Dapol Class 73s…into traffic!

March 28, 2017

No. 73 108 in late condition, photographed at Eastleigh in 2002.
Faded, dirty but still doing its stuff on the SE TPO.

No. 73 108 is one of the locomotives I have chosen to model using one of the two new Dapol models to recently arrive on Folkestone East. Conversion to EM turned out to be the simple, involving the regauging of the split axle wheel sets which have a good profile on them – good enough to run smoothly through my hand built track.

There are many well-thought out technical features of this model. The body lifts straight off after releasing the retaining screws – no pesky clips to fight. Don’t loose the screws though or you will be scr*wed when it comes to putting the body back. There is a good space for both decoder (nearest) and a sound speaker. A 21-pin socket ensures all lighting features have power.

The circuit board makes contact with circuits in the body by means of a row of sprung contact pins which eliminates linking wires and plug and sockets. However, I did not want the cab lights illuminated and was looking to fit a decoder with ‘stay-alive’ (‘keep-alive’) . The only one I had to hand was a wired LaisDCC one which works well with this mechanism. 21-pin versions with stay-alive are also available. I also wished to work the head code lights independently using red LEDs, so decided to remove the circuit board and hard wire a LaisDCC decoder in place with its stay-alive capacitor. The lighting connections to the circuit board are easy to locate and desolder, so this hard wire DCC conversion is easily reversed – the circuit board being stored away safely.

The image above shows the hard wire installation, with the head light LEDs wired with 5k Ohm resistors to reduce the fierce light to something a little more realistic. Connections will be made with the head code box LEDs too.

A stay-alive unit is seen in this image. It was not quite powerful enough to power the Dapol Class 73 when it lost contact through those pick-up bearing rings. In the end, I built a new stay-alive unit with some higher Farad rated capacitors with great success. The higher rated unit was still connected to the same LaisDCC decoder. It is worth mentioning that even the smallest capacity stay alive unit will prevent light flicker in the most reliable models even if there’s not enough juice to deal with a serious stall. In many instances, the flywheels fitted to modern mechanisms will carry a loco over a minute dirty spot without interruption,. The only hint of a problem will be a flickering of LED head and tail lights. Stay alive units also smooth the operation of locomotives that otherwise seem to run well.

A final look at the DCC installation. It may seem strange to remove the convenient 21-pin DCC interface. However, wired decoders offer so much more flexibility in terms of organising lighting effects and this installation turned out to be quick and effective. The model is numbered 73 108 with an address of 3108 and is now hauling trains on Folkestone East. It is at this point I must admit to keeping two Lima EDs, stripped of drives and in the process of being reworked with Dapol detailing parts. One is No. 73 129 ‘City of Winchester’ which is used as a trailing unit in the SE TPO so the train can be top and tailed. Two Dapol EDs on this train is overkill. The second loco was also a regular on the SE TPO: No. 73 131 which will eventually be refinished in EWS livery.


N Gauge developments

August 19, 2012

Despite the long silence from me on the N gauge front, work has continued on Dudley Heath, my little portable N gauge layout which has appeared at Doncaster and Ally Pally this year (project in progress). Just commissioned and placed in service is a 5-car NR New Measurement Train model based on the Dapol HST NMT train pack and five rebuilt Dapol Mk.3 trailers. The original plan was to use Electra Railway Graphics overlays on Graham Farish Mk.3 stock. Before work commenced, a set of etched conversion parts for six NMT trailers arrived, out of the blue; kindly sent to me by Pete Harvey.

No disrespect to Adam Warr – his vinyl sides are really good and I have a number of converted coaches (and one wagon) running on Dudley Heath. There are more to add to the roster – the Class 310 or 312 in West Midlands livery is very tempting indeed! (RFM below is one of the Mk.3s I have converted using Adam’s sides.) He also kindly produced Folkestone East name boards in NSE style for me; both sun faded and full colour.

However, I had three Dapol Mk.3 trailers surplus to requirements  – blue grey ones with no immediate use leaving only two to buy. Also, I fancied having a go at a different type of conversion in N gauge. The results are pretty reasonable, except colour matching to Dapol’s version of NR yellow was not easy nor was it a precise match in the end. A 5-car set is also a big project to complete, hence the relatively long periods between posts on here – there’s not been a lot to report of late.

Detailing of Dudley Heath continues on several fronts including signals and line side equipment. The Graham Farish Class 350 will find a home on the layout too, after I have closed up the coupling gaps between the trailers! A fine model in its own right, it adds further modern West Coast flavour to the layout. The foot bridge was a complex beastie to scratch build but despite that, I am not totally satisfied with the result (some filling, repainting, detailing and weathering will improve its appearance dramatically). I will probably have another go at building it once the layout reaches a sort of ‘finished’ stage. I will finish the layout to a good enough standard and then go back and rework bits of it, in between work on Folkestone East and the Montana Rail Link layout. In the meantime, Dudley Heath lives safely in its box under the MRL layout, safe from dirt and dust until I get the urge to play with N gauge British outline models once again. Then out it comes!

