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entry 1 Feb 2015, 22:54
In the end I opted for Metcalfe retaining walls:

entry 11 Dec 2013, 01:23
God, it's an ugly interface. But it works well enough for my needs, and at £68 from Hattons (including eLink) it's given me a working mimic diagram, track programming, the ability to read and write CV values (although I haven't tried that out) and to program sequences of loco movements. And it gave me a use for an old laptop that I was otherwise going to get rid of; it's not fast enough for today's gaming requirements (hence my teenage son didn't want it!), but it is more than capable of running my railway!

Since my last blog entry over a year ago, I have actually laid all the (code 100) track and wired it up. Every track section has dropper wires tied into a DCC power bus. The eight turnouts (all Peco medium radius electrofrog) were all modified by isolating the frogs and soldering bridging wires between the stock rails and the adjacent switch rails. Turnout switching is by means of SEEP PM1 solenoids, the wiper switches of which change the frog polarities. The PM1s are fired by Hornby R8247 accessory decoders (which operate four solenoids each; hence two decoders), controlled either by RailMaster/eLink, or my old Hornby Select controller. The 8247s apparently incorporate CDUs (although that isn't obvious from the documentation) but you do have to leave a second or so between firing solenoids, to allow it to re-charge; it's no great hardship.

I run eight points and eight locos (not all at once, of course) using a single 1 A supply and have had no problems to date. I do have a more powerful old laptop power supply if necessary (the Hornby 4A supply is about £40, I think).

The only real problem I had with the electrics was in fitting the PM1s; there was a lot of trial and error in getting them at right angles to the point when fitting from below. Also, the actuator rods are extremely hard and, when snipped with side cutters, can become detached from the solenoid, I found.

As far as RailMaster goes, it works fine - except that, for some reason known only to Hornby, it reads decoder numbers three less than their true values (I think this has been mentioned on other forums). For example, using the Select controller I programmed the ports of the first accessory decoder as 60, 61, 62, 63 and the second as 64, 65, 66, 67. But RailMaster sees them as 57, 58, 58, 60 and 61, 62, 63, 64. Thank goodness for Google - Hornby hadn't mentioned this in the errata. I would have gone mad otherwise, trying to figure out why seemingly random turnouts were firing when I made commands from RailMaster!

The only thing that has been truly disappointing - and which I'm going to complain to Hornby about - is the mobile application. I paid £9.99 to enable my Galaxy S2 as a remote throttle (mobile devices can connect to a PC running RailMaster across a WiFi network, if you're not familiar with it) and, although it loads my loco list, it then loses connectivity (despite a strong WiFi signal). No amount of jiggery pokery with port numbers seems to lead to stable operation.

If Hornby fixed that, they would be on to a winner. I know there are more sophisticated DCC systems on the market, but at half the price of a loco you can't go too far wrong. That said, it should all work "out of the box" - especially if someone wants to get a train set up and running from scratch on Christmas Day.

And please, Hornby, get someone to re-skin RailMaster. It looks like a throwback to the 1980s (and not in a good way). I mean, haven't you seen how graphically slick modern applications are?

On the scenic side, I've now started track ballasting, but my next major job is to build (economically!) about eight feet of retaining walls. I tried gluing Slater's Plastikard brick sheet to foamboard (using the Scalescenes retaining wall pattern), but the whole thing has warped. So I'm going to try again with 3 mm MDF...

entry 16 Sep 2012, 00:04
Good grief. I haven’t updated my blog since April 2010. Deep breath...

Well, Windmill Hill is no more. I was never really happy with the baseboard construction (despite having read plenty of advice about getting the baseboards right, I built it on 1″ thick solid pine IKEA desk tops!), the Setrack curves, or the dead frog points. Although I did enjoy the continuous run aspect, to be honest at 13′ × 4′ it was taking up rather a lot of space in what we really wanted to be a proper guest room.

So, off came all the buildings and accessories that could be salvaged and the boards were duly sawn up and interred at the local tip. (I did toy with idea of keeping the “best” board but, to be honest, aligning it with my planned new ones would have been a nightmare, so I gritted my teeth and ditched the lot. Ah well, it lives on thanks to YouTube.)

