Sunday, May 22, 2011

Progress Report 36

Quite a few developments since the last progress report.

The railway has had its first ever visit from a fellow garden railway modeller and a visiting loco.

 Keith also happens to be a Rail Track signalman and gave me plenty of advice on signalling the line, bringing with him a series of nicely drawn signalling diagrams for each station. In the case of Bickerton, these ranged from the most basic with 8 levers ..........

........... through the intermediate in complexity (with 10 levers) ..............

.............. to the most comprehensive (with 24 levers)!

As one of my main interests is operation, I am keen to add signalling to the railway, particularly as the ore trains run irregularly between the scheduled services. I'm inclined to go for the least complex as I'm concerned that signals will be vulnerable to accidental damage, particularly when hedge cutting. Signalling is now another job to add to the 'pending' list.

Keith posted a fine set of photos of the railway on the G Scale Central Forum which he took whilst he was here.

Point/switch decoders
As some of my points (switches) are hard to reach (and I am doddering into old age), I decided it was about time I provided a means by which they could be operated remotely. When I first built the railway, all the points were electrically operated from a central control box positioned in the porch (see Making a control panel). When I went wireless with my controller (first Train Engineer and then MTS), running back into the porch every time I wanted to change a set of points became ridiculous - much easier just to switch them by hand on site. However, seven points are beyond comfortable reach (or positioned behind the sheds) so, whilst I replaced all other point motors with hand operated point levers, I kept sufficient motors to operate these remotely positioned points. One of the points (the link to the Beeston Market/Copper Mine extension) is operated with a single switch decoder (LGBL55024).

These are very easy to fit and link up, but relatively expensive. The other eight are operated by 4-way switch decoders - one LGB55025 and a Massoth 8156001. Whilst these are more cost effective than the single way decoders, the wiring becomes a little more complex. Furthermore, the decoders have to be located in dry/damp free conditions. You may have noticed the lush green foliage of the garden - this is largely due to the high levels of rainfall which we get in the North West - and particularly, it seems, in the Cheshire Gap. I decided to use the original wiring which was still in place for the point motors on Phase 1 of the railway. As these still run into the control box in the porch, it was a relatively straightforward rewiring job to fit the switch decoders in the control box (alongside the reverse loop controller).

Some re-routing of the wiring was needed to reach the points at either end of the 'Mine Branch' link.

and one wire needed to be extended to reach one of the crossover points, but now all the hard-to-reach points on the railway can be operated from the Universal Remote (though I have to remember which way they are set).

Track Cleaning Loco
Several years ago, I bought a track cleaning loco. I was a little underwhelmed by its performance and so for a while I wondered whether to recoup the £300 it cost me (now they cost over £500). I've always operated it as an analogue loco, not wanting to waste a decoder on something which is used only once in a while. Having accumulated a few spare decoders through lucky bids on eBay, I decided to install a chip to see how it would operate under MTS.

The chipping process is relatively painless - a lot easier than chipping the Stainz (see How I added a decoder to a Stainz loco. All that was needed was to remove the bonnet at the rear of the loco (two screws) which revealed the circuit board. The LGB decoder simply plugged in, the dip switches were all then turned off and away it went!

Whilst under analogue, I had some control over the speed of the cleaning motor, but now it has been chipped the cleaning motor runs at full pelt all the time. I've learned from experience to make sure the loco keeps moving: if it stops for even a few seconds, the cleaning wheels file two neat depressions in the rail!

I've now caught up on some outstanding ballasting jobs. The sidings at Beeston Market (see How I added sidings to Beeston Market),

the Copper Mine branch line (see Adding a link to the Copper Mine)

and all the recently added buffer stops (See Progress Report 35),

have now been ballasted using my tried and tested grit, sand, cement and PVA method (see How I ballasted the track).

The Engine Shed
I am in the process of constructing an engine shed for Beeston Market station. The model is based (very) loosely on the engine shed at Southwold - however my model is twin track, whereas the original was only single. Glimpses of the engine shed in its final form can be seen in this 1929 video from the Southwold Museum website.

A couple of stills from the video (sorry about the quality):

An exterior grade plywood shell is being clad in clapperboard planks thanks to the ubiquitous coffee-stirrer. I'm not sure how many coffee stirrers it will ultimately take, but I am well down one pack of 1000 and not even half way finished! I had hoped to roof it with scale real slates, but after working out this would cost somewhere in the region of £100, I am having to find a cheaper option.

