Sunday, 28 June 2020

Borambola Water Tank - pt 1

Borambola Water Tank - construction finally begins

Like most people I know, we often get distracted, and modelling seems to get delayed - often by a lot longer than we had hoped.

An I.K.Whinney photo scanned (with permission) from the small booklet "The Wagga Wagga to Tumbarumba Railway", produced by Tumba Rail and Wagga Wagga Rail Heritage.  It shows a 1965 tour train with C30Ts 3142, and 3020 stopping at Borambola's water tank

Such is the case with the Borambola Water Tank.  I purchased an elevated water tank model from the Mechanical Branch Models stand at the Rosehill exhibition.  It was the last kit that they had in stock at the exhibition, so I rather pleased that I had secured my future Borambola Water tank.

A great construction article of this model appears in the December 2018 Australian Model Railway Magazine (author Cliff Barratt), so I won't bore you by recycling Cliff's article.  I will however concentrate on other  areas.

The kit comes in a solid cardboard box.  I didn't need the alkalinity plant and tank kit that MBM also offers, but I also didn't notice the box marked tension ring, or clamped plate had not been ticked. 

Construction started over a year ago, after I printed off the instructions and placed into an A4 display book.  I built one column, but was not happy with the time it took - as my soldering needed a fair bit of cleanup before the "H" column would slide free of the jig.

One of the jigs provided for making the "H" column girders from the fret

The girder fret contains enough brass for 4 "H" columns

Jig holding the "H" column in position for soldering

It was then I discovered that my kit had too many "H" column girder frets of one size, and not enough "H" column frets of the correct size.  An email to James Dalton of Mechanical Branch explaining the problem, resulted in the missing frets being posted to me within the week.  This is excellent service, and I commend James for his quick action.   (As an aside, this is a timely reminder to check the contents of all your kits, just in case the manufacturer goes out of business prior to building the model)

It was at this point, that I was given the task of rebuilding Bethungra layout - so the water tank was put on the backburner.

And a year passes.....

In the meantime, I thought about the assembly jig issue, and came up with an alternate method, that works for me.

After removing the brass shape from the frets with a sharp knife, I polish off the "burr" with a dremel cut-off disk.  I tried to do that with a file earlier, and it caused distortions.

Then I modified the jig - by using a pair of the "H" profiles, rather than all 5 on the jig. I could hold the girder etches in position with a peg (the spring has been selected for delicate - any stronger crushes the brass), whilst I solder.  That way, I would not have to worry about any solder webs preventing the jigs from being repositioned for the next solder operation - and I was able to slowly work my way from the center of the "H" column to the next location.

Modified jig, and peg

4 completed "H" columns.  The majority of solder is on one side of the girder only, and should clean up fairly well
I have got the time down to roughly 15 minutes per girder.  There are around 30 girders, so I have a bit more time to spend.  Disappointingly, my A4 display book of instructions has managed to get lost, so I might have to reprint it again from the supplied CD unless it turns up in the next week or so.

Another distraction

Yesterday (June 28th 2020), at 4:30am, there was a derailment in Junee of a container train being shunted into the holding sidings.  By the time I got down there at 11am, the big crane from Wagga had arrived, but the wagons were still where they stopped at 4:30am.  Cause of the derailment is under investigation.

How often does this happen on your model layout?  At least you can now say we have a prototype example/  (Picture taken from the level crossing with permission from the railway employees)

The middle platform in Junee has been out of use for decades, but still manages to capture a wagon before it does any more damage to needed infrastructure

May all your trains stay on track.  Until next time

Monday, 8 June 2020

Slide scanner, and brass loco repairs

Slide Scanner

I am pleased to report, that I have finally purchased a new slide to digital scanner.  After some advice, I purchased a Plustek 8100 from TEDs camera store website on April 13th, and after 7 weeks, it arrived last week.
It took me a further 2 hrs to install the software, rapidly read through the manual, and then came the big test – results on the below picture.
LVR 5367 taking water in October 1997. The original watering facilities at Wagga were out of use by this date, hence the local fire brigade did the honours
Ready to depart

Of course, I will need to do more experimentation. It is nowhere near as fast as my cheap and cheerful scanner, but if the first scans with the Plustek 8100 are anything to go by, the quality exceeds my earlier Epson scanner, purchased in 2004, and still attached to the 2004 Dell desktop running Windows XP. 

