Stay Alive ‘Peckett’ – fitting decoder and ‘cap’ to the Hornby model.

January 22, 2017

There’s not a lot of room in the Hornby OO gauge Peckett W4 0-4-0ST locomotive model which comes as no surprise. To maximise pulling power, the saddle tank, boiler and frame assembly is entirely cast from metal – beautifully done but challenging should you wish to fit even the smallest ‘Stay Alive’ device or speaker for digital sound.


The challenging little Peckett - a beautiful runner, but interesting should you wish to fit something other than the decoder Hornby has designed for it.

The challenging little Peckett – a beautiful runner, but interesting should you wish to fit something other than the decoder Hornby has designed for it.

Hornby has fitted a non-standard 4-pin interface for an adaptation of its small loco decoder. However, not all of us use Hornby DCC equipment and for various reasons too many to mention here. Adding an alternative N gauge decoder such as a Digitraz DZ126 for example would require hard wiring – at least it will slot into the front of the motor cavity where Hornby intends its own decoder to fit. However, when it comes to adding a Stay Alive device or digital sound…there’s simply no room unless the 4-pin plug arrangement is removed from the side of the motor and some milling out of the inside of the die-cast body undertaken – tricky!

This project shows how I fitted an N gauge decoder and Stay Alive to the Hornby Peckett.

This project shows how I fitted an N gauge decoder and Stay Alive to the Hornby Peckett.

To take advantage of the lovely mechanism over the sharp and complex track of the Loch Dhu Distillery yard, Stay Alive is essential to smooth operation in a loco with just four wheels and four current pick-ups distributed over a short wheelbase. I decided to try one of the low-cost LaisDCC decoders with its Stay Alive unit which would provide something like 0.5 to 1 second of power when track supply is interrupted. More power time would be desirable, but there’s simply insufficient space in the loco for a larger capacitor circuit such as the TCS KA-series decoders! Anyway, this is how I tackled the project. The same approach could be adopted by those wishing to fit a digital sound decoder – a sugar cube speaker should fit at the front of the model where I fitted the Stay Alive device. The model’s wiring, TV interference suppression capacitor and decoder retaining bracket were removed first.

Two screws hold the body in place - one is concealed behind a NEM coupling box.

Two screws hold the body in place – one is concealed behind the NEM coupling box at the front of the model.

There it is!

There it is!

For this project, soldering cannot be avoided. You will need heat shrink sleeve, a soldering iron and electrical solder, Kapton tape, double-sided adhesive tape, wire strippers, tweezers, mini-drill, milling tool for a mini-drill, wet and dry paper, screwdriver set, fine nose pliers, modelling knife and somewhere comfortable to work with plenty of light. It’s a long job!


The wiring is simple including the rather large 4-pin socket arrangement. Interestingly enough, this is the start of fititng a decoder to the side of the motor to leave the front area clear for the Stay Alive unit (or speaker for a sound decoder).

Die-cast metal all round in the motor cavity - all of which can cause a short and kill a decoder if care is not taken over insulation and making enough room for the decoder.

Die-cast metal all round in the motor cavity – all of which can cause a short and kill a decoder if care is not taken over insulation and making enough room for the decoder.


Yes, there is potential for attaching a decoder to the side of the motor. Some further space will need to be ‘created’ by milling away some of the inside of the loco body. There is also enough room to run wiring across the top of the motor mount but not around the back.



Wiring and brackets are stripped away. Heat shrink sleeve is used to insulate the soldered connections between loco wiring, Stay Alive device and the decoder harness wires.

The decoder wiring has been shortened to fit the model. The unwanted lighting function wires have been trimmed short and insulated from everything else with 'Kapton' tape.

The decoder wiring has been shortened to fit the model. The unwanted lighting function wires have been trimmed short and insulated from everything else with ‘Kapton’ tape.


With the decoder positioned on the side of the motor, it is now a simple task to work out how much metal to remove from the inside of the body.


Around 2mm of metal was removed from the inside of the body, on one side only. This shows progress after 30 minutes of very careful work.


Once the body will easily slide on and off the chassis without the decoder catching anywhere, you are finished. Clean up rough edges with wet and dry paper and insulate the inside surfaces of the motor cavity with insulation tape. When test fitting the model, do not force it over the decoder – crushing and scraping will damage it. If there is even a hint of the body catching the decoder, remove it and slowly mill away some more metal. There’s plenty to go at without piercing the saddle tank!


Final assembly with Stay Alive ‘cap’ taped into place and Kapton tape used to secure wiring in place. The body now drops straight on to the chassis without touching any components.


