Saturday 9 December 2017

A backscene at last

It's been a long time coming. Thoughts of how to create the backscene have been at the back of my mind since the start of the layout. I thought I had got enough depth to model the embankment behind the layout as the land rises quite steeply behind the mill. It turns out I don't have anywhere near enough space to model the rise.

Several options came to mind:

  1. I toyed with the idea of extending out the back of the layout but that would have had to be supported somehow over the fiddle yard and would have had complications for fitting the layout into the car.
  2. I thought about painting my own backscene. There is an excellent book on doing this, imaginatively titled "Creating a Backscene" and over on "Nick's Workshop Mutterings" you can see this being put into effect. I knew if I went down this route I'd still be talking about doing it in a year's time.
  3. Cheat.
Cheating seemed to be the best option. There is a track that runs from the back of the mill down to where the water tower should be. I figured that I could make the ground rise behind that, as it does in real life, but plant a significant number of trees along the rear edge of the track that the back of the layout was obscured. The next task was to find a backscene. Eventually I settled on the Old Mill Town Pack B from id Backscenes. Howard Scenic Supplies quickly delivered so I decided the best mix and went to stick it on.

Bit of a disaster. There are two choices, self adhesive or not self adhesive. I chose the former out of some misguided idea that it would be easier. If you have a flat backscene that is not already on the layout then it must be fantastic but working on an already installed backscene working round some scenery was impossible. It's actually too sticky. It's either on or off and you cannot pull it back off to reposition. I ripped it all off in disgust and ordered the non sticky one.

Above is the result of applying the non self adhesive version with border adhesive. There is one slight crease over on the left hand side and the join between the two pieces goes right down through the buildings on the right but that will be hard to see as it is right behind the mill. There is work to do to blend in the sides where the embankment goes through the hillside!

It has raised another possibility, however. The existing scenery formation and the backscene do seem to blend reasonably well and I am toying with the idea of not using trees to hide the join but to accept the way it looks now and blend it in. It will mean losing any hillside behind the mill but looks like it will be a better compromise than the trees. A good friend is going to today supply me some polystyrene to fill in the remaining gap. Hopefully by the end of Christmas this will be in and a final decision can be made. It's going to be a compromise anyway so it's simply a case of determining the best compromise.

Sunday 10 September 2017

Now it runs

Well it ran for a while, all of probably 10 minutes before the gremlins started appearing. On the right hand bend trains were slowing far more than the tightness of the curve should have caused. A quick check of the cables underneath and one of them was getting warm, a sure sign of overloading. I had thought this might happen so wasn't particularly surprised. I decided I need to increase from 3.5mm plugs to 6.25mm plugs. When I took the 3.5mm plastic plugs off, nearly all of them had cracked. The just weren't up to it. It could have been my soldering of them but I'm fairly proficient at that so probably not the cause for all of them. Suffice to say we now have metal connectors and plugs and it all works fine. I took advantage of dismantling it all to trim some excess timber and to tidy the wiring.

Time to progress the scenery. I'd read a discussion online about the use of Celotex as an alternative to polystyrene. I'd also seen a discussion about whether it contained fibreglass or not and one poster assured everyone that if you bought the proper branded Celotex then it did not contain fibreglass. I can report he was wrong. Mine says Celotex on the outside and fingers tell me it contains fibreglass.

It may or may not be clear but I've put in the stone wall at the back of the mill race and glued down and carved the first piece of Celotex. I'm struggling to know what to do about the backscene. In my minds eye I saw the embankment behind the mill rising steeply up to the road and out of sight. The reality is that the mill is quite large - it's the white cutout on the right and the layout needs to be another 12 inches deep to get a good embankment. There are a variety of subterfuges I can use but nearly all backscenes portray an impression into he distance, the exact opposite of what I need to do here. Something to think about as I build up the contours.

As a separate exercise I've rejuvenated my website at I'll be adding to that as and when I feel the muse!

Sunday 3 September 2017

It runs

The electrics got completed this morning and as I type this up there is a train running round in the background. I had to fettle one piece of track at a join but otherwise it all worked first time.

So how have I wired it up? Firstly, this is DC and not DCC. I've experimented with DCC but it is more than is needed for this type of layout. I want automation but I believe I can do it in a simpler manner.

Having used a cheap PWM controller off ebay and using LED strips for the lighting it means all I need is 12V DC. The best way to provide that is with off the shelf supplies of the sort that come with all sorts of electrical kit. I'm temporarily using a couple that powered a BT router. Eventually there will be 3 of these powering the layout:
  1. The overhead lights will have their own supply. They don't take anywhere near 2 Amps but it seems to be wise to keep this separate.
  2. The track will have it's own supply.
  3. The servos will also have their own supply. These aren't fitted yet but reading the internet you can find plenty of reports of interference so, again, keeping it separate is a sensible precaution.
I've ordered 4 supplies off ebay. I suspect they are coming from China but that's fine. They will be double insulated and acceptable to exhibition electrician approvers who seem to be often nervous of anything home grown. I've noticed that when they see off the shelf kit they sign it off because there's nothing for them to check. I like having a spare available, hence the 4th supply. By having 4 identical supplies they have identical connectors so are all interchangeable.