The plustek scanner

Enough of computers.  Back to some modelling.

Brass loco repairs

Last weekend, a number of model train exhibitions, and the NMRA convention had been cancelled due to the COVID19 situation.  So, instead of spending the whole weekend up in Sydney, I thought I would use the time to restore a few brass engines I had in a sorry state. 

Bergs C30T
An ebay purchase, at a discount as the seller said it had some issues.  First of all, it didn’t run.  And second, was that the body did not sit correctly on the chassis.
Brass steam engines are generally easy to take apart, and the Bergs 30T is no exception.

The inside of the Bergs 30T.  The openframe motor uses plunger carbon brushes, and the insulation on the back of the frame is visible

The first thing that I noticed was that there was a lot of insulation for the drawbar pivot wire going to the motor. This was interfering with the body mounting, and so the second problem was an easy one.  The motor not running fault, is normally caused by a broken wire, but this was not the case.  I unscrewed the motor, and disconnected the Delrin driveshaft coupling.  Applying power directly to the motor terminals did not fix it.  I was contemplating a can motor upgrade, but I thought I would check the carbon brushes (plungers).  Well, one was worn down past the point of useful.  I fitted a replacement, and success.  Re-assembled, it looks, and runs OK.  Sure, the motor is on borrowed time, and a can motor upgrade, along with DCC is in its future 

Bergs 30T model was made by Kumata (japan) around 1980. 

The loco would look better with a bogie tender, and this is where acquisition 2 comes in.

Bergs C32

I swapped a surplus new DJH C32 kit for this one, sight unseen from a mate, who said apart from the lack of box, it was a good model.  My thinking was that an assembled model would be a quick way to get a tender, and the Bergs C30T tender could be matched with the C32, and sold on.  There were a number of C32s with 6 wheel tenders stabled at Broadmeadow in the 1950s, to allow them to turn on Maitland’s 50 foot turntable.  Well, that was my thinking.
Unfortunately, my assessment of the C32 was nowhere as positive as my mate’s.  But a deal is a deal, and brass models generally can be fixed
The model actually ran sweetly, which was nice.  But the tender buffer beam had a warp, caused by someone’s earlier attempt to resolder a buffer that must have come loose.   The ladder also was misshapen, although it was rebent back with pliers.  The loco though had more issues.  The missing cabside step, the unsoldered clack valve pipes, and the broken & missing brake hangers were cosmetic, although the front bufferbeam butchery to accommodate a #5 kadee coupler was ugly.
The buchery on the front buffer beam to accomodate the Kadee coupler was nasty

Tender rear showing a minor buckle in the LHS buffer beam

To repair the brass bodywork, the loco was disassembled.  This is when I found another fault.  The chassis frame spacer soldering had split apart in one area – which explains in part, why there was a plastic block glued to the underside of the body – “to stop the frame from flexing”.  Struth.  
The frame sitting on the "plastic block" which was glued to the underside of the body. It looks soldered in this view, but that is an illusion. The split in the spacer for the chassis frame is also just visible 

Anyway, to cut a long story short, a new section of brass plate was whittled down to fit the bufferbeam “hole” and soldered in place.  The plastic block removed, the chassis frame resoldered, and a rear cab step made from scratch and soldered. 

I cleaned up the hole as much as possible.  And cleaned off the gold paint, back to raw, untarnished brass
From underside, the scratching of the brass was more ugly.  The gold paint  is extremely heavy
A new section of brass fitted, soldered, and cleaned up.  I haven't attached the "coupling hook" that was originally there, as I may fit a kadee myself later  

I also fabricated a replacement cabside step from brass sheet, using the other one as a pattern.  My replacement does not have the bolt detail of the original lost wax casting, but that was a detail I could live without.
Shows the missing cabside step

My replacement step.  I used two different solders for this.  The steps were attached with high temp 60/40 resin core, but the step was attached to the body with low temp 144 degrees.  

