Thursday, 12 January 2017

Philden's HO track plan

Here is a look at Philden's final track plan that I will be taking to the Brisbane Model Train Show on the 6th and 7th May, 2017. As you can see, the layout design for the first level is nothing too extravagant, (neither is the drawing itself for that matter). But at the request of Peter, (this one's for you Peter), I thought it about time that I added some kind of track plan to show the overall view of a HO scale layout that had its beginnings 2 years ago at the 2015 Brisbane Model Train Show. Of course, in the year to come a second level will go on top, so I have shown the space allocated for the upper level staging shelf support on the right, with another 6 cm of shelf to protrude out over the lower shelf staging area.

The entire layout is 260 cm (8 feet 6 inch) long and just 32 cm (1 foot and 1/2 inch) wide. With the modeled portion being 188 cm (6 foot 2 and 1/2 inch) long and the staging shelf beyond the view block adding another 72 cm (2 foot 4 inch) of track. As you can see, the staging shelf tracks fan out slightly at the right to allow a little extra room when placing trains on and off the track. The rail height now stands at 112 cm (3 foot 8 inch) from the floor. As readers can tell, it was designed to stand above my desk and somehow inspire me to write my next novel. As readers can also tell, this layout has distracted me to the point where there is no next novel in the foreseeable future.

The entire layout is simple DC operation, and required the following HO scale track to complete;

  • 1 x SL-90 PECO medium radius insulfrog double slip
  • 2 x right hand SL-95 PECO medium radius insulfrog turnouts
  • 2 x left hand SL-96 PECO medium radius insulfrog turnouts
  • 2 x lengths PECO code 100 concrete tie flextrack
  • 6 x lengths PECO code 100 black timber tie flextrack

Two years after visiting the Brisbane Model Train Show and purchasing the above track (along with a throng of other products), it will be nice to place my layout on public display for the first time at the same venue. On another side note, it will also be 15 years since I last exhibited at the Brisbane Show. I'm hoping to have my layout accepted in at least one more model train show in south east Queensland in 2017, before adding the second level to the layout and taking it to even more exhibitions in 2018 and traveling further afield. My goal was always to make Philden a layout capable of travelling to model train shows, and as nice as it looks sitting above my desk, I'm planning to add just one last touch to the display side of my layout to give it that finished 'wow' factor in time for its' first exhibition. Just what is it? Well, I might just save that as a surprise for the Brisbane Show.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Really Simple Block Wiring

If there's one thing I struggle with greatly in this hobby, it is wiring. No sooner does the soldering iron come out than my wife invariably grabs the car keys and head to the shops, and I generally find myself quitting the hobby 14 times within the next hour! So this post isn't designed to enlighten the minds of the DCC savvy circuit breaking, record making masters of electrical wizardry. It is purely for the simple DC modellers, like myself, who struggle when it comes to the thought of which wire goes where and would like to master the basic concept of creating an isolated block of track that is controlled by a simple switch. Because, let's be honest, we all have to start somewhere before we stretch our imaginations to the next level.

As you can see by the above diagram that I drew up on a piece of paper, all I wanted to do was create an small set of isolated blocks of track on my staging shelf, that by means of throwing a simple switch would cut the power to one locomotive at a time. I could then throw a switch to the other track to make that track live and bring a different locomotive into view on my bookshelf layout. The problem was, whenever I Googled anything like DC block wiring for a model railroad, the result was a series of diagrams popping up on my screen that resembled the wiring schematics of a Collins Class submarine. Thankfully, model railway wiring and I have reached a peaceful truce. I call it the KISS treaty, short for keep it simple stupid. So this little project had a simple outcome, that simply works.

Visiting my local Jaycar Electronics store, I purchased 5 toggle switches with the simple on/off lever frame, making sure that they were the version that had the on/off marked boldly in red and black. Not only do they look better in my opinion, but eliminating which way was on from which way was off made it a lot easier for me to understand what I was doing. These switches are known as SPST, or single pole single throw switches, and a good run down explaining the differences between SPST, SPDT and DPDT can be found on the website Sparkfun.

The single throw switch simply acts as a current break for the positive wire that feeds from the control pack to the rail. The block of track that will be isolated is of course defined from where you use a plastic insulator join (or carefully cut gap in the track) as shown in the above drawing, or between two insulated breaks in the rail if creating a block section on a continuous stretch of track. The negative wire is then connected to the negative rail, bypassing the toggle switch altogether. On is on, off is off, and a better explanation of how it works can be found on the website Learning About Electronics. The term common rail wiring simply means that the negative wire power feed is already connected to the negative rail (providing a common rail and negative grounding). So wiring a toggle switch using common rail wiring will only require the positive wire feed into the toggle switch and a positive wire out of the toggle switch to the positive rail. I still connected the negative wire to each section I was wanting to isolate simply because of the joins on each track where my staging shelf connected with my layout.

