Handy diorama boards…

September 24, 2017

…and minutes to assemble!

From time to time, I get the chance to look at some very useful quality products  such as the track cleaning car by Ten Commandment Models/KPF Zeller. Recently, another excellent product has appeared in the studio for evaluation. I have recently had the opportunity to give the new laser-cut diorama baseboard units manufactured by Scale Model Scenery a try. Two outer (end) and one centre unit board has been built for review and I am most impressed by their potential. The outer units build up with back and side boards and may be either a left-hand or right-hand end unit. The centre one has additional fixings and a back board. Three together makes a baseboard with 121cm length measured on the inside faces of both the left- and right-hand side boards – ideal for a compact or micro-layout in N or OO/HO gauge. Add another centre unit and an O gauge diorama or micro-layout is possible. Fixings to secure the boards together are supplied in each kit.

Assembly is quick and easy – can be done on a table top with minimal tools and a spot of fast-setting wood glue. Within an hour, you could be laying track (and track bed) and planning wiring, structures and scenic detailing!

The ‘dove-tail’ construction method is strong and although I would suggest glue is used to permanently secure the boards and plinths together, the parts having a good interference fit. A slight tap with my hand was needed to seat some of the sections together. The plinths are deep enough for solenoid point motors such as Seep motors or servos. The thickness of the high grade MDF from which the boards are made is sufficiently strong to support a small layout theme because the unsupported length of the boards is small.

There is no reason why a small layout built on these boards could not be exhibited from time to time. The real benefit is being able to dismantle the layout into sections for storage or having the option to secure the boards together as a single length of layout as seen in the accompanying pictures. For those not keen on joinery, or without the space to work with timber and all the mess that goes with cutting and shaping it, these boards offer a lot of potential. I can see military diorama modellers taking an interest is these units too. They will save a great deal of time!

Features are two BB001 large diorama baseboards, one built as a left-hand and one and a right-hand unit using the alternative front plinths supplied in the kits. A BB002 middle unit was used for the middle board. Produced by Scale Model Scenery: http://www.scalemodelscenery.co.uk.

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Japanese style pull saw.

August 6, 2017

One of the most interesting discoveries I have made in recent times has been Japanese designed pull saws which I find easier to use than traditional western woodworking saws.

For sawing really straight and clean cut lines, particularly in plywood, they are very hard to beat. The blades are thin and very springy which makes it easier to cut through hard wood ply such as that shown above. The cut is made on the pull rather than on the push which results in a much cleaner cut and with virtually no splintering – a straight line is also easy to achieve after a little practice. The saw above cost around £10. I bought it to try before investing in more expensive Japanese-made saws. It has made many elements of layout baseboard making so much easier and with less mess than power tools.


Truss bridge works

September 9, 2015

River bridge23OMWB

Work on my N scale Montana Rail Link layout has taken a back seat to Dudley Heath and Wheal Annah in recent times. This summer saw a resurgence in activity as I reconsidered the layout plan and track layout. The experimental building of a removable door bridge over the layout room’s entrance door changed my perspective of how the layout could work. Furthermore, operations revealed some shortcomings too – it’s a good idea to really operate a layout before starting any scenery! A new track schematic was devised together with some layout planning to relocate certain layout design elements.

I use an MRL profile book for my track planning, copying real life track layouts where possible to fit in a square layout room. However, working out a high level schematic takes a little doing at times. The idea is to work out how trains will be routed around the layout, incorporating staging yards and features such as a helix so trains flow over the layout as the real railways intended. Details such as the track layouts at certain locations can be determined after the basic route has been planned.

Planning the revised route for my MRL 4th Sub (water level route) meant I could eliminate one staging yard which was awkward to locate, saving a great deal of track at the same time. I am not a great fan of extensive off-stage storage and both of the yards at both ends of the line will act as scenic staging. After all, this layout will not host massive operating sessions, so having vast numbers of trains waiting off-stage to traverse the layout will not be necessary. As the plan developed, I realised that one of the blocks to further development of the layout was not just the determination not to cross the door way to the room, but the location of the helix too. It had to be moved – no small undertaking.

Removal to a position at the complete opposite corner of the room entailed the removal of a great deal of track and some bench work. Once disconnected, it rolled across the layout room floor without difficulty. Anyone who has undertaken such a huge revision to a layout will know that once track lifting starts, there’s always a little more to take up and so it goes. In the end, the only remaining track and wiring to survive the redesign was the formation at Missoula West and the west end of the reception roads. The yard reception roads were lifted and the turn back loop at the east end of the run taken out to accommodate the helix and the revised track formations. It is now all back in place and hopefully better designed.

