Playing trains and Harrogate show.

January 29, 2009

Since my new supply of track arrived, track laying has gone swiftly, resulting in the completion of track on the lower level Phase 1 and a connection onto the helix. A temporary line has been laid to enable continuous running around the lower level until the track is complete on the middle deck. Anyway, it’s any excuse to run trains.

Or is that ‘play’ trains?


A coal drag awaits on a local as it leaves the temporary link line which enables continuous running on the lower deck. When you start operations, there are the inevitable adjustments that need to be made to settle things down. However, the quality of Atlas track has certainly proved itself to me. For the record, the first train to run up the helix on DCC control was a ………… Graham Farish Virgin Class 220 Voyager…there, I have said it now!


I have established (!!) that I do not have nearly enough stock…the trains are too short, except that coal drag. However, buying freight cars has to be done carefully so the choices make sense, fitting the era and location as closely as possible.


The coal drag moves off west. I have 30 coal loads to make up…and more coal cars planned.


Another meet at what will become DeSmet junction at Milepost 126, west of Missoula. There’s two signal bridges to go in together with a Lafarge cement terminal at this location. It is here where the MRL 10th Sub diverges from the water level route or 4th Sub. I need more intermodal cars too…at least two sets of five cars…to boost that train length.


More testing work…the intermodal cars are built from white metal and etched stainless steel kits produced at one time by Alan Curtis. the track in the foreground has yet to be stuck to the foam tape road bed.


Construction of the roadbed on the second deck has commenced, with the cork already placed. Track laying commences next week, after I return from the Harrogate show!

The Festival of British Railway Modelling – Harrogate:
It’s this weekend (31st Jan and 1st Feb) at the Yorkshire Event Centre (Harrogate Show Ground) and I will be there with a small display of some of my British outline EM gauge models. I will also have a sample copy of my next book which looks at the detailing and upgrading of ready to run wagons in 4mm scale. It’s due out any day!


I look forward to seeing you there – don’t miss it, there’s some really good layouts this year.


Track crisis over.

January 26, 2009

Crisis? Have I admitted to one of those? Nope.

I will admit that the trains had no where to go…for a few weeks…no track!

Thankfully, the MRL 4th Sub project has received another delivery of Atlas code 55 track in the last couple of days which will see the completion of phase 1 of the layout. This latest order was made through Neil Bailey’s ‘American Trains web site (, one of the few suppliers of Atlas N scale code 55 track in the UK. The track itself seems to be in short supply here in the UK. It appears that there are a couple of other big layout projects around which are absorbing whatever stocks may be available.

The time has not been wasted: some joinery was completed to allow the track for Ph.1 to be finished off and a small local control panel constructed to operate the turnouts at West Missoula. However, test running of existing track was not as comprehensive as I would like because the trains could not go very far – certainly not the long ones!


The design of the panel is simple: a couple of bits of left over timber, plywood and a front made of 100thou styrene card. DPDT switches and 5mm LEDs were taken from our own Nairnshire Modelling Supplies stocks ( The panel remains to be lettered with the junction name, milepost number and adorned with a logo too.

Another task completed recently was to examine all of the rolling stock hitherto not run, check the wheels against an NMRA track and wheel gauge before placing them in service for testing. Some minor adjustments to track and wheels was necessary, as expected. I cannot over emphasise the importance of gauges for checking track gauge, flange way clearance and wheel back to back measurements, even when you might expect wheels to be to the standards of your chosen scale and gauge. Alsways have wheel and track gauges to hand in your tool kit, they are invaluable for helping to solve niggling derailment problems and rough riding of trains through complex track work.

The odd item of UK outline stock that will make guest appearances on the layout to give it a run was also regauged to NMRA back to back measurements so it would pass comfortably through Atlas code 55 track turnouts and clear the flangeways. UK outline N gauge back to back measurements are otherwise, a tad too tight for the turnouts even though it runs beautifully on plain track. This is an important consideration given that many modellers who have kindly taken the time to read my blog has clearly seen a benefit in Atlas track but may not be aware of the differences in flangeway tolerance between it and the usual choice of Peco Streamline. A slight tweak to the wheels and running is as smooth as silk.