The engine shed is now completed - see How I constructed the engine shed.

I am slowly working my way round the rolling stock which has not so far been weathered. So far, some more of the goods stock has been attacked:

Once all these have been suitably aged, I will turn my attention to the coaching stock, which looks a little too pristine for its supposed age. Lastly will come the locos. I want them to have a well-tended but ageing-gracefully look.

I'm very slowly painting all the recently acquired figures. They've all received a base-coat of black (matt or satin (I ran out of matt) and are slowly being detailed in acrylics. They have all had any slab-like bases removed and a hole drilled up one leg for a brass peg to be inserted. This will be uses to position them on the various platforms.

I will finish them off with matt varnish. I've gone for a relatively expensive matt varnish which is used by our war gaming colleagues as my experience with so-called 'matt' varnishes has been somewhat mixed. Hopefully, by paying more I will get what it says in the tin! The figures are taking quite a while to complete, but it is a job I can do while sitting and 'watching' the telly in the evening.

Finally, a few more plants have been added to the garden. Because my garden faces North and is mostly in the shadow of the house, I mostly have to go for shade-loving plants which prefer moist conditions. I do have one flower bed which, by comparison, enjoys desert-like conditions. Not only does it get the benefit of full sun through the year, it is also adjacent to a hedge which draws moisture from the soil. The only real success I have had in this bed is with campanula, which seems largely tolerant to most growing conditions and, furthermore, flowers for quite along period from spring to summer. I've added another campanula to this bed, and am also trying a phlox and some gypsophila, both of which are supposed to enjoy full sun and a well-drained soil.


 Time will tell...........................

Train flap

I've replaced the original train/cat flap into the porch with a slightly more robust one fashioned from exterior ply.

At present, the wooden train flap is merely wedged into place as, incidentally, is the slightly cut-down cat flap which sits inside it. One day I will get around to hinging the wooden train flap at the top - but in the meantime it does the job and there are far more interesting projects awaiting completion.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Progress Report 35

Taming the flora
Easter for me always marks the time for taming the garden and doing the running repairs on the the track needed for the coming season. This year, plant growth seems to have been quite vigorous.

An afternoon was spent in weeding the trackbed, cutting back overhanging plant-life and cleaning the track. I actually like the way the ballast has disappeared beneath moss and Mind Your Own Business. It contributes to the slightly neglected look which I am trying to engender.

Troublesome track
When I eventually I had cleared and cleaned as much as I could and powered up the electrics there was a short circuit somewhere in the largest electrical section. After first eliminating the most obvious possible causes, such as a tool being left across the track, I decided the problem must lie with one of the points - but which one?

I decided to narrow the search down by creating some smaller sections by sawing through the track midway between each station (Beeston Market, Beeston Castle and Peckforton). The multimeter revealed the fault was somewhere in the pointwork at Peckforton Station. Close scrutiny of each point revealed nothing so, before lifting them, I wriggled each one too see if that would do something useful - to my amazement it did. When I wriggled the leading point at the Beeston Castle end of the station the short circuit disappeared. Clearly, some insulation had broken down somewhere beneath the point. Although this has cured the problem for now, I know that sometime in the not too distant future I will have to lift this point and give it a thorough overhaul.

A test run with loco No. 1 revealed further problems with this point and with most of the other LGB R3 points on the system. The connection had broken down between the point blade and the rail leading the frog. The multimeter revealed that several other points were suffering the same complaint and also that with some the connection had broken down between the stock rail and the rail leading to the frog.

Another problem with the R3 points is that the gap between the check rail is too large. This means that sometimes rolling stock derails when taking the curved route through the point. I decided it was time to do some remediation work (see How I improved LGB R3 points - pending).

Buffer stops
Until now, seven sidings have been without buffer stops. Over the past year or so I've been steadily acquiring LGB rail-built buffer stops. I had considered making my own but was uncertain as to how to bend the rail in the vertical plane.

The tail of the LGB stops were shortened slightly to make them look more realistic and to maximise the length of the sidings.

I decided that the two sidings at Beeston Market which serve the engine shed (yet to be constructed) would not require buffer stops as they would terminate inside the shed.