Preparations for painting include stripping back the gold paint, and pickling in vinegar prior to painting with self-etch black.  
After paint stripping, the tarnish of the tender really was evident, more than the loco itself.  The models are in the small container that I used for the vinegar picking solution

Not the best picture, but you get the idea.  The tender has not yet been  reassembled - it just looked better with the parts roughly placed in the right spot

Monday’s winter weather here was quite nice, and I did get the main painting done in the relative warmth of the afternoon sun. 

Dockyard VR R class.
What am I doing with a Victorian steam engine?  Why indeed?  Well, I spied this model at a Trains Planes and Automobile auction a year ago, listed as a “japanese brass loco”.  Well, I knew what it was from the shape, but one always has to factor in some leeway.  For instance, I only got a single picture, TPA offer no guarantees, and I was not able to physically attend the auction in person.  So I placed a modest bid, and was successful.

The TPA auction catalogue picture of the R class.  note the clever way the tender is hiding the running gear

A week later, the loco was delivered to me in a mess.  It had been victim of the  foam monster (the one picture on the TPA website showed the tender in front of the loco running gear, so the extent of the foam issue was hidden).  More disturbingly, it had been posted without adequate packing inside the box.  The damage was extensive.  The worst was that the tender had acted as a hammer, and noticeably depressed the smoke box cover on top of the boiler.

How not to post a loco.   If it was an ebay purchase, I could have demanded compensation, or sent the model back. It wasn't an option with TPA
Note the depression on top of the smokebox. 
More evidence of the foam damage
The loco body in the homemade cradle
The chassis was also heavily foam affected
After cleanup with no more than a toothbrush, the chassis was looking much better

Fixing the depression was an exercise in luck.  I first needed to create a hole at the bottom of the boiler (out of sight from normal viewing, so I could punch the brass back into shape.  I modified the head of a large nail to act as a panel beating tool, and slowly tapped away onto a block of wood. 
New hole made in the boiler, and the modified nail I used as the panel beating punch

Whilst not perfect, after adding some filling solder, filing, and wet-n-dry,  I hope it will be difficult to tell the repair after painting.  And yes, it will have to be R766 – the R class being standard gauged.
The smokebox depression is mostly gone after the punchwork
Boiler after some solder filling, and further clean
I hope that you all were able to spend some quality time working on your models.
Until next time

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Bethungra moves back to the Museum

Bethungra Loop - in N scale.   Layout returns to the Junee Broadway Museum

With the relaxation of COVID restriction, Bob and his son helped me relocate the layout.

As the layout was never designed to be "portable", I knew it was going to be a bit awkward.  Bob brought down his trailer (for the collapsible table).

The main board in the back of my 7x5' trailer.  Note the long backscene has been removed, and the back tray of the trailer is in the lowered position.  Ropes were attached to the unsceniced end to hold the layout firmly to the front of the trailer.  The trailer's cage was then wrapped in a tarp, to reduce the effect of wind damage. 

Bob is also the artist who will be painting the backscene.  Before we did anything, I ran a train, and Bob also marked out the distant hills profile on the backscene with white chalk

The wiring from the extension, to the main board was disconnected, and the two sections separated. The extension benchwork was maneuvered into the back of my Honda, but the main board was not going to fit my trailer unless the long backscene was removed

The extension on its side. 
The fixed legs meant that the extension was a snug fit  in my Honda CRV.  This is not a layout that was designed to be frequently moved. 

The 4km trip to the museum was easy, and I stayed below 50km/h to minimise any adverse effects from wind.  Then came the interesting exercise of getting the layout back into the room.

This involved moving the main board through a window opening into the "train room", and the only damage, was one of the trees was dislodged.  (A simple fix).

In the train room, the layout was reassembled in situ  As expