" was the constant cry.

 

I have used bells on Leighton Buzzard at shows but stuff tissue paper into the bells to deaden the sound. Getting a balance between being able to just hear them and them being a problem on adjacent layouts is tricky, especially when you have operators with poor hearing.

 

So bells at shows can be difficult. You could do something similar with push buttons and lights instead of bells, which I haven't tried but may at some point.

 

On a home based layout, like Buckingham, it is another matter. It is the ideal way of asking another operator "Are you ready for me to send you XYZ". When I operate a home based layout that doesn't have bells, it just seems like there is a huge something missing and having to shout "Can you take a passenger train" is just not as satisfying.

 

I will leave the DCC sound matter for elsewhere!

Edited by t-b-g
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34 minutes ago, t-b-g said:

 

. When I operate a home based layout that doesn't have bells, it just seems like there is a huge something missing and having to shout "Can you take a passenger train" is just not as satisfying.

 

 

 

Bit of a problem, when it's just me in my shed...........................

 

:D

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Ringing bells could be replaced with flashing lights - not really realistic but more exhibition / domestically friendly.

 

Brit15

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4 hours ago, clecklewyke said:

Hi Gordon. I too have operated Crescent at exhibitions, I might even have been the “other”other signal man.

 

Frankly I cannot imagine any other satisfactory way of operating a steam age layout which connects between two or more supposedly remote locations. In an ideal world we would have an operating session session during which not a word was spoken, all communications being done by bells and by the drivers observing the signals. My wife thinks we’re mad…

 

ian Everett

Was that when the Hymek and train did a runner?

possible Middlesborough?

 

Gordon

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1 hour ago, newbryford said:

At the risk of staring a noise war.

 

Personal experience of being next to a layout at an exhibition with block bells.

 

Hopefully, never again. 

 

 I agree that they are good fun to operate, but the increased frequency of use with a model compared to the prototype, made them very annoying after the novelty very quickly wore off.

 

(Sits back and waits for comparison to DCC sound)

 

 

 

 

The other issue at shows is that the correct use of bell codes could significantly add to the interval between train movements - and might be great for the cognoscenti but the majority of the viewers wont know what is occuring....

 

We use counter top bells but confine them to the occasional call attention when an operator - usually me - gets distracted by woffle....

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Does anyone know of any recent (ish) articles detailing how these can be built? It seems many in operation are based on archaic post office equipment, very expensive versions of the real thing or electronic versions with sound files, microcomputers (or CBUS).

 

Richard

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1 hour ago, newbryford said:

 

Bit of a problem, when it's just me in my shed...........................

 

:D

See my post above. I did say they only work if you have a second operator or an Automatic  Crispin. For anybody who doesn't  know about that creation, it was an electro-mechanical device that operated the fiddle yard on Buckingham when Peter Denny found himself as a sole operator. It worked the block bells and instruments and set the correct sidings in the fiddle yard by following the timetable on a punched roll.

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29 minutes ago, Phil Bullock said:

 

The other issue at shows is that the correct use of bell codes could significantly add to the interval between train movements - and might be great for the cognoscenti but the majority of the viewers wont know what is occuring....

 

We use counter top bells but confine them to the occasional call attention when an operator - usually me - gets distracted by woffle....

 

We found that it added  much interest for people watching. The controls were at the front and we would explain what we were doing and why to anybody showing an interest. Many people, especially youngsters, were offered the opportunity to have a go. Working the block instruments takes a few seconds and is no slower than asking the other operator verbally if they are ready for the next move.

 

They are second nature to me now and while I accept their limitations at shows, I am a big fan.

 

However, the thread is not about whether they are a good idea or not. It is about availability.

 

Articles on making block instruments have appeared in several issues of MRJ including issue 60 by Peter Denny, then 215 by Steve Hall and Richard Challis 219 and 220 by Mike Norris. A further article by Steve Hall is in 228. They vary from simple to more complex.

 

I hope that helps.

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5 minutes ago, t-b-g said:

However, the thread is not about whether they are a good idea or not. It is about availability.

I'll don my pedant hat, if you don't mind, and clarify that the OP (thread) is about support for future product development.

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7 minutes ago, truffy said:

I'll don my pedant hat, if you don't mind, and clarify that the OP (thread) is about support for future product development.

 

Well spotted that man. When I say availability, I should have added "of possible ready to use products".

 

I was just concerned that the thread was turning into a discussion about whether they should be used or not, rather than whether any are or should be produced.

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Block bells are OK, and I don't mind them. The noise (tone) of the bell needs to be turned down a bit however. In some boxes, the bell tone would be very close to that of a near neighbour, so some signalmen would swop bells, or put a peg or two on a particular bell, to change the note of it. 