Mounting the toggle switches the front of my lower staging shelf kept each one within easy reach.

Between the upper and lower levels of my layout, I wanted to create 5 isolated blocks of track, 2 for each siding on the lower staging shelf, 2 for each siding on the upper staging shelf and 1 for the main platform road at the station on the upper level. So to keep the toggle switches reachable from a single operator's point-of-view, I drilled 5 holes centered at the front of the lower level staging shelf, wide enough for the body of each toggle switch to sit up level with the surface of my staging shelf.

Underneath the layout, the positive wires went in at one end of the switch and out on the other to the track above.

The wires to each switch are connected from underneath my layout. As you can see in the above photo, the single positive (red) wire has a join that connects with 2 wires that lead to the positive 'in' on both toggle switches. Each switch then has a positive 'out' wire that leads through the holes drilled to the left of picture to the two tracks above on my staging shelf. One is joined the positive rail on track A, the other is joined to the positive rail on track B. On the other hand, the negative (yellow) wire has a join that connects with 2 wires that bypass the toggle switches altogether, they lead directly through the holes drilled to the left of picture to the negative rail on track A and the negative rail on track B. It doesn't matter which negative wire connects with which negative rail above, as they both join beneath the layout and become the same wire below that feeds back to the control pack.

These simple on/off switches will control each block of track I wish to isolate.

The toggle switches I purchased from Jaycar are positioned in place from underneath the layout and secured above by a screw-on washer that tensions down on the face plate. The 9 mm plywood base on my staging shelf proved too thick however for the small clearance on the thread between the washer and face plate, so I had to make a backing plate using some scrap 3 mm MDF board. I then covered the MDF board using some leftover adhesive vinyl wrap, keeping with the same steel checker-plate pattern that I used on the back panels of my layout. I glued the backing plate in place using some craft glue and then tensioned the washers on the toggle switches until the whole assembly was held firmly in position.

Mounting the switches neatly didn't detract from the overall appearance of my layout's staging shelf.

The finished panel looks stylish, but is really, really simple. The simple switches provide simple operation on a simple block wiring section of staging tracks. The two toggle switches to the right control the two tracks on the bottom level, while the other 3 toggle switches are sitting in place ready to be wired up to the 3 isolated block sections that will be located on my upper level extension. Once I have named each track location, I will add a small nameplate beneath each toggle switch to give the simple panel the feel of a signal box.

While I am still no expert at model railway wiring, sitting down to write a how-to article such as this really makes the lessons I've learned stick. For those that argue that DC control should be referred to as Dinosaur Control in this digital age of model railroading, this simple block wiring technique has stood the test of time in this hobby. With Philden now wired and ready to handle the coming-and-going of two different trains on an up-and-back layout, I feel a lot more confident that this simple project will add a lot more visual operating fun to a small layout such as mine. Now all I have to do is send in my exhibition applications and see how my new layout handles some model railway show appearances this year.

See also; Let's wire this up

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Review: Auscision Models' NCTY/NODY Wagons

It's not often that I get to review a recently released product. Usually I'm the one who's late on the scene and trying to put together a model railway roster consisting of sold-out, or nearly sold-out, Australian models that would suit a small bookshelf layout such as mine. So it was a nice surprise to arrive home from a holiday to be greeted by the postman who was delivering my pre-ordered Auscision Models NCTY open wagons complete with steel coil cradles.

Nicely packaged in a box of 4, these NCTY wagons retail for $270 AUD.

These open wagons come in packs of four, and the NCTY set that I purchased was the result of a conversion of some BDY/NODY open wagons by the then State Rail Authority of NSW, which essentially consisted of removing the pairs of double doors, fitting steel coil cradles in the doorway openings and re-coding the wagons NCTY. These wagons received more conversions and re-codings during their lifetime than Liberace had costume changes, and today the converted wagons have been further converted into flat wagons carrying anything from slab steel to containers. I'm not sure how long the Tubemakers Structural NCTY's actually lasted in service, but I can guarantee they didn't stay looking this clean for long!

The underframe detail is largely visible from rail height when viewed side on.