The upper deck of the layout was also revised with a new, longer, double-ended staging yard replacing the two originals. It feeds directly into the helix at one end and allows trains to be staged for either end of the run. The upper deck of the layout is now a continuous loop whilst the bottom deck via Missoula West is a large return loop around the room. The secondary 10th Sub line fits better too and is now correctly pushed into its secondary role in the redesign as originally intended.

The new scheme has a longer main line run for less track and much less complexity. In common with the real MRL 4th sub, I wanted the track formations to be straightforward as possible. I can also install a reasonable representation of the small yard at Paradise MT together with the Clark Fork River crossing. And that is the current hold up to getting trains running once again. Until that four-span truss bridge is installed, trains are not going anywhere!

River bridge 288OMWB

To speed the job up a little, I decided to carve up four Kato Unitrack truss bridge spans so they would be reasonable, low cost stand-in structures for the real bridge. To fit, they would have to be skewed.

truss bridge3992OMWB

This involved cutting off one side and fititng it one support along, with suitable modifications.

truss bridge38882OMWB

I have to confess, that by this stage, I was not sure if this was such a good idea over kit bashing some Central Valley truss bridge kits.

River bridge 300OMWB

More detail remains to be added to each truss bridge span to further disguise its Kato origins. Once painted dull black and weathered, and fitted with some code 55 track, they will look great on the layout.

River bridge 121OMWB

The last picture of this blog entry shows the spline track bed (recovered and reused from the rebuilding of this section of the layout – in fact virtually all recovered materials were reused) leading towards the bridge location itself. The helix once occupied this site…amazingly. The Tortoise point motor just visible in the top right hand corner belongs to my Folkestone East layout which occupies the third deck of the layout room. Despite the chaos of partially rebuilding bench work and sorting out track and wiring, the changes are bringing numerous additional benefits to the project. Some scenes fit better and some hitherto ‘givens’ being relaxed has made the layout more enjoyable to work on. Sometimes, too much rigidity in layout planning can turn into an iron shirt which constrains the project and ultimately stifles progress.

Tomorrow – all being well with the weather, I am back out on the Monadhliath mountains!

 


Longdrem

November 13, 2014

Eric Kidd 2

Longdrem is the latest of my layout photography projects, this time for Hornby Magazine. Here’s a taster of what is a great representation of the ECML in early BR days with classic steam traction all built by Eric Kidd. It is not an exhibition layout but ‘one that never leaves home’.

Eric Kidd1

It is OO gauge at its best – reliable, smooth running and with a huge variety of motive power ranging from Haymarket’s finest to workaday locomotives of the Central Belt of Scotland.

Eric Kidd3

The layout also features a branch line with a good long run. The layout itself is a round the walls ‘shelf’ layout with little of the landscape modelled outside the boundary fence. The branch runs round alongside a section of the main line to gain running length, with part of the journey through the fiddle yard to divide the run up scenically. The branch also runs at a different level before leaving the shelf layout section to reach the branch station situated on a peninsula baseboard which extends into the middle of the room. In effect, the design of the layout is distinctly North American in the use of the space and the manner in which operations have been carefully considered. That is far as it goes – this is BR (ER) in every other respect, from the long ECML passenger trains, the LNER express locomotives, structures and scenery. A lovely project and a pleasure to photograph – you can see more of the layout in a forthcoming issue of Hornby Magazine.


Quietly getting on with some modelling…

April 8, 2014

Wheal Annah-1
‘Wheal Annah’ is a quickie N gauge layout project constructed as relief to working on my large layout projects. The layout theme is based on Cornish china clay operations on a down-at-heel branch line, inspired by the Carbis branch. Built as a shunting layout, it is compact with the senic part only 40 inches in length. Costs are kept to a minimum by utilising one base board frame, wire and other materials recovered from old layouts. The track is Peco Code 55 and and the turnouts were bought second hand. For good shunting operations, Electrofrog turnouts are used with a simple modification to improve their reliability with DCC power.

Wheal Annah-4
Here’s the frame – recovered from my abandoned EM gauge Dudley Heath Yard project and repaired, strengthened and ready for its new role. Given the rising cost of even poor quality timber and plywood, saving solid and stable baseboard frames is a good idea! Avoid using glue when fitting a new top to the frames. Use only screws which should help with removing tops without damaging the frames when a layout finally meets its end.