Of Thumpers and Fleet Foxes

January 24, 2009

Kernow Models is working with Dapol to release a series of limited edition models of the Hampshire DEMU or Class 205 or 2H depending on your point of view. Liveries and prices are now available, as is pre-ordering for a spring 2010 delivery. Here’s the details:

Picture K2001 Dapol Class 205 2-H Unit 205 025 Network SouthEast
Picture K2002 Dapol Class 205 2-H Unit 205 012 Connex
Picture K2003 Dapol Class 205 2-H Unit 1108 BR Green
Picture K2004 Dapol Class 205 2-H Unit 1121 BR Green
Picture K2005 Dapol Class 205 2-H Unit 1120 BR Blue
Picture K2006 Dapol Class 205 2-H Unit 1119 BR Green

Be quick, like any eagerly anticipated limited edition, they won’t last! For more details and prices, visit

One of the proposed models, 205025 was a regular on the Uckfield-Oxted shuttles, often sharing the duty with 205012. I found that pair on the line many times and have been fortunate enough to get a few pictures of them both. Here’s a handful of winter shots of 205025 taken at Oxted on a chilly 30th January 2004 – four years’ ago! I have many more – I shall dig them out when I get the chance.




Fleet Foxes:
Discovery of 2009, musically speaking, is Fleet Foxes, an Alternative Rock genre band which has made a big impression on both Sarah and myself. Not since I was introduced to Porcupine Tree by a guy I respect very much for his DCC knowledge and taste in music have I found an album which deserves continual playing on the studio Hi-Fi. Fleet Foxes is a very haunting sound at times, with superb vocals and and depth to the music, many layers of intricate sound created on some interesting instruments as well as the usual guitar.

These guys can play their instruments, which is more than can be said for many today. Fleet Foxes uses small slices of silence as well as sound for a dramatic effect. The band clearly understands the importance of giving the music time to breath between vocals. Sometimes I wish some made-up,  pop stars and z-list celebrity types that win X-Factor (the producers of the kind of rubbish rammed down our throats by popular radio stations) would use silence – permanently.

So, Fleet Foxes’ album ‘Fleet Foxes’ and its EP, ‘Sun Giant’, rule the Hi-Fi at the moment.

But guess our surprise when Sarah and I looked the band up to see when its next album will become available. Fleet Foxes is from Seattle. One of my most favourite cities.  Sarah and I go there whenever we can afford it and use it as a launching off point for places like Sandpoint, Missoula, Yakima and Spokane when we are on our photting field trips. There’s a great model shop on Elliot Ave – the Seattle Train Centre, close to the railroad with easy access for safe photography. Pike Place Market is the place to go for local produce, sea food and breakfast. Top Pot Coffee for great coffee and fabulous donuts (what else –  Seattle is famous for its coffee houses) and of course, the Space Needle. Add the ‘Ducks’ to that list – a fun way to play tourist and the famous monorail. Sarah is into glass – there’s so much amazing glass-making in Seattle and down the coast to Tacoma… I could go on. We dug the pictures out once again: here’s more from our combined photo archives…

Seattle skyline from the Space Needle.


Another attraction – the Monorail.


The Monorail is one way of seeing the city – albeit pretty quickly.

Another way is to ride the ‘Ducks’, a seriously lacking in seriousness way to seeing Seattle. It’s fun, frantic and not to be missed. Ride the Ducks on your first day in Seattle – it will set you up for the rest of the visit! This picture is head first into Lake Union, a splosh which is part of the tour.  In a Duck (DUKW)


During our 2007 visit, these guys could be found everywhere around the city, dressed up in many different ways.  The event is called ‘Pigs on Parade’ and was held in 2007. Of course, there is a bronze pig at the main entrance of Pike Place Market called Rachel. Put some money in her – she’s a piggy bank for raising funds to support and restore the market. This particular little piggy is ‘Pigasso’.


‘Sounder’ trains at Seattle King Street station – an easy and accessible rail fan location. No one bothered me for the few hours I spent taking pictures. In fact everyone was very friendly. Note how clean they are…

The Empire Builder, or rather, half of it departing Seattle for Chicago in late afternoon. The other half starts at Portland and they join in Spokane.

Just looking through the pictures makes me want to return and soon, despite the low Pound against the Dollar. Thank you, Fleet Foxes,  for reminding us both of this great city.

DRS/Tesco/Stobart Rail Inverness service officially launched…

January 22, 2009

Eddie and James came to town!

Yes it’s true. The DRS Stobart Rail pair of Class 66/4s were both present for the official launch on Tuesday Jan 20th of the new Highland intermodal service on which has been featured here before. Notably, the solid use of Stobart boxes is now becoming mixed with the Tesco branded LessCO2 ones, introducing some variety. It appears the joint venture including Russells has settled down and Tesco is comfortable with the arrangements. The service will take around 17,000 lorries off the Highland A9.