 

A nice idea. 

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12 hours ago, clecklewyke said:

 

Initially inspired by Peter Denny and his Buckingham branch, I have for decades operated my model railway using home made block instruments to communicate between signalmen.  We have added sounds to our trains but what could be more evocative of the old railways than the tinkle of block bells?

 

This is something I've been interested in for some time and I'd be fascinated, as I'm sure would others, to know more about your home made block instruments.

 

It always seemed to me extraordinary that, among the rocket launchers, giraffe cars, and exploding boxcars, Tri-ang would, in the same era,  have come up with something so geared to prototypical operation. The set cost about as much as a locomotive so they didn't sell very many and they were only in the catalogue  from 1964-1967.  I've no idea how reliable they were but I did hear about someone using a refurbished set. 

I thought Peter Denny's system of substituting lights for the needles was an excellent idea as it's very simple as I'm sure Tony (t-b-g) can confirm.

 

There are also drawings for a block insturment based on point motor solenoids in Cyril Freezer's book Model Railway Signalling but they'd have to be run at a lower voltage or in a suitable circuit as the relevant coils for train on line and line clear would have to be energised for some time. Another option would be to use cheap centre zero analogue volt meters or ammeters.  Centre zero metres seem slightly unusual these days- they used to indicate battery charging and discharging in cars and still in light aircraft for that purpose-  but I've seen them for £8-£9 each. They wouldn't be quite as sturdy as a solenoid  and you'd need to be able to get into them to substitute the block indications for the normal scale.

The other possibility would be to use servos and there's information about those used by Barry Luck for his excellent Plumpton Green layout (two position Tyer instruments)  here

http://www.lbscrmodels.co.uk/instruments1.html

 

Since model instruments aren't safety critical in the way that real ones are there are some obvious simplifications such as not including the needle that simply repeats the local switch setting (as Tri-ang did) . 

I think that one problem in offering this as a product is that anyone so dedicated to prototype operation would likely want to used miniature versions of the appropriate block instruments for "their" railway rather than a generic design.

Would you accept this BR Standard (Domino) Block Instrument.

Block_Instruments-9.JPG.5a8e64d6eacdb6b9783b2504c9c07235.JPG

(CC by 3.0. Sir Ross BA)

If you were modelling the Midland Railway

365721336_MidlandRailwayBlock_instrument.jpg.3f3bf13dcd59bacfce9d0d62f373d1bf.jpg

(CC BY-SA 2.0) David Inghams' photo of a MR instrument in Castleton East Jct. box

 

2 hours ago, Nick_Burman said:

One of my modelling dreams is for someone to come out with a set of miniature staff machines...

 

Cheers Nicholas

 

A miniature staff or token instrument would be a challenge (and how would the token be carried on the train?) but a tokenless block system would be a possibility. I've just been looking at a page about the BR(W) tokenless block here http://www.trainweb.org/railwest/gen/signal/tkblock.html

As I model French railways I found it particularly interesting as it seems in principle quite similar to SNCFs BMVU (single line manual block) system but simpler to build if one ignores the actual track circuits, treadles and signal lock used by the BR(W) system.

 

BTW I saw Plumpton Green in operation a couple of years ago and I'm pretty sure that the only bells were in the main "signal box", those in the fiddle yards were replaced by lights so there was no cacaphony to annoy adjoining exhibitors. I seem to also remember, on the several occasions that I've enjoyed seeing it,  Peter Denny's Leighton Buzzard  layout as exhibited by Tony  as being quite restrained in its bell sounds. 

 

 

 

Edited by Pacific231G
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About 11 years ago I came across a web page for a bloke who made 1/2 (or 1/3) sized wooden cased blocks. Sadly I never did get a reply to my email, as I fear he passed away. Shame as they looked very good and he was ex S&T...

 

I made a set of cardboard ones when I was about 10, using LEDs instead of the needles, dead easy.

Mind you I now have most of the parts for a BR Penguin Block, although I do need a Bakelite knob for the tapper.

 

Andy G

 

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11 hours ago, Gordon A said:

Was that when the Hymek and train did a runner?

possible Middlesborough?

 

Gordon

MIddlesbrough, yes. i was there with our mutual friend Steve “Griff” Griffiths. I don’t remember a Hymek incident. If the culprit was ignorant enough to steal a locomotive I hope he had an unpleasant shock when he tried to figure out why it kept derailing on his Peco track.

Ian

 

 P.S.  ”crescent”? My computer can’t spell Clifton. No not Clacton Clacton. I give up! These days, because of my eyesight problems, I usually dictate emails with sometimes hilarious results.

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