The space I had in the other room available to me (which also houses my son’s drum kit and my guitars and Marshall half-stack!) was 12′ × 2′. I realised that unless I was to start all over again in ‘N’ gauge, continuous run was not a realistic proposition. My interest is in green and blue diesels (much to the chagrin of my retired work colleague Len, a fellow railway modeller and an avowed steam enthusiast!), so I decided to build something to display and run those – even if this would just have them pootling up and down between a shed and a fuelling point. I did want to incorporate a double track main line (in case we ever move to a property of Pete Waterman-style dimensions where I would have the room to extend it to a continuous run!) and I also wanted to develop a town scene to utilise the various buildings and cars I have acquired over the years. (I had to accept that I couldn’t realistically fit all my old buildings on, so the church, steam-era shed and various other items have had to be sidelined for a future project or sale.)

The intended period is fairly elastic, but broadly some time between about 1966 – 1976 (i.e. the first 10 years of my life) and the fictitious location is simply “somewhere in England” to allow for the appearance of various classes of loco. Thus, Windmill Hill TMD was born (if “Traction Maintenance Depot” is not too grand a title for what is really a fairly modest stabling point).

So, with only a general idea of a trackplan, I constructed all new baseboards, using 9 mm plywood braced with 69 × 18 mm softwood battens, all glued and screwed except for the middle battens of each board, which are screwed only so that they can be moved if they impinge on any planned point motor positions. The baseboard tops were completely covered in 3 mm thick 1′ × 1′ cork tiles, currently painted brown as an undercoat for future ballasting. Fortunately, I was able to do the carpentry rather elementary wood hacking (and cursing) in the integral garage.

For ease of handling (I had to get it upstairs from the garage!), the layout was built as three separate boards: the left-hand board is 4′ 0″ long, the middle one 5′ 3″ and the right-hand one 2′ 9″. The boards are joined with M8 bolts and wingnuts. As was Windmill Hill, the layout is supported on IKEA pine table legs (the “box” type ones which include useful storage shelves). At about 720 mm above the floor, the layout top is perhaps a little lower than I would have liked, but the completed structure is very stable (no wobbles!) and allows good access to the underside for wiring. My wife has promised to make a black drape to hide the clutter underneath!

One of the things that I didn’t like about my previous layout was that most of the town scene was at the same level as the track. I wanted some variation in height of the various elements of my new layout to provide visual interest, but I didn’t want to get into the difficulties of laying inclines. After playing around with various ideas, I decided to adopt a similar approach to Mike Wild’s N gauge Barrenthorpe Shed (Hornby Magazine supplement May 2012) – that is to say, a road above the railway to create a backdrop to the shed scene, utilising the half relief buildings I wanted to re-use. Unfortunately, this meant that I had to dispense with my wish for a level crossing, as I could find no logical way of fitting one in.

I used 94 mm high timber supports topped off with 3 mm MDF for the road bed, thus making the road 97 mm above the track level. The timbers and MDF were all secured with “No More Nails”. As well as the raised road with half-relief terraced houses and other buildings running the length of the middle board, there is a larger raised area on the left-hand board on which I am using my full-relief Scalescenes, Metcalfe and Skaledale town buildings (and under which the main lines run, via. a tunnel portal)...

...a smaller raised area at the back of the right-hand board for a warehouse/garage scene...

...and a bridge over the double track main line, on which the station building is set in a similar manner to the Great Central Railway at Loughborough.

There is just enough room on the right-hand board for two-car DMUs (future purchases!) to sit each side of the island platform.

The backscene was made from 2 mm hardboard. It is 9″ high at road level, but since the roads are raised, it is about 12½″ high at rail level. The backscene is curved at the two corners to avoid unsightly...well, corners. There are, admittedly, visible vertical joins between the backscene pieces of each board, but I hope to disguise these joins with buildings or trees or some such in the future. The backscene boards were rollered with a mixture of two blue matchpot colours from Wickes’s paint range and some white paint smudged over in an approximation of light cloud. I’m no artist, but I have to say I’m quite pleased with the result.

Having completed the baseboards and the basic scenic elements, I started to play around with the sidings either side of the main lines. I am aiming for something along the lines of Hornby Magazine’s Build a Diesel Depot with Bachmann (May 2011 supplement), based around the Bachmann single road engine shed (44-126) and diesel fuelling point (44-040). I have almost settled upon the track plan you see in the accompanying photographs: that is to say, a crossover between the main running lines; a long siding at the front of the layout; and a series of sidings using medium radius turnouts providing access to a double road stabling point, single road shed (to have inspection pit) and double road fuelling point. (I intend placing the points against the direction of the main running lines, to prevent through trains from running into the sidings – I think that’s prototypical?)