Wheal Annah-5
A small shelf to one end provides a safe place for the control equipment. The other end used the fiddle stick borrowed from my more successful N gauge Dudley Heath layout.

Wheal Annah-3
To date, the track is in, hard standing and ballast in place and initial testing complete. The building mock-ups are taped together from old shoe boxes. Point control is ‘wire in tube and the operation will be ‘one engine in steam’. The old platform is likely to be modelled in abandoned condition with the occasional staff or inspection train consisting of the Class 122 making a run up the branch.

Wheal Annah-2
Looking towards the end of the branch and more cardboard building mock-ups. The clay works buildings are angled in relation to the back drop for greater visual interest. The branch line also angles across the baseboard to provide a little more room for the passing loop. The layout will have two operating eras: BR Sectorisation and Pre-1980s. It seems the the Kernow Model Rail Centre special edition clay hoods have come along at just the right time!

 


Overcoming analysis paralysis…

May 9, 2013

There was a block on the completion of my Montana Rail Link 4th Sub layout which occupies the lower and middle deck of my home based, never to go to shows, layout. I really, really was not keen on any sort of bridge across the entrance doors to the cabin – it was an absolute ‘Given’ in my planning that there should be no bridge. This, combined with a determined bit of bloody-mindedness over the inclusion of a trestle on the 4th Sub line resulted in a struggle with the final bit of track planning, holding up the middle deck of the layout.

10th sub-6

In the end, I looked at the possibility of using aluminium angle to create a rigid and stable removable bridge across the doors to the cabin. The experiment worked and thus a route for the secondary 10th Sub line could be included in the plan, resolving several track planning dilemmas. Also, this move clarifies where the west end staging yard (Sandpoint) will be located.

10th sub-5

Some care was needed to ensure good alignment at each end of the lift out bridge. This allows a single track line to run round the opposite side of the room from the main line (4th Sub route) and allows the junction with the 4th Sub at Paradise to be modelled.

10th sub-4

10th sub-3

10th sub-2

With that planning change, work could commence on the building of the baseboards, inserting the spline track bed and preparing for track laying. The layout is based on shelf layout principles and the boards above are only 10 inches wide, minimising impact on the room but increasing operating potential of the layout.

10th sub-8

The picture above shows a view of testing work on the new door bridge using temporary wiring before completing the back drop and fascia. A switch to prevent trains entering the bridge zone will be installed to prevent accidents!

10th sub-7

The door bridge project turned out to be more successful than I had hoped. I can now make further changes – installing a Pratt through truss bridge (4 spans) on this stretch of 10th Sub line to cross the Flat Head River and a similar truss bridge on the main line close to Paradise Yard. This fills my bridge building urges and means the originally planned trestle can be dropped. At last, the over-thinking (or analysis paralysis) is over and practical work on the layout has recommenced – and all resolved by adopting a more flexible approach.


Ally Pally next…and lift-out scenic panels.

March 13, 2012

Eddie Reffin, my fellow operator, is good at the ‘what if’ scenarios. He is also also a very good operator, a shrewd observer of modelling life and a very talented modeller too. He quickly identified a problem with the hidden staging yard on Dudley Heath. When something goes wrong under the scenery, sorting it out turned out to be awkward, as realised when the layout was exhibited at Doncaster last month. Despite the best track laying I could manage, my usually optimistic take on things and a determination to ‘make it work’; one or two errors with running trains in and out of the hidden staging yard disrupted the smooth flow of trains a couple of times. So, on my return, I ripped out the scenery that I had started and had a go at lift out panels.

Made of hard board, they are light weight and strong. hardboard is ideal because it can be bent to gentle curves and easily cut and shaped to fit awkward areas too. However, disguising the flat appearance it has requires some texture. I used hanging basket liner, cut into small pieces, trimmed and glued into place as an initial under layer of scenery.

The flat appearance of the lift out sections is being well covered with texture. Woodland Scenics fine turf is sparingly applied over the top using firm hold hair spray to secure it. Tress and bushes follow – snipped up pieces of Woodland Scenics foliage.

At the time of writing, the work on this side of the layout is nearly complete. The platforms are in the paint shop for a first coat of light grey; station lamps are being made up and I have dozens of little figures to add to the layout too.

It should all be nicely glued down by the time the car has to be loaded for the long haul to Wood Green and Alexandra Palace! And that hidden staging yard is now completely accessible. You know, there won’t be a single derailment in those staging sidings and those panels will stay in place the whole time!