A time consuming installation but well worth it. The value of CV29 was set to 34 to switch the analogue operation off so the Stay Alive unit will function correctly (also for 4-figure addressing). I hope the close proximity of the die-cast body will act as a heat sink for any heat generated by the decoder, not that this loco will be under much load!


The installation has resulted in a smooth running engine. The effect of using a low power Stay Alive is to make operations smoother in such a small short wheelbase engine. If the track is truly contaminated, it won’t work as well as a TCS KA-series ‘Keep Alive’ device, but there’s no fitting one of those in a Hornby Peckett without seriously milling away a great deal of the die-cast metal with the consequent loss of adhesion.

Examples of the TCS KA-series decoders and 'Keep Alive' units - too large for this project!

Examples of the TCS KA-series decoders and ‘Keep Alive’ units – too large for this project!

The Hornby Peckett at work at the Loch Dhu Distillery interchange sidings.

The Hornby Peckett at work at the Loch Dhu Distillery interchange sidings.




Hornby Magazine cover story: Rannoch Moor

September 8, 2016

Mark Darragh’s lovely OO gauge ‘Rannoch Moor’ layout made it onto the cover of Hornby Magazine as the cover story for this month (Issue 112, October 2016). I photographed the layout earlier in the summer with some lovely results – a great layout – so I would have to be in truly glaikit form to make a mess of such fine work. It’s beautifully modelled with just the right level of detail and neutral space making it appear larger than it really is. The layout is based on the West Highland line in 2006 or thereabouts.

Here’s a selection of pictures that did not make the magazine cut:





Very fine work from Mark Darragh. I am always searching for quality home or exhibition layouts to feature in magazine work. They have to be based in Scotland and N gauge is particularly in demand. As you can see from the pictures above, I aim to achieve the best possible image quality. A photo-shoot typically takes four to five hours and does not need the whole layout to be assembled at once – they can be photographed in sections. I need to see some simple images of the layout before proposing it to a magazine editor. I do the images, you write the article. Simple!

New for 2013 – Hornby 2BIL

January 15, 2013

2BILImage 2
Hornby’s surprise announcement for 2013 and almost immediate release (a well kept secret) is the 2BIL in OO gauge in two guises: Southern Railway and BR Green. Equipped with a single drive bogie and adequate weight to power the 2 car set, these period Southern electric units will be a good match for the previously released 5BEL Brighton Belle set.

2BIL Image 1

Perhaps the best side of the 2BIL is the corridor side of the unit, they being completely compartment stock. Lasting until the early 1970s, many wound up in BR green with full yellow ends and of course, plain BR blue with full yellow ends. What next for Hornby now it seems to have the bit between its teeth where Southern electric is concerned…a HAL, PUL or PAN?

The Brighton Line’s finest…

January 25, 2012

In OO gauge (1:76 scale) from Hornby – it’s a definite improvement over the 4-Vep! Here’s a peek at the BR blue and grey model.

First impressions are very good, including the three centre trailers which are equally well finished. There’s a lot of attention to detail and thankfully, as an EM gauge modeller (amongst other scale interests), the wheel sets have proper pinpoint axles and not such deep flanges for those using finescale OO gauge track – no running on the rail fixings unlike the 4-VEP. Don’t forget to visit the 5-Bel restoration project web site here.

Hornby’s 4-Vep breaks cover…

August 12, 2011

Despite the usual frenzied preparation for an exhibition – St. Andrews this weekend – time was found to set up the lights to photograph Hornby’s new 4-Vep EMU on my EM gauge Folkestone East layout. Looking at the bogies, the use of internal bearings and blind axles, together with the use of a non-standard axle diameter, conversion to EM gauge may prove challenging! For the moment, pictures are staged by balancing the OO gauge wheels on the rails – just about get away with it.

Although an enthusiastic follower of the Network South East era, the plain 1970s BR blue version (above), with its orange curtains and aluminium window frames looks far better to my eye – whilst a drab-looking livery, it suits the model well.

Martello Tunnel portal at the Dover end of the layout. The 4-Vep is an important ‘signature’ unit for the layout. A key release for this year as far as I am concerned! It will work alongside my old 1980s vintage 4-Vep built from an MJT conversion kit.

Round the curve from the Folkestone Central direction – the curve is brought closer to Folkestone East on the layout so it would all fit my available space. Based on the months of test running, there are plans to revise the rear fiddle yards a little, to further facilitate the running of EMUs.

Folkestone East signal box needs finishing too! But, with the main exhibition season coming on, I may be a little pushed, so making progress on the layout may require some creative time management!

