Truss-bridge works part 2

September 28, 2015

Bridge 218-3

MRL Bridge 218 has progressed a little recently. Five piers, two end abutments and the approach spans have been completed in a bid to span a large gap at the west end of the 4th Sub mainline where it crosses the Clark Fork River at Paradise MT. Without this structure, trains cannot begin to operate as intended. Using Kato Unitrack truss spans has saved some time and considerable amounts of money over using truss bridge kits, despite time-consuming modifications to the spans to off-set them to cross the river at an angle.

Bridge 218-2

As of today, the track panels for each span are complete and a timbered bridge deck to create the impression of ‘bridge track’ is being installed using strips of 40thou styrene card. That is a mind boggling task in its own right, but given that Micro Engineering Company track bridge track is difficult to find in the UK, it is a viable option. The gauge of 9mm for N scale is achieved by soldering code 55 rail to copper clad sleeper strip, spaced to match the trussing members. The gaps are then filled in with styrene strips to represent the larger timbers used in bridge track. Each truss section has its own track panel and the truss spa track sections will be joined using the track rail joiners when assembled on the piers.

Bridge 218-1

The structure is loosely placed on the layout to check the height of the bridge track with the adjacent abutments. There remains a few millimetres of adjustment to do in raising the bridge which can be done by completing the bearing pad detail. The piers are constructed of 80thou styrene with a wrapper of embossed stone card by South Eastern Finescale which was leftover from another project. The real Bridge 218 has concrete piers which, until recent repairs were undertaken by MRL, were looking pretty weathered and heavily patched and repaired. Embossed styrene card provides a key for a smear of Squadron filler which will be roughly rubbed down to create the desired worn concrete effect – some of the outline of the stone embossing may show though in places adding to the patched effect. Smooth styrene sheet would not have been so visually effective.

The structure will be used on the layout in unfinished condition for a time until the spans are painted dull black and weathered; the piers painted in some lovely warm concrete colours and a newer highway bridge constructed and placed immediately behind the rail bridge. Some additional detail remains to be added to the Unitrack truss spans over the next few modelling sessions.

It is turning out to be a long, long project, but one which I think will produce a passable representation of Bridge 218 on MRL at Paradise MT. Whilst there are some significant detail differences between the real truss spans of Bridge 218 and the Unitrack models, the compromise will be acceptable to me now the spans are off-set to cross the river at an angle and in the process of being detailed. There is not N gauge kit which could be used to make the truss spans making up Bridge 218 that is readily available. So rather than slip a piece of plywood in as a stop-gap, the Unitrack spans seem to be a fair substitute and should carry heavy (for N scale) 10 to 12 foot long trains without difficulty!


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!


OHLE for Dudley Heath

July 29, 2015


The push is now on to complete the OHLE portals currently being installed on my N gauge ‘Dudley Heath’ layout. It has taken some time to complete the planning and find the money to make this part of the project a reality, as is the nature of these things. The total cost of the basic portal kits and fittings came to around £120.00 for both sides of the layout, a total of 22 portals and eight single masts, so the outlay was not insignificant. The time needed to fold and solder the portals together with the register arm assemblies was another factor for the slow progress.


The OHLE portals represent the heavyweight 1950s Mark 1 WCML OHLE and are produced as flat brass kits by N Brass Locomotives which are folded to shape with the aid of brass folding bars and completed with various fittings for register arms, insulators and so on. The result is a basic portal (there are various lengths available) which can be primed, painted and installed as it is or detailed further with additional fittings. They certainly look the part in a West Midlands setting.


The project was completed in part as preparation for exhibiting the layout at the Perth show in June this year, including painting and finishing of the portals except two over the junction on the opposite side of the layout to these pictures (it takes some time to assemble 22 portals). Bases and some additional details are being prepared to complete the portals and various other masts which will then allow me to use a handful of Dapol Class 86s on the layout. Some remedial work to scenery and other features will then follow together with completion of a number of structures.