A new loco joins the roster
I completed the conversion of the Toytain diesel into a representation of an early Fowler diesel mechanical locomotive. (see How I converted a Playmobil diesel into and early Fowler). Apparently, Fowler did produce a three foot gauge 2-4-0 diesel as well as their two foot gauge and standard gauge 0-4-0 diesels. My model attempts to show what a three foot gauge 0-4-0 would have looked like had they produced one.

I thought for a while about the livery for this loco. I wondered whether the Copper Mine might be independent of the rest of the railway and hence have its own stock and hence its own livery. However, on reflection I reasoned that as my imagined history of the railway owed its origins and continued existence to the copper mine, the rolling stock and locomotives used for this traffic would be integral to the railway as a whole. As a consequence, the new loco would be the property of the railway and would therefore be decked out in the same livery. This being the case, it would need a number and a name. The existing four steam locos had already been assigned names and numbers:
No. 1 - Peckforton
No. 2 - Beeston
No. 3 - Bickerton
No. 4 - Bulkeley
The villages served by the railway had already been assigned so, what should I call the new loco? I decided that it would be named in honour of the railway's hypothetical benefactor, Lord Bentley Tollemache. His full name was too long to fit into a nameplate and so it was decided the loco will be called simply Tollemache and given the number 7.

For more information on the imagined history of the railway see - A brief history of the railway and its locality.

Weathering rolling stock
I also got around to weathering and rusting a rake of loaded tippler wagons (see How I created a rake of loaded tippler wagons) to match the rake of weathered empty tipplers (see How I weathered a rake of LGB tipplers). Over the years I managed to accumulate two rakes of eight wagons and, in the last year, I acquired another couple of tipplers to make two rakes of nine. With a brake van, plus loco, nine tipplers comfortably fit into the run-round and passing loops on the line.

A visit to the 16mm NGRM Association's annual show in Stoneleigh resulted in the arrival of eleven new figures courtesy of Model Town.

These are in the process of being painted (see How I painted some figures) and will be strategically deployed around the line.

Running sessions
The weather has been glorious for the past week or so and as a consequence I've had several really good running sessions.

 This is the first time I've had four locos running in the railway's livery.

Inevitably, a few snags have been revealed. In addition to the poor connections in some of the R3 points, one of the coaches became derailed with monotonous regularity. The problem arose from the screws acting as pivots for the bogies: too tight and the bogies wouldn't follow the curves, especially through pointwork; too loose and the body rocked too much from side to side, lifting the wheels from the track on curves. The problem was solved by adding small wooden blocks to act as bearers between the bogie frames and the base of the coach.

In trying to make a video of the new Fowler diesel in action, I found it very difficult to keep the loco at a steady and realistic speed. I decided it must be something to do with the old style MRC decoder I'd installed. I replaced it with a newer LGB 55021 decoder. Result! The loco is now far more controllable and can be slowed to a crawl. Furthermore, as the new decoder takes up less room, I managed to cram some more strips of lead under the bonnet. The loco now handles its train of nine loaded tipplers without wheelspin.

Looking at the video I have come to realise that my trackbed is far more undulating than I thought. Some of this may be down to a lack of consistency in my original construction techniques but I suspect that some of the blocks have sunk over the past five years. It has made me realise how important it is to firm the foundation for the trackbed. I suppose I could have bedded the concrete/breeze blocks on to concrete, but my motivation originally was that laying them on sand/soil would be more flexible should I ever decide to change my plans.

One of the joys of garden railway modelling is the opportunity it provides for working outdoors while pursuing a hobby. Over the past few days I have been joined and observed, not only by our cat, but also by a robin which seems to have taken over our garden as its territory.

During one of my running sessions, the robin spent most of the day flitting from one vantage point to another warning me that the cat was nearby.

On one occasion, while I was doing a wheel cleaning session in the conservatory, the robin flew in, but panicked when it couldn't find its way out again. I managed to catch it and release it.

Future plans
I'm not sure I will ever finish the railway - there's always plenty to do. The most pressing jobs are:
  • Constructing the engine shed at Beeston Market
  • Constructing the workshops and hoppers at the copper mine
  • Converting the Zillertal 0-4-2 into a Manning Wardle loco similar to Southwold Railway's Wenhaston
  • Detailing the stations with more people and general clutter
  • Constructing a few more items of goods rolling stock - eg some flat wagons, a gunpowder van