The layout is on 4 boards. The fiddle yard has most of the wiring so that's where power goes in and where the track feed comes from. I wanted robustness yet flexible connections between the boards. In the end I settled on 3.5mm jack sockets on each board and purchased some 1m cables ready made. They are a very low price on the internet. Again, I need 3 cables so I bought 4, all interchangeable and a spare.

I was initially concerned that the cables would not carry the track current but with modern motors it is so low I am not seeing any obvious problems, no drops in speed except where the track is tight at the bends and that is down to friction and not power distribution. I shall leave it running a long time and see what gets warm.

The sockets are all bolted into aluminium brackets. I had some long runs of aluminium angle and it took all of 30 minutes to cut and drill the brackets.

At some point in the future I'll wire up the servos but for now I am going to progress the scenery.

Friday 1 September 2017

A circuit!

The trackwork is all down, 9 months after starting the layout. This layout has really been built backwards. The typical approach to layout building has always been to get the track down first to get something running and build the scenery up afterwards. In this case it was obvious to me that the first thing I needed to do was get the embankment correct at the front of the layout. If I couldn't make that look right then it would not be worth proceeding. It is the focal point of the layout.

The track electrics on the fiddle yard were completed this last weekend and a small control panel added which you can see at the back right of the photo. In the control panel is one of those PWM controllers you can pick up off Ebay for a few pounds. Add a 12V supply and a DPDT switch and you are done. The embankment has been wired and a train has been run. Just the end curves have no electricity just yet.

I'll post about the electrics next but all the components have now arrived but not the interconnecting cables which are due this weekend. 1 week to go and I will have the first train run all the way round.

Tuesday 22 August 2017

Getting Stoned

As always progress goes in fits and spurts. A few early mornings has seen the river get some serious attention. The catalyst for this was finding some excellent stone from Stacey's Miniature Masonry on Ebay. It's called Herebrook Grit and you can purchase it in 5 different sizes. I bought the 4 smallest sizes.

I have a picture in front of me from The Telegraph in May 2017 which shows a dry river bed in the Lake District. The detail that can be seen shows that the biggest stones are where the water is deepest and, presumably, moving with sufficient power. As you go up the bank the stone sizes get smaller.

I hope I have recreated that effect here.

Monday 29 May 2017


The long term aim of the layout is that it will run by itself with a simple computer system knowing which of the fiddle yard lanes are occupied and running round one engine after another. Ideally it would know what direction each train is facing and propel it in the correct direction.

However, the layout needs to be able to operate manually should automation fail. Note that I am writing this as British Airways is into day 3 of it's disastrous computer issues which grounded all their flights from Heathrow and Gatwick. I'm not in their league but I know it can go wrong.

Here is the fiddle yard from above:

The only difference to the usual method of wiring is that insulating fishplates have been used at both ends of each road. I know I don't need the extra isolation right now but I figured it would be easier to fit them now than dismantle it in the future should the extra isolation be needed.

Below are the components that will be used to control the layout:

Bottom left is one of those cheap PWM controllers available off Ebay for under £4. It only needs the addition of a DPDT switch to change direction and that is traction sorted.

Automation is much easier with servos rather than the traditional solenoid point motors so I have chosen the ubiquitous SG90 fitted to David Ingoldby brackets as shown top right. David is a MERG member and makes these folding metal brackets that can be fitted with end of travel switches and are very robust.

Top left is the Servo4 board, also available from MERG. It took me less than an hour to put this one together this afternoon. The Servo4 board drives 4 servos (so I will need 2 boards) and will remember the endpoints of travel which can be set by a control box or by a laptop. I chose the laptop option as I had the necessary USB to serial lead from a previous foray into DCC.

What is not showing is the power supply. All this runs off a standard 12V power supply that you can get from around £7 from Amazon. The intention is to have one supply drive the LED strips and one to drive this circuitry. The servos can be run from an independent supply but I'll take that route should I get the dreaded twitching or interference that can affect layouts with servos.

So those are the pieces that will be fitted over the next week or two in-between the day job. I know how I will adjust it for computer control but for now I'll put this lot in place to get something running.

Monday 17 April 2017

More baseboards built

Easter weekend is the perfect time to get some quality modelling time done. First you have to ensure all domestic duties are taken care of and then get up early and get started.

