Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Progress Report 58

Well, the weather so far in April has been very kind, almost like Summer. Opportunities have been taken to: build some rolling stock for the new 32mm gauge mine tramway; complete my revised freight management computer program; re-organise the Copper Mine sidings and divert the mainline to ease the two tight curves at this location; convert a track-powered loco to battery powered radio control; add works plates and number plates to locos; and, of course, run some trains.

32mm gauge rolling stock

I envisage that the 32mm gauge Peckforton Mine Tramway (PMT) will ultimately have two small internal combustion powered locomotives, around half a dozen skip wagons, a couple of small open passenger cars (for workmen) and a barrel wagon.

So far, I have completed the barrel wagon from a £10 kit bought on eBay (see How I constructed a barrel wagon) though it still needs painting and weathering.

 I have three Binnie Hudson skip kits awaiting construction and will buy another three when these have been completed. When they appear on eBay once more, I will purchase two open passenger cars from the same source as the barrel wagon.

Freight management computer program

Several years ago I developed a computerised freight management system using a relational database program (4D version 5) which was given away on the cover disk of a computer magazine. This served me well for several years but worked only on Windows XP - the only way I could transfer it to later versions was to buy an upgrade - but at over £500, it seemed somewhat excessive.

Recently, I stumbled across LiveCode, which is an open source computer programming environment based on Apple's now defunct program - HyperCard. Having thoroughly enjoyed programming with HyperTalk many (many) years ago, I felt this high level programming language would be ideal for coding a revised and updated version of my freight management program. After some experimentation and what turned out to be a fairly shallow (re)learning curve, I have now produced a revised and improved version of my original program (see My revised freight management program).

Checking the efficacy of the program seemed like a good excuse reason for a freight-focused operating session:
The Down pickup goods departs Bulkeley

The Down pickup goods approaching Beeston Castle
The Up pickup goods departing Bickerton

The Up pickup goods between Bulkeley and Peckforton
The Up Afternoon mixed approaching Peckforton
The Up afternoon mixed departing Beeston Castle
The Up afternoon mixed arrives at Beeston Market

Track improvements around the Copper Mine

The arrangement of the sidings at the Copper Mine is something which I had been intending to change for quite a while. Under the previous layout, the loco needed to make use of the mainline to run around its two trains of tipper wagons (one rake of empty wagons and another rake of loaded wagons).

 This photo shows more clearly the layout of the sidings and the adjacent main line.

Considering that, in reality, the copper mines would have been nowhere near the mainline, this arrangement was not only inconvenient, it made me feel uncomfortable. I had considered re-siting the copper mine, but this would have involved a considerable rebuild and so I opted for a less radical approach. A new board was added on the opposite side of the sidings from the mainline ......

.... and a new siding was laid on this. At the same time the two links to the mainline were removed and the pointwork redeployed.

Another revision which I completed at the same time was to eliminate two R1 curves on the mainline.

When I laid the track originally, I wanted the mainline to meander through the hedge - however, I over exaggerated the meanderings somewhat by including two R1 reverse curves. This has caused a few problems over the years with some couplings pulling stock off the track. One loco (Barclay 2-4-0, No. 2 Beeston) recently had problems rounding one of the curves, suggesting the gauge on this piece of track had somehow closed.

Now seemed the right time for a rebuild. A new diversion was constructed to cut the corner, though the old alignment was retained as a branchline to the Copper Mine.

This has not only eased the curves on the mainline, it has provided the Copper Mine sidings with its own trackwork for shunting without having to encroach on the mainline.

I will encourage hedging plants to grow up in the void between the two boards, thus providing a scenic break.

Locomotive battery conversion

When I originally decided to investigate battery powered radio control, I started by constructing a couple of locos specifically to operate on battery power (see How I constructed a railbus and How I constructed a diesel loco from a kit). For a while, I wanted to run battery locos alongside track-powered locos to ensure that battery power would be feasible. Last year, I completely abandoned track power in favour of battery power (see A review of the railway's motive power - pending) - and sold off all my DCC control equipment.

At the start of this year, I still had three track-powered locos (two kitbuilt and one scratchbuilt) awaiting conversion. these three were the most difficult to convert, owing primarily to the lack of space available for the batteries. 

Deciding that clearing space of lead weights in the saddle tank of my kitbuilt Peckett loco (No. 1, Peckforton) would require substantial dismantlement and rebuild, I experimented with alternatives. I found that I could fit three 18650 li-ion batteries in the cab.

I am delighted that the line's first purpose-built loco is now back in service. I was also extremely impressed that the li-ion batteries have given me five hours and twenty minutes of continuous running on one charge (see How I converted a track powered loco to battery power).

Nameplates and number plates

With my Deltang Tx22 transmitter, I can allocate locomotives to any of twelve separate channels. Over the years, as I have constructed and converted locomotives to radio control, the channels have been allocated somewhat randomly. I decided that I needed a more logical approach to this allocation. My locos have been given numbers for some time (see Stock List), so why not use the railway's locomotive numbering system? To help me remember the loco numbers, I decided it was about time I ensured that all locos sported number plates.

A set of brass number plates was acquired from Roundhouse .......

.... and these were liberally daubed with Humbrol red acrylic which was then carefully scraped off with a piece of card.

 When the paint had dried, the plates were given a final polish with some very fine emery paper and were then applied to any locos which were presently unnumbered. I used my tried-and-tested approach (having learned from experience) of attaching the plates. A couple of small dots of superglue were applied to the body of the loco (rather than to the plate) where the plate would be positioned, and then the plate was then carefully dropped on to it. It was then adjusted with the point of a small screwdriver before the glue set.

In addition, works plates had been ordered from Narrow Planet for some of the locos. These were applied in the same way....

Now the Sharp Stewart ......

 ..... and both Manning Wardles sport works plates. I've decided that works plates definitely enhance the appearance of locos and intend to apply them to all my stock.

 Running sessions

The weather has been so mild during April that I have been able to snatch some short and, on a couple of occasions, some more prolonged operating sessions.
Loco No. 8 Wynford heading towards the Copper Mine with a train of empties while No. 2 is just leaving Beeston Castle

Loco No.2 Beeston, departing Beeston Market with a Down passenger
Loco No.6, Harthill, crossing the River Gowy with an Up pickup goods
Wynford passing the Mill Siding with a train of empties for the Copper Mine
Further down the line she passes beneath the A534 on the approach to Bulkeley
Loco No. 1 Peckforton, about to depart Peckforton with a Down passenger
Later in the day she is caught approaching Peckforton with another Down passenger
As a record of these sessions, I made some short videos


I am gaining a lot of satisfaction from running my railway. For me, going over to battery power has allowed me to run trains without the added hassle of having to clean the track - which was a laborious and thankless task. I have eschewed live steam power - partly on the grounds of cost but primarily because the greatest pleasure I derive from running my railway is being able to run trains at realistic speeds and operate fairly authentic freight services. Being able to shunt wagons at intervening stations in a way which, to my mind, represents how a light railway might have functioned in the inter-war period, gives me great pleasure.

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