Eddie the Engine (66 411) sits by the carriage cleaning depot awaiting its next move…in a rare flash of sunlight for what was a sleatly, snowy sort of day.


Side on of ‘Eddie’ showing all of the livery detail. Stands out a bit… Note the reach stacker in the back ground. For the record, 37 510 was also present.

That’s ‘James’ leading the south bound train with empty boxes, doubled up with ‘Eddie’. Unfortunately, departure was too late for a shot up on the Nairn viaduct at Culloden Moor. Dusk was beginning to fall and the weather closed in again.

There are a couple of livery differences between the two, including cab roof colour and markings. Anyway, despite the weather, some pictures were possible. Roll on the balmy weather of spring and photographing this train in better conditions.

Dragging myself away from the layout…

January 12, 2009

…but progress is being made. Unfortunately, stuff done over the New Year was largely confined to wiring which is about as interesting as watching someone wire up a model railroad layout. Oh well, at least the DCC power bus is in place on the second deck. Wiring for the Tortoise point machines operating the junction at West Missoula were also started, and a neat little local control panel under construction.

Whilst on the subject of joinery, the road bed on the second deck commenced, made from 3/4 inch ply and running from the helix, rising at 2.0% to a height of 2 inches over the joists. The section completed is the ‘hidden’ part of the line which runs along the back of the deck, to make a 180 degree turn at the end to enter the scenic side to run back east to west (left to right) along the scenic front. Actually, to help with access, the ‘hidden’ line will have scenery, hidden behind trees, rocks and ridges and only viewable for driving when the operator is standing on a low box.  I do not wish to have one train pass through the same scene twice, visually speaking. A siding (loop) will be included on this hidden section of line to represent Cyr MT as a holding point for trains entering or leaving the helix to clear the main for trains coming the other way.

To the front of the second deck will be Fish Creek trestle or bridge 165 of the 4th Sub which is 144 feet high above the creek, 576 feet in length and with a 3 degree right hand curve to the west on a falling grade of 0.2%. This makes it 10.5  inches, give or take, tall in N scale terms and it will fit perfectly above the turn back loop in the lower staging yard before the scenic break on that level. That will still leave room for operations on the lower level. At 576 feet long, the model should be 3.6 feet long over nine spans. I may have to compromise a bit there…

Anyway, my thanks to the members of the  MRL Yahoo Group  for help with the height of the deck of the trestle. When working on a model like this so far from the full-size railroad, help from those closer to the action than I is invaluable. It’s as good as a railroad historical society. You can find the group at

The picture above shows work on the back or hidden stretch of line. An Atlas N scale SD35 provides an idea of scale. The old but unused (!!) hospital drape is an ideal protective cover for the track on the lower deck.

Working on the gradient from the helix – adjustments were being made to the risers to meet the 2% gradient line which was mathematically calculated rather than measured with an angle tool of some description. It was easy: 2 inches climb over 100 inches of track bed… The track bed is pushed as far back against the rear supports to provide as much room for the scenic line to the front as possible.

The pitch of the track bed is also checked with a torpedo spirit level. This needs some levelling…
Note the red and black wires of the DCC power bus, pre installed.

This technique keeps the ply track bed level whilst the joist positions are done. Any slight bowing of the ply is cancelled out making a level track bed or one with a consistent gradient easier to achieve. Sadly, obtaining cost effective but dead straight ply is not always possible and whilst the straightest sheets are chosen, long narrow sections of ply like this can take a slight bow after cutting.

Dapol’s newest 4mm scale wagon – the telescopic hood KIB:

Acquired for my British outline 4mm scale fleet, it’s a nicely finished model indeed. It seems to measure up quite well, although I still have some checks to do. It’s particularly interesting because I built three of these from scratch about 15 or more years’ ago. Phew! At the time, I did not have the correct bogies and they still run on stand-in O&K bogies which are a close but not exact match for the DB type used on the full-size wagons. I will switch in new ones and recover the O&K ones for some scratch building projects this year so both new ready to run and old scratch built models are a reasonable match.

My scratch built effort (to the front) lacks some finer detail. It, together with its two other companions may hit the work bench for some extra detailing and new bogies. In the meantime, it’s not such a bad job when compared to the Dapol model. Here’s some more shots of the Dapol wagon:
crw_4882_jfr2crw_4885_jfrcrw_4887_jfrNice job by Dapol. The steel coils are a bit strange but the rest of it passes muster as far as I am concerned.

By the way…

That damn spider turned up again…

I chased it into a corner with a piece of set track…don’t know where it’s lurking right now. Perhaps I should send one of the cats in to flush it out?