I intend to use OO gauge Peco Streamline code 100 for the trackwork and points. Len has tried to tempt me into P4, but I think that hand building of points and re-wheeling stock are well beyond my skill level and available time and budget! (And if code 100, suitably weathered and ballasted, is good enough for Peter Griffiths’s Crimson Road, it’s good enough for me.) I don’t intend to cut a ballast shoulder into the cork, but I do intend to use Plastikard as concrete pads in the shed area (as in the Hornby Magazine example).

The layout will be DCC controlled, using my existing Hornby Select for the time being. (I would like to move into DCC sound in the future, but that will have to wait until funds allow.) Although Windmill Hill ran with a single power connector (proving that you can indeed operate a DCC layout with just two wires!) I intend to solder dropper wires to each section of track on Windmill Hill TMD, connected to a power bus. I also intend to modify the live frog points with frog polarity switching and electrical bonding between the stock rails and switch rails, and incorporate a CDU. (Although wiring live frog points is meat and drink to most experienced railway modellers, I’ve not done this before and I have to say that I found most of the explanations of it online rather confusing, if well meaning. The best recommendation I can give anyone else in the same position is to consult the coloured diagrams on page 5 of Railway Modeller’s “Wiring the Layout – Part 3” booklet.) Anyway, I hope the live frogs will cure the problems I had with my Class 08 stuttering over the dead frogs on Windmill Hill...

So what’s next? Well, the next major work will be track laying and electrics. (I’ve not decided on a point control system yet; possibly a simple mimic board with push button switches.) If that all goes to plan, I can crack on with developing the scenery and buildings.

As well as the usual ballasting and ground cover, I want to improve detailing by fitting curtains to the Skaledale houses and improving the shop interiors of the Metcalfe buildings, possibly using Scalescenes parts. I’m also currently playing about with photographs found on the web stuck on to the backscene, rather than those ubiquitous Peco paintings; you can see one such attempt in my picture of the station building below. I’ve found it surprisingly hard to locate suitable pictures taken at street level, and to then to print them at the appropriate size so that the scene seems to be leading somewhere. The commercially available backscenes don’t seem to have what I want.

A major part of the scenic treatment I’ve not yet decided upon is how to build the retaining walls. I do like the Scalescenes ones, but they are rather time consuming to make and I have a long run to do. Slater’s Plastikard offers a quicker build, but that will still mean making some strengthening pillars at intervals in order for it to look convincing. I quite like the Ratio brick arches but that will prove quite expensive to do the whole lot. Decisions, decisions...

The other things I need to decide are how to treat the station bridge (possibly Peco LK-10 plate bridge sides) and how to build a staircase from the station building down to the platform (the Bachmann Scenecraft recreation of this structure at the GCR at Loughborough is rather nice, but also rather pricey!).

And I’ve not even thought about signalling yet...

entry 16 Dec 2009, 23:50
It's a hoary old cliche that "a model railway is never finished", but I wonder in how many cases that's because you start another one before finishing the first...

In my case I was mulling over what to do with some Setrack and buildings "left over" from my main layout Windmill Hill (i.e. stuff I'd purchased early on without much thought as to where it was actually going to go...what was that about planning being the most important aspect of building a layout?) when I was inspired by Ron North's excellent Littleworth Sidings (Hornby Magazine issue 30). I figured I could make a similar little shunting layout for my nine year old for next to nothing. Although the operating potential would be limited, it would be easy to store and could even be expanded at a future date by the construction of additional scenic baseboards or fiddle yards...

So, after spending a few quid at my local Wickes on a 4' × 2' sheet of 6 mm ply, some 40 × 20 mm planed softwood battens, some 3 mm hardboard and some 1' square cork tiles (the most expensive item, actually) I spent the next few nights constructing a baseboard 4' long × 18" deep, with a 6" high backscene. (It was originally going to have higher backscene, but keeping it at 6" made it possible to stand the whole thing on its end in the built-in cupboard of my lad's room, thus keeping the boss happy!)

I originally laid out the track and buildings like this:

...but decided on removing the middle siding as it actually left less space for rolling stock, and turned the track diagonally to allow the placement of a goods shed on the siding nearest the viewer if desired:

After a bit more scenic work (including static grass!) it looked like this:

The tunnel portal is a Metcalfe kit; the station platform is a Superquick kit; the station building is Hornby Skaledale and the Setrack, level crossing and signal box are all Hornby. Ballast is mixture of various fine grades and tracks have been painted with Railmatch rust and seeper grime colours. Locos are the Hornby class 08 and Jinty from the Mixed Goods set, de-chipped as they never ran very well on DCC anyway.

All of this stuff was going spare; apart from the timber, the only extra things I had to buy were the point motors and a Gaugemaster Combi controller.

I really enjoyed building the layout (in fact I wish I had built my main one to the same standard, instaed of being lazy and simply building it on 6' long 1" thick solid pine IKEA table tops - just have to make sure I never move house!) and Douglas loved doing the modroc. He actually also seems quite keen on playing with it - I hope that's not just to please me! He operates the controller and points and I do the uncoupling. He's even dragged me off to the local model railway shop to buy cars!

There's plenty I'd still like to do: road signs and markings, people, vehicles, trees, walls, etc. etc. I also need to find some sort of push fit multi-connector so that the controller (which also powers the point solenoids directly - nothing as sophisticated as CDUs yet!) can be removed from the scenic area and just be plugged in when required. There's also space for two Hornby cottages (the plastic trackside ones), but I think I will try to tart them up with some brick card or similar as they are rather toy-like out of the box...

Now I'd better get back to Windmill Hill.

The boss has actually been very accommodating, considering that in addition to the two layouts we have also recently built two 3' × 2' Warhammer 40k dioramas!

entry 30 Nov 2008, 11:20
Well, we moved to a bigger house in March 2007.

After a good 12 months of knocking it into shape (involving lots of mess, disruption and money!), I finally arrived at the point where I could get my hands on the 12' 8" × 10' "spare" room - renamed "The Railway Room" - and start building my layout.

Although I did try to do some planning on paper (I gave up on Hornby Virtual Railway 2 after nearly tearing out my hair - but that'll be the subject of whole other post!), in the end most of the trackplan was devised by laying it out on MDF boards on the floor. A rather expensive method...

By this time I had visited a local model railway show (Soar Valley MRC's annual event in Loughborough), and read every issue of Hornby magazine. This had the twin effect of inspiring me to build a fabulous layout, but also totally demoralising me because I could see that I could never hope to achieve those standards of build quality and prototypical accuracy. Still, railway modelling is supposed to be enjoyable, and as I had no intention to exhibit my work I thought that I would build what the hell I wanted, so long as it pleased me.

I did decide on a few principles early on:

1. 00 gauge
2. DCC
3. Code 100 setrack

These first three were dictated to a large extent by the investment I had already made. With hindsight, I might have gone for N gauge. And I do like the look of finescale flexitrack - but I thought I would learn how to lay and ballast Setrack properly first.

4. No first radius - because I didn't want to hamper what motive power and rolling stock I could run (wish I'd though t of that before I bought a load of R1!).

5. Dead frog points - because I'd already bought a load, and because the point of DCC was to minimise the wiring needed (in an ideal world, of course, I would go for live frog for stall-free operation of smaller locos). Point motors only on hard-to-reach points for the time being, mainly for cost reasons, and also because I want to get on with some building and scenic work. The points on the front of the layout will have to be operated by the "Hand of God" for the time being.

6. Continuous double track run. I didn't want a "tailchaser" - that was why I was dissatisfied with the Trakmat (the train didn't seem to be going anywhere). But it is nice to set trains off running and sit back with a cuppa and watch them, especially as they pass in opposite directions. I also decided that I would employ the old trick of having the track disappear into tunnels or under bridges at each end, and hide as much of the un-prototypically tight setrack curves as possible in tunnels. I wanted to employ the longest straight run possible, to allow trains to "stretch out" - so a layout size of 12' 8" × 4' with a central operating well was devised.

7. A few sidings for goods shunting, adding some operational interest.

8. Approximately mid 1960s to early 1970s period, British image, but no particular region. Mainly because this "allows" one to run a mixture of late steam along with diesel, and because it's what I remember from my childhood. I'm also a sucker for all those £2.99 Oxford diecast cars of the period. I should say that I'm not too hung up on historical accuracy though - it's my layout, and if, for example, I decide to run a Eurostar or Virgin Pendolino on it one day, well then I jolly well will!

entry 22 Nov 2008, 10:03
I returned to the hobby in Christmas 2006, when under the tree, completely unexpected, was a Hornby DCC "Mixed Goods" set from my wife. ("The hobby". I love that phrase. You read it all the time in the model railway press: "the Hobby". "THE Hobby?" As in, there's only one worth talking about, presumably. Angling? Macrame? Pigeon fancying? What they, then?).

