Friday, December 27, 2013

Progress Report 50

I feel this blog posting is somewhat of a milestone. This is my 50th progress report, the blog has just reached 100,000 page views (since I started recording them in 2010) and next year will mark the tenth anniversary of the railway's inception. When I look back over the past ten years I find it difficult to comprehend the changes which have taken place.
An overview of the railway before Peckforton Station was constructed

A similar view two years later
How it looks today
The foundations for the line between Bulkeley and Bickerton in 2006
How it looks today
The line between Peckforton and Bulkeley (with Bickerton in the background) taken in 2009
The same location in December 2013
Perhaps the most significant is the progression from analogue track power, through radio controlled track power, DCC track power, radio controlled DCC track power and now to radio controlled battery power. In many ways these developments have paralleled technological developments. When I first considered garden railways, I was tempted by battery powered radio control but this was in the days before cheap 2.4gHz r/c and li-ion batteries. Had these been readily available I might well have opted for 32mm gauge - I was sorely tempted by some 32mm gauge scratchbuilt battery powered models at a swapmeet! However, the lure of 45mm gauge for me then was the ready availability of off-the-shelf models and, as I was in full-time employment in a demanding job in terms of time commitment, this seemed like a more immediate way of getting something up and running. Besides, my past experience of railway modelling inside the house had all been with track power and so this seemed like a gentler learning curve. Now I am retired, I am time-rich but also, unfortunately, cash-poor and hence my priorities have changed to reflect this.

Getting started with battery power

Having now constructed five battery powered, radio controlled locomotives, I felt it might be helpful for those who are setting out on this to share my experiences and knowledge accumulated so far in a blog posting (see Getting started with battery power). Hopefully it will prove useful to someone.
Batteries, receiver and controller inside a kit-built model diesel loco

Southwold Railway 2-4-2T locomotive

After tracking-down a Playmobil 0-4-0 motor block on, I found its wheel-spacing and driving wheel diameter was almost spot-on in 16mm scale for one of the former Southwold Railway Sharp Stewart locomotives. Having already constructed a model of the Southwold Railway's 0-6-2T loco No. 4 (See How I constructed a Southwold Manning Wardle 0-6-2T loco), I felt it would appreciate a companion. As my railway is set in 1932, I could argue that the owners bought up some of the Southwold's redundant stock when it closed in 1929.

Although there is a fair amount of trial and improvement learning in my loco construction, I feel my scratchbuilding skills are improving and I've spent a lot more time adding finer details to this model which I think adds an extra dimension. (see How I constructed a Southwold Railway 2-4-2T loco)

I now have sufficient battery powered locos to be able to run a full operating session, though I would like to have another steam loco to act as a 'spare'. I am not yet sufficiently confident to abandon DCC entirely, but maybe, after a full season's operation on battery r/c I might be tempted to realise the capital locked-up in my DCC equipment.
From left to right: Kitbuilt diesel, scratch-bashed railmotor, kitbuilt railcar, scratch-bashed steam loco.
After seeing a posting on the G Scale Central forum, I invested in a Deltang transmitter, designed specifically for railway use, and a couple of receiver/controllers and have not looked-back since.

I have found David Theunissen, who developed the system originally for the control of aircraft, to be very helpful and responsive to my sometimes naive questions. Apart from the relative low cost and diminutive size of the components, David is continually developing and enhancing the system to meet the increasing needs of we users. For example, he is currently developing a transmitter and receiver package to remotely control the operation of signals and pointwork - which coincides nicely with the developing needs on my railway. I have some pointwork which is more difficult to access and also I have recently completed 20 signals to control operations on the railway (see How I constructed a set of signals (pending), Garden Rail edition 224 (April 2013) and Progress Report 43.


The completion of the viaduct has been taking a back seat while I've been constructing and enhancing the fleet of battery powered locos. Recently, however, this has now become the foremost project. It is very time consuming cutting and fixing the 1000 or so individual balsa wood 'stone' blocks on each side, but it is also quite therapeutic.

Once completed, these cosmetic side panels will be fixed into place and the arches infilled. The whole bridge will be removable so it can be brought inside during the winter months.


My workshop is located along one wall of the conservatory which makes it convenient for hopping in and out of the garden when small repairs need to be completed during an operating session or when something in the course of construction needs to be tested. After growing frustrated when trying to track down the right needle file or screwdriver I decided to make a simple rack to hold them in place and at the same time add some shelves and a backing piece to prevent small items from falling down the back of the workbench. The wood for this project was recycled from a redundant pine bookshelf which had been knocking around in the workshop for the last couple of years (I do hate throwing anything away!).

It's now so much easier to lay my hands on the right tool or small component thus making construction and maintenance tasks more enjoyable.

Preparing for the winter

The autumn has been much milder this year and so I am only just getting around to metaphorically battening-down the hatches and preparing the railway for the winter.


I have removed all the station buildings around the line and brought them indoors. It's three and a half years since these were deployed in the garden (see How I assembled some station buildings) and are now in need of a repaint and some minor repairs.

They will be re-positioned in the spring.


The more vigorous plants beside the track have been pared back to encourage fresh growth in the spring while various lonicera bushes have been pruned to represent deciduous trees.

A garden railway constantly requires maintenance and care and the winter months provide an opportunity to catch-up. I am also hoping that is there is a decent spell of drier weather I will be able to run a mid-winter operating session with my new fleet of battery powered locos. In the meantime, I have plenty of minor repairs, general maintenance and building projects to keep me out of mischief.