EM Gauge Hornby ‘Javelin’.

December 11, 2009

I must be nuts…

But here is an Hitachi Class 395 in 4mm scale on the ‘Top Deck’ layout – running a treat on Black Beetle wheels and awaiting the additional coaches to make up a full set. The loss of traction tyres as a result of the re-wheeling of the single power bogie was negligible.

I am already running (have run) out of stabling room in the fiddle yards and having to consider some further radical layout design for this deck before things progress too far. To incorporate the HO scale US outline layout on the other side of the double sided back scene on the peninsula seen above, I am planning to make the Top Deck multi level with a second level 4 inches over the current fiddle yards. It solves a number of problems; one of which would have been the reaching over scenic HO layout to reach stock in the ‘Ashford’ fiddle yard of the British layout. Okay, the scenic bit was not going to be that deep and the location I am toying with as a concept is flat farm land, with no soya bean or grain elevators along the modelled section in front of the fiddle yard. Nonetheless, there is one scenic feature of Mason City Iowa, and one of its rail roads which would be prone to damage!

Some train detection equipment will be needed for the EM gauge layout fiddle yard. However, only two of the roads will be out of sight in the revised plan. Upshot is the addition of many more fiddle yard roads for the EM gauge layout and more room for American HO equipment too! Just as well with two Bachmann 4mm scale 4-Ceps on their way…and a love for grain and soya bean hopper cars in HO scale… Not to mention that ‘Javelin’ set.

Of DMUs and scenery.

April 27, 2009

crw_6381_jfrA problem with Firefox crashing repeatedly on my PC (have Mozilla done one upgrade too far?) has prevented an update for the last few weeks. But you don’t want to read about that. The MRL N scale project has taken a back seat recently in favour of some UK outline modelling including further work on Dudley Heath Yard and a brace of more traditional multiple units. I completed a model of DMU No. M55006, a conversion based on a Hornby Class 121 bubble car, converting it to a Midland Region allocated Gloucester Class 122 (above) using a Craftsman detailing kit and saving time by retaining as much of the factory applied colours as possible. Sorting out the roof of the model and taking unwanted detail from the cabs was the main areas of work. Only those parts were repainted.crw_6383_jfrThe second unit is also a single, scratching an itch to build a DPU. As some og you  may know, I have a particular liking for parcels and mail stock. I built my first DPU kit using a Craftsman conversion pack in 1985. This re-run of the project takes me back to my university days, struggling to find spare cash to buy modelling materials for such a project! It’s not perfect by any means but I like it and it seems to capture the character of the Class 128s quite well. Sadly they are no longer with us as none were preserved.

Here is the DPU in the context of a layout scene, albeit an unfinished scene on Dudley Heath Yard (DHY). Models always look better on a layout rather than the sterile environment of the photo stage.

The Class 122 poses on the lower level on Dudley Heath Yard. Both units, when fitted with Ultrascale wheels, will find use on DHY which has seen some progress too. I admit that both models have compromises, effectively being body conversions (the Class 122 has a couple of Class 121 features remaining which could not be removed without destroying the BR Blue and Grey livery) with some detailing to the underframe and a couple of mods too to better match the full-size trains. Some dry brushing around the buffer beams of the Class 122 will complete the cosmetic work.

DHY progress:
I have had fun experimenting with a Noch Grassmaster 2 and realising that mixing grass fibres of different colours will look better than using just one single colour. To make matters more complicated, I am experimenting with the creation of late winter colours.

Woodland Scenics light green static grass fibre was used over some winter grass and ground foam to create some relief. However, the colour is too uniform for late winter grass when used on its own and needs some dead grass colour mixed in the applicator to create hughlights. I have some Silflor Autumn and winter static fibres on their way to experiment further. This repeat of a photograph I posted here some months ago shows the progress so far. Static grass is great but for 4mm scale, not on its own!

Here’s some more pics of the layout showing progress. Ballasting of the lower level is complete and scenery has commenced. Work on the retaining walls to further disguise the Wills heritage is being undertaken too. Weathering is with a couple of washes of the dirty thinners I use to give paint brushes an initial clean to prevent them from going hard. The holes in the back scene visible on the upper level are also being covered now work on the track is complete and access from the rear of the layout is no longer required. They will still allow access to the hidden parts of the layout.

So, with all this progress, the layout will make a suitable back drop for photographing the wagons being featured in my second wagon book. It’s progressing well, and is intended as a companion book to the one on ready to run wagon modelling, featuring kit construction techniques.