Well intentioned as it was, and delighted as I was to receive it, I don't think she foresaw the consequences of this present. Or did she?

This train set, which I had not requested, seemed to rekindle in me some latent desire to build a model railway. I had never been a member of a club, attended any shows or read any of the monthlies, so I had no idea that such things as shelf layouts were possible. I was just gripped with the notion of filling out and completing the supplied 6' × 4' Trakmat.

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The days between Christmas and New Year saw me making almost daily visits to the local toy/bicycle/artist materials shop in our small town, which stocks a modest array of Hornby products, to purchase the requisite track packs. I went up a rather steep (and expensive!) learning curve.

I learned that the track packs A-F referred to on the 'Mixed Goods' box were not the same as the track packs A-F which the local shop had in stock, which built up the previous Trakmat layout.

I learned about 1st, 2nd and 3rd radius curves.

I learned that you need to add electro point clips to energise all the trackwork on a DCC layout. (Later I was to learn about code 75 track, flexible track and electrofrogs, and wonder every time my 0-6-0 "Jinty" stalled on a point if, in hindsight, I had been wise buying all those dead frog Hornby points...)

After a week or so of tripping over the layout, set up as it was on the wooden dining room floor, the inevitable plan for a baseboard was hatched in my mind.

So it was off to the local Focus. Unfortunately, I hadn't read up on baseboard construction, and so ended up buying three pieces of 9 mm thick 4' × 2' MDF, plus some PSE timber.

Thus was New Year's Eve 2006 spent gluing and screwing softwood battens to the underside of the MDF boards in what I know realise was a completely unconventional manner. Still, the result was at least reasonably stiff and flat. The Trakmat was fixed on with Spay Mount, and the trackwork was pinned down on Hornby foam underlay.

This arrangement was fine as far as it went, but I realised that I could not monopolise the dining room table for ever.

The loft was a possibility, and was already partially boarded, but the now monolithic baseboard would not go through the hatch. And I wanted to run my trains NOW.

I considered the possibilities in the integral garage. (As I say, I was wedded to the Trakmat at this stage, not considering other layout possibilities). Even in here it was going to take up too much room, especially since it would have to share the space with the washing machine, tumble dryer, freezer, workbench, shelving, bicycles and cross-trainer.

I had just started a better paid job, and the term "credit crunch" had yet to be coined. There was nothing for it but to buy a bigger house.

Who says she didn't have a plan in buying me that b****y train set!

entry 19 Nov 2008, 17:19
Christmas 1974 and a Hornby R534 Local Goods Set: that's how it started for me, at the age of eight. An 0-4-0 tank loco, a flat wagon with detachable boat, a Cadbury's closed van, a circle of track, and a battery-powered controller.
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With the extension of the circle to an oval, the addition of a couple of sidings, some Superquick models in the middle forming a village, and some rather crude papier mache embankments, my first "layout" was born, and it gave me many years of enjoyment.
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I didn't know, or care about, prototypical modelling or timetabled operation back then - most of the "action" on my layout involved crashed Dinky Eagle freighters (from Space:1999) leaving flasks of nuclear waste on the line in the path of the oncoming train.
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My locomotive stud was bolstered the next year with the addition of an R758 "Hymek", which hauled one lonely blue and grey BR Mk2.
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The Hymek cost an awful lot of pocket money back in 1975. My party piece at the time was being able to reel off the phrase " B B Beyer Peacock type 3 Hymek diesel hydraulic locomotive" without drawing breath. I think I chose it simply because I liked the look of it - I'm not sure if would ever have seen a real one. Living a stone's throw from the London to Brighton line near Three Bridges sidings in Sussex, most of the trains I saw were third rail passenger EMUs hurtling through the rather dangerous pedestrian crossing at Maidenbower in Tilgate forest.
I was also given some Lima models by a friend of my dad's, which to my shame I think I was rather sniffy about at the time, they not being Hornby and therefore not "kosher" in my eyes. I believe I had a red HO gauge Lima loco - an SNCF model of some sort - and a long car transporter wagon with some brightly coloured plastic cars. I also recall an old plastic Tri-ang station building with canopy, a footbridge, and a plastic kit gods shed with a small blue crane at one end which I managed to get poly cement all over. Happy days indeed.

Anyway, my interests moved on to football, then heavy metal (a lifelong passion); I eventually left for university, and the childhood train set was dismantled and made the inevitable journey into the loft.