And before you ask: I will not be modelling the contact and support wires – certainly not straightaway. They could prove to be too heavy in appearance in N gauge and too delicate for a portable layout which is dismantled for storage. I am not sure that the considerable time needed to put wires together convincingly could not be better used to rework some other areas of the layout with a better result, or indeed detailing the masts and portals to further reinforce the WCML Birmingham loop lines and Grand Junction lines atmosphere.

Paint shop progress on Class 150s

March 16, 2015

Class 950 roofShowing pictures of part completed work lays your soul, or at least your painting one, bare for all to see. Rough edges and the lack of transfers and touching up is apparent in this pair of work-in-progress shots of the OO gauge Class 950 project.

Class 950 roof paintingThis particular project is a long-running saga of problems with some of the parts and making the Bachmann Class 150/1 to Class 950 conversion kit by PH Design Model Railway Products work satisfactorily. The primer stage involved a great deal of rubbing down and filling to blend in the door infill panels as can be seen in the image below. Care was taken not to remove excess plastic from the body shells when rubbing down with wet and dry paper so not to distort its appearance. Now the bulk of the paint work is complete, an end to this project is finally in sight after many weeks of work!

Class 950 primer stageWhilst on the subject of Class 150s, another one is making its way through the paint shop. Awaiting lining and some touch-up of the masked lines is this N gauge Graham Farish model to become No. 150123 in an earlier version of Centro livery.

Centro Class 150 paintThere’s no conversion work involved, only a strip down and repaint. It has to be my favourite livery as applied to favourite Sprinters. It should be ready in time for its debut at the Perth show in June where Dudley Heath will be making its first outing to a Scottish show other than Inverness! More on this one soon.


Model Rail Scotland exhibition and Nairnshire Modelling Supplies

February 9, 2015
Wheal Annan overview OMWB

Model Rail Scotland is only a couple of weeks away and much preparatory work remains to be done on Wheal Annah!

Sarah and I have decided to take Nairnshire Modelling Supplies off the exhibition circuit for the foreseeable future – we need a break from trading on the exhibition circuit. Consequently, NMS will not be at Model Rail Scotland (Glasgow SECC) in a couple of weeks’ time, I am afraid. NMS continues to offer a wide range of useful modelling materials online where we are introducing some changes to the range over the next year to meet the ever-changing model railway scene. The NMS web site with its secure online ordering can be found here.

Some of you may have come to this conclusion based on my blog references to preparing Wheal Annah for its exhibition debut on the Hornby Magazine stand where I will be found blethering about modelling techniques and layout building. The positive side of taking a break from trading at shows is being freed up to enjoy the exhibition circuit with one of my two N gauge exhibition layouts. Dudley Heath will be attending Perth in June and possibly Bonnybridge in the Autumn; whilst Model Rail Scotland is the only booking for Wheal Annah currently. Should be fun!


Graham Farish Polybulk (and its big brother)

January 30, 2015

GF polybulk34333‘Wheal Annah’, a compact N gauge layout based on a Cornish china clay theme, is being prepared for the Model Rail Scotland exhibition where it will be displayed on the Hornby Magazine stand. Whilst it is primarily based in the 1970s, I plan to collect together some stock to allow a few trains of the 1980s to be run for a little more variety.

GF polybulk34334The new Graham Farish Polybulk wagon is one addition to the fleet and one I can also use on my other N gauge display layout ‘Dudley Heath’. It’s an amazing-looking model, albeit relatively costly to collect more than a couple at any one time. Masses of separate details, NEM coupling pockets, metal buffers and a an excellent representation of the complex shape of the hopper body make this one of the top British N gauge freight stock models around.

GF polybulk23991Three versions are available in N gauge including the early one above; a weathered version with the simplified Polybulk “Traffic Services” livery and a pristine one with intermediate ‘Traffic Services’ markings. List prices at the time of writing come in around £39-£42.

The N gauge version follows the OO gauge model which was released about 12months before the Graham Farish model. I picked one up before the list price rocketed to nearly £60 for a weathered version. When you look at the level of detail on the OO gauge model and the time it probably takes to assemble one, the price tag of £50-60 comes as no surprise.

OO Polybulk OMWB-2OO Polybulk OMWBOO Polybulk OMWB - 3

Putting a rake of these together is going to be a challenge to the modelling budget! The time to look at quality rather than quantity when a planning layout theme is definitely upon us.


Static grass buzz

January 13, 2015

Static grass has become the accepted standard for scenery modelling, replacing ground foam for general ground cover. I love the wide variety of texture that can be achieved using various lengths of grass; multiple applications and mixes of different coloured grasses. Beats ground foam for great texture and colour every time!

Static grass applicators are not cheap. Such is the price of commercial applicators that some modellers have turned to home-made models of various types. The real buzz in the hobby is the adaptation of electronic fly swats to make low-powered but effective grass applicators. It’s not an original idea by any means and there are numerous references on the internet by others that have followed this path – a quick search will locate some useful web sites on building different types and indeed how to make your own grass tufts too.

My usual applicator is a Noch Grass-Master, a powerful and very effective piece of kit. However, it has certain limitations including control over the application of fine grass fibres of around 2mm length. It simply dumps too many fibres in one go when used with the narrow nozzle even when I add an extra mesh screen.

I concluded that an applicator with a fine mesh would be better for those areas where I need sparse short grass such as N gauge scenery. Enter the ‘Bug-Zapper’ and a fine mesh metal tea strainer!

The starting point for a home-mage grass applicaro for fine grass fibres is a 'Bug-Sapper', wire, clip and a fine mesh strainer or sieve.

The starting point for a home-mage grass applicator for fine static grass fibre is a ‘Bug-Sapper’, wire, clip and a fine mesh strainer or sieve.

Before I go on, please be aware that this adaptation of an electronic fly swat is not without its hazards and will not qualify for a CE mark! The chance for electric shock is very real if mishandled. It has none of the safety features of commercial applicators. Build and use at your own risk.

Dismantling the bug-zapper.

Dismantling the bug-zapper.

The important electronics are located in the handle. It is dismantled by releasing three screws.

bug zapper grass_1 copy

This model takes two AA batteries. The battery terminal fittings and tactile button are retained.

The ‘racket’ part is not needed and is cut up to provide a mount for the tea strainer.

Cutting up the racket. Keep the mesh screen just in case you can find another use for it!

Cutting up the racket. Keep the mesh screen just in case you can find another use for it!

The mount end of the packet frame is cut off and retained as a mount for the tea strainer or sieve.

The mount end of the packet frame is cut off and retained as a mount for the tea strainer or sieve.

bug zapper grass_5 copy

The sieve/tea strainer handle is trimmed to length. A new lead is soldered to it

The shortened tea strainer handle is glued to the mount end of the racket moulding using ‘Araladite’ five-minute epoxy glue.

The electronics are located in the handle.

Fitting the sieve/tea strainer to the handle using part of the racket moulding. This allows the original fixings to be used.

The lead soldered to the tea strainer or sieve is connected to one terminal of the circuit board – the same terminal as the inner mesh of the racket assembly. The opposite terminal is fitted with the long ‘grounding’ lead.

bug zapper grass_7 copy

Finished! Note the wire fitted with a crocodile clip which is the ‘grounding’ lead. It is attached to a pin or nail inserted in the scenery during static grass application.

Using the applicator is simple. Once the landscape has been prepared with your chosen adhesive, insert a nail or pin and attach the grounding lead. Place some static grass fibres in the sieve and press and hold the tactile button on the side of the unit to activate it and create an electrical charge. The applicator is gently agitated over the wet glue to shake fibres through the mesh (keep pressing the button) and onto the glue where the static charge will make them stand on end.

When you have finished with the applicator, release the tactile button and then immediately discharge it by touching the sieve with the end of the grounding lead. There will be a spark and a pop, so don’t be alarmed by this. Regarding safety – keep it well away from sensitive electronic components such as decoders and do not touch any metal parts when it is charged or in use. It may give you quite a belt! You have been warned!

This unit is not as powerful as the Noch applicator and needs freshly charged or new batteries for the best performance. However, it is very effective at relatively close range – about 2 inches – and cost me less than £5.00 to build excluding batteries.


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