‘Day and Night’ Class 66

January 18, 2012

Wow! That’s some printing job in N gauge. It’s a Dapol Class 66 finished as GBRf 66 720 with it’s special ‘Day and Night’ graphics applied to the sides – the result of a competition for children of GB Railfreight staff.The dark side of the model. In other words, the ‘Night’ graphic showing moon and stars – pretty bright in reality.On the lighter side: the ‘Day’ graphic with hills, rainbow colours and birds.

Apart from the locomotive body sides, the rest of the locomotive is finished in GB Railfreight colours with orange cabs, blue roof and the new company logos. On a model, it is strangely attractive!

I guess the idea of the design is to show that GB Railfreight operates both day and night. Some die-hard enthusiasts may find such colourful graphics a little startling and not to their taste; however it is a one-off and who knows how long the locomotive will wear these graphics? In the meantime, Dapol has really done a great job of them, recreating the vibrant colours on both sides of its low emission Class 66 version of its model with sharp printing over the fluted sides of the locomotive. The model itself has the usual features including 6-pin DCC connection, full lighting and a slow control motor. Will it make it onto Dudley Heath, I wonder?

Progress on Dudley Heath

The N gauge layout will be heading to The Festival of British Railway Modelling exhibition in February, warts and all. The event is held at the Doncaster Racecourse and is only a few weeks’ away. I had to pull my finger out and make some progress on some important features including the station platforms at Dudley Heath which are now complete following some messy work with Hydrocal and pigments.

It’s great fun doing this sort of structure modelling. The appearance of the layout is transformed pretty quickly by the addition of structures and civil engineering features. Ballasting is complete now the platforms are in place and other engineering features built in, including cable ducting troughs and equipment box bases.

A significant milestone is passed.

November 11, 2009


Completing the ‘Down’ line of the Top Deck layout, my EM gauge scenic test track, saw the running of the first through trains;  not simply shuttling from staging yard to staging yard. The honour of the first train was handed to 47 761 ‘Isle of Iona and the South East TPO set. Whilst the run was uneventful (nothing fell off the rails), it became clear that some fettling of the scenic side track would be needed. more trains had to be run and those track defects in need of fine tuning carefully noted.


Heading off, down grade in the Dover direction. The curve at the end will be hidden in a tunnel through a chalk cliff.


Although this ballast train is running ‘wrong line’, I consider testing of track in both directions with a variety of stock formations, not necessarily prototypical, to be important. I am looking for rough rail joins, unevenness that can only be accurately detected during a running test and power supply problems.


Crossing over from the ‘Down’ to ‘Up’ lines slowly, observing how wheels react to the track formation. I was already unhappy with the turnout to the left and in front of the Class 47 in this picture and it was soon lifted for modifications.


Checking clearance as the ballast train leaves the on stage part of the layout. There will be a curved back scene at this location separating the scenic side from the staging yard side seen in the back ground. Much tidying up remains to be done before my first running session with friends this week.

As much running as possible was done with as many locomotives as possible. Weaknesses in some of the fleet soon become apparent and those poor performers were soon identified for fine tuning of their own. This process of testing and refinement can take weeks and was completed before work on laying the ‘Up’ line commenced. Wet and dry paper is used to smooth burrs from tail joins, gauge tightening on curves is sought and corrected and tightness through turnouts eased and checked.  With running tests in both directions on the ‘Down’ line complete, placing the ‘Up’ line followed before letting my friends loose on it. Should be fun!

Top deck progress on the layout.

September 18, 2009

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Building effort on the layout project has focussed on the top deck and the British Outline EM gauge theme. Two fiddle or staging yards are now in place with a cross-over between the Up and Down lines linking the two. Wired up and running, the yards are being tested with a variety of different stock. Track laying on the scenic area of the layout remains to be started. Working on a defined layout theme definitely brings two realisations:

  1. It concentrates the mind on specific stock suitable for that theme. Suddenly, I seem to have a lot of stuff not appropriate to the layout theme! Will those models ever get to see a running session? Or does Ebay beckon?
  2. You soon find the weaknesses in your models, particularly with respect to couplings, wheels and traction. I will have some serious work bench time to put in, with upgrading to do, not to mention repairs. I really wonder how stuff stored in stock boxes actually manages to become damaged?

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I have a weakness for mail trains. Here’s one set of stock being tested on the layout – the vehicles will be used to make up my South East Travelling Post Office set when operations start in earnest on the top deck layout. In the meantime, the stock runs along the off stage area of the layout in testing mode. It has had to have couplings adjusted and A1 Models close coupling gangways fitted – starting with the Super BG coaches at either end of the set. I do such work one vehicle at a time before checking performance and moving on to the next.

So I admit that my lack of posts recently has been due to this layout building activity and some heavy writing deadlines too. Whilst it’s great to have stuff out of the boxes and on a layout, I can only notice how much remedial work is needed: from fixing the odd piece of glazing back in place, to checking wheel back-to-back measurements. It’s all good fun, though!

Wiring up – DCC power bus and droppers!

December 16, 2008

Layout wiring is one of those time consuming tasks  that takes time, care and seemingly forever without any signs of visible progress up top on the layout itself. My strategy is to complete the track on one side of the layout, wire it up and get it all tested and working before moving on. This breaks up the project into manageable bites rather than doing all the track first and then being faced with a mammoth wiring job that takes an ice age or two to complete before a train can be run.

As I reported previously, Atlas code 55 turnouts have what is arguably the best electrical arrangement for feeding power along the layout, ideal for DCC. Even so for DCC, a power bus (two wires, minimum of 24/0.2 wire grade, of multi-strand copper) is necessary and droppers (single strand copper bell wire) should feed power to every piece of rail. Soldering all those droppers in through the yard and staging yard area has taken some time. At last, I have reached the junction at the west end, completed the wiring and ready to properly place the mainline track along the next part of the layout.


This picture shows the feeding of bell wire for droppers through holes in the baseboard top at the west end of the reception yard roads. Each one is kept as short as possible and connects to the power bus.


A sneaky peek under the baseboard. Each dropper is connected to the power bus. I prefer to strip the insulation from a section of power bus cable, about 10mm or so, and then wrap the dropper wire around the exposed section before flooding with electrical solder. This is a cheaper method than using suitcase connectors, you can attach more droppers per length of power bus and I think it’s more reliable than most forms of connector. A low tech solution but simple to do. If you strip each power bus in a staggered fashion, as shown, you can even get away without using insulation tape after you have finished soldering.


Whilst on the subject of layout wiring, I did make a start on fitting micro switches to the turnouts, even though the Atlas ones have such short crossing vees (frogs) that it appeared that powering them through a polarity change switch seemed unnecessary. My locos ran through them without a hitch with no power applied. The staging yard area has turnouts with manual control using Caboose Industries ground throws. They work really well. A micro switch is fitted as shown above to change the crossing vee polarity as the turnout switch is changed. It’s another simple, low cost but effective method of control and very reliable.

The ground throws are useful indeed but will not be installed everywhere on the layout. Those turnouts on the scenic part of the layout within ‘Yard Limits’ will be manually controlled with micro switches for polarity change hidden under the baseboards and not on top as seen above in the staging yard. The mainline turnouts will be powered using Tortoise turnout machines which have neat internal electrical switches suitable for changing the polarity of power supplied to crossing vees. With the double junction at West Missoula now placed, installing turnout machines together with all associated wiring is next. After that, it’s back to track on the mainline. With yard work complete, track laying the mainline will be a breeze –  I hope!

Milepost 122 to 123 at West Missoula…

October 27, 2008

Finally reached the end of the yard and the first corner of the layout. I loosely placed track and made up the formation to check the fit with the corner location, a task that took a surprisingly long time. Milepost 122 to 123 is the location of the junction and cross-overs where the 2-track mainline leads away west to Desmet. In real life, this bit of MRL mainline is straight. In my world, to avoid shooting it off through the wall of the building and into the garden, it has to be ‘unprototypically’ curved. Also, the inevitable compression closes distances down too, but this yard throat is a Layout Design Element (LDE) which had to be included…and consequently I decided to allocate a little more space to it than on my original paper plan. Still, there’s still a good 12 feet of mainline run to the cement terminal and crossovers at Desmet.

A slot has been cut into the plywood to accommodate a small creek which flows under bridge 122 which is located between the cross-overs at West Missoula and the yard throat. Note my 16 inch radius gauge cut from mounting card – this is used to check my minimum radii measurements when laying track and introducing easements into curves.

This area of the layout hit the corner due to several reasons. Firstly, the need to maintain a minimum yard reception line length of 10 feet because they also act as a partly scenic staging yard for staging trains in the open,. There will be another set of storage sidings behind the yard, separated by a back scene. I also compromised on the number of lines entering the yard. At the real location, there’s four including the mainline, leading to five by the time the first highway bridge is reached. I brought another up through the bridge to create six for capacity. The mainline is clearly separated from the yard tracks by a wide strip of unoccupied land used as a dirt access road. All I need now is a picture of bridge 122…to fill that gap!

The empty space in the corner will soon be host to the end of the storage yards.

There’s some interesting signals to place at this location too because MRL’s 4th Sub is signalled with CTC.  Finally, before you ask – why is the baseboard top so flat? Simple: this area is fairly industrial and the line west of West Missoula passes the airport and more industry including three which are rail served. The mountain terrain will soon be apparent in the design, with lots of track bed on risers, but not yet!

With progress stopped for a while to assess progress and check some details, I have been installing the track bus under the lower level. There is a great example of this task on the following site: http://dalespeak.wordpress.com/2008/02/11/dcc-wiring-begins/

Thanks to Chris at Digitrains of Lincoln, I have the opportunity to try this new to the UK digital system. DCC-ers will be familiar with the CT-Electronik name. Its a wireless set shown in this photograph and I am sorely tempted – as if I don’t have enough systems to play with as it is! For more details, visit http://www.digitrains.co.uk