This weekend was earmarked to finish off the baseboards. Despite the ply being under heavy books in the lounge, some of the pieces still developed some horrible warps. I discarded the worst and managed to salvage enough to complete the two side extensions.

The two side pieces literally just contain the 180 degree bends to curve the track from the back onto the fiddle yard at the rear. They have 3 dowels for alignment each and also 3 bolts to hold the boards together.

Since taking the picture the top boards have been glued down and are under the significant weight of some railway books. Later this week I should be able to start track laying.

Sunday 12 March 2017

Wall being painted

I've finally got round to finishing the wall. It's had a coat of white Gesso primer and is now getting some colour onto it. The first was a dirty wash to try and take the white from between the stones. Then I took a damp sponge and applied a mix of grey, brown and green. If you put too much on you can just wipe it off again with the sponge. Working in artificial light after sunset means it is really difficult to tell how it is coming out so it makes sense to keep the first coat light and do the next in daylight.

Here is how one end of the wall is looking.

Sunday 5 February 2017

Trackbed in place

The concept behind the layout is that there is a single line that rolls across the front of the layout. What is nice about the line is that it is on a permanent bend of varying radii and it is on a slight gradient. Nothing straight about this!

The line itself runs between the river and the mill race so it is effectively elevated for all the visible section. I had guessed on the height and it turns out I had set it all a bit high but that is not an issue as I can raise the river bed and can make the front lower fascia deeper to cover it. I knew there was a reason why I didn't glue the front fascia on!

The plan was to reproduce the curves and incline as best as could reasonably be achieved. I used foamboard and cut out some sections that had a 1 in 100 incline on them. the foamboard, I discovered, would bend sufficiently for my needs so I set about gluing it down a few inches at a time as far as each change in bend would allow. 

Eventually it was all down and I discovered it wasn't level front to back. I clearly wasn't as accurate as I should have been but a bit of card packing soon sorted that out. I added some bracing and glues the top down. As can be seen in the picture I cut the gaps where the mill race enters and leaves and where the two sluices are. The next step is to add cladding using Wills coarse stone sheets.

The lighting had to have an adjustment. Once the track bed was in place, the front row of lights were found to be just behind the leading edge in the middle of the board so created a shadow. I added a layer of foamboard to the underside of the wood sticking out on the lighting beam and added more LED strip to that. I also took the opportunity to add a run of warm light on this. Iain Rice, in his book on Cameo Layouts, says that warm lights are not suitable for British weather. However, I am hoping to create a yellowy/brown reflection off the river right beneath so I though tit worth a try. I can always just snip the wire to that strip of LEDs should it not work out.

Sunday 29 January 2017

Layout Lighting

A layout needs good lighting. I knew I would do it with strip LEDs as I had some left over from lighting my workbench. I had enough for two runs, one on each of the overhead battens. The great news is that, not only does it light the layout nicely, it also provides lighting while I am working.

The ones I had were "day white" but I wonder if they are just a bit too white. I've ordered some warm white which I know will be at the opposite end of the spectrum of whites but I'm hoping that a run of these on the front batten will give a warmer reflection off the river that is at the front of the layout.

Monday 16 January 2017

All change

How many modellers have announced they have had a change of heart and want to do something different before the current layout is finished? All of us! The change of heart was caused by an increasing disillusion with DCC which didn't run reliably for me. Others have had great success with it but all I got was sparking locos that kept tripping the short circuit protection. Additionally a change of house and change of job took place so 3+ years later, here we are.

There's been plenty of thinking in this time. Despite now having a much larger railway room to play with I knew that any layout would have to be relatively small to give me any chance of finishing it. I knew it would be 009 - I have made so many friends in the 009 Society and they are such an easygoing and helpful bunch of people.

Within 009 there is a huge range of prototypes. Having been a standard gauge modeller for so many years I have really struggled to mentally adjust to the really tiny stock that many lines had. Fortunately there are two lines that have some fairly chunky stock, the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway and the Leek & Manifold Light Railway. The other attraction for both these lines is that they have a interaction with standard gauge which widened the modelling possibilities.

I looked at both and settled on the Welshpool line as being the more interesting. I then did the standard thing and looked at the stations to see which could be modelled. In truth only Llanfair Caereinion can fit into a moderate space but it didn't give me what I wanted, the ability to sometimes watch trains go by.

In the end I flipped my thinking on it's head and made watching trains go by the major requirement. Looking along the line I came to Melin Dolrhyd, where the line weaves between the mill and the river. Could I model it? I don't know but I'm going to give it a try. I've built the main board as can be seen. The eagle eyed will notice it will be in cameo form.

Watch this space for another post. Hopefully in less than 3 year's time.

Leek & Manifold Transport Wagons

Personal modelling has taken a big hit recently with launching a new shop for STModels along with taking the trade stand to Narrow Gauge Sou...