Underneath, I imagine the detail on each model is all the same, with each variant essentially a cut-down NODY. For the steel cradles, I was surprised that they sat loose inside the model. I thought for sure they would have been factory glued or positioned in place. As I plan to heavily weather these models, having the cradles supplied loose is going to make it a lot easier!

The air hoses are supplied loose in the box and need to be hand-fitted.

Also supplied loose inside is the brake hoses that simply attach in the holes provided at the wagon ends beside the coupler as shown above. Provided in a small packet inside the box, they simply press into place with a pair of tweezers. I first dipped the ends in plastic cement for good measure before pressing them into place. As you can see below, it is a simple enough task and probably avoided the possibility of these being damaged in transit from when they left the factory.

I added a dab of plastic cement to keep each hose firmly in position.

The wagons have a surprisingly close clearance when coupled together. Only having an up-and-back bookshelf layout to test these on, I can't vouch for the 18 inch minimum radius curves that the supplier recommends these run on. Maybe a fellow modeler with an actual room-sized layout will be able to confirm that they run trouble-free around 18 inch curves. On straight track however, they just look fantastic!

Coupled closely together, there's a lot of detail and a lot to like about this model.

The couplers work flawlessly, and couple-on softly without any hesitation. A pair of these will glide through a medium radius pair of PECO points without a hitch. What I particularly like about the detail on the NCTY, is the slight difference in colour between the bogies (trucks for my US friends) and the wagon sides. The bogies are still painted in the original PTC blue as delivered. While the grey grime on the wagon under-frames simulate years of built-up dust before the wagon was modified and the remaining walls repainted Freightrail blue with Tubemakers Structural signage added. The handrails and most of the under-frame detail are metal, while the body, ladder steps and brake cylinders are made of plastic. The lettering is crisp and the small detail like the rivets on the sign edging makes this an exceptional straight out-of-the-box model. The blackened metal wheels are RP25-110 or 36 inch scale, capable of running on code 70, 83 or 100 rail, (as my layout uses), and the model is finished with scale sized metal couplers. All up, Auscision have produced 8 different body versions of what is sure to be a popular model.

A pair of NCTY steel wagons fit nicely alongside my concrete unloading area on Philden.

I remember catching sight of these wagons being shunted along the OneSteel siding at Acacia Ridge in Brisbane years ago, I think it was around 2001/2002. At the time they were being led across the Bradman Street level crossing by an 81 class in National Rail livery. Adding some of these open wagons to my roster fits nicely with my everything old is new again mentality, as I love seeing locomotives and rolling-stock re-utilized and re-painted into different schemes.

The Auscision steel coil loads come in packs of 5 in different shades and sizes.

Speaking of which, the cradles on the NCTY and later the further cut-down RCAF/RCQF wagons, were designed to carry one thing. Coiled rolls of big heavy steel. I recently stocked up on packets of the Auscision coil steel loads in various shades of mild steel or chrome finish at the Australian Modeller Shop's 20% off end-of-year sale. Knowing that Auscision's next steel wagons will be the 36' foot NCX/NCNX fishbelly wagons, I also bought enough tarpaulins to alternate between the National Rail and Pacific National lettering as I please. Having the ability to add and remove steel coil loads and tarp covers will only make operating a small layout such as mine that bit more fun.

The Auscision coil steel load nest inside the steel cradles on the NCTY/RCAF/RCQF open wagons.

The steel coil loads simply rest inside the coil cradles, and the coil cradles in turn sit inside the open wagons, giving the NCTY's that pleasing look of carrying a load. Although essentially made of plastic, the metal bands almost have you believing they are steel.

The forklift driver is wondering how on earth he is going to unload these steel coils.

Although the NODY wagons were first done by Austrains almost 20 years ago, the demand for high quality Australian rolling-stock begged for this model to be re-done. Beyond being a much improved model to the original, the Auscision version offers a total of 23 different re-incarnations of what was once a key piece of New South Wales rolling-stock. The 600 strong original fleet of BDY/NODY wagons just seem to keep reinventing themselves, and perhaps will continue to do so into the near future. Now all I have to do is wait for the release of the NCX/NCNX steel wagons expected this year!

Review Card: Auscision Models NCTY/NODY open wagon

My Rating:


Final Thoughts: A new take on a favourite model. The improved detail and 8 different body designs available makes this model a winner!


Review Card: Auscision Models coil steel loads

My Rating:


Final Thoughts: Sure you could make these yourself.... If you could be bothered that is. But for $25 bucks you can have your choice of five different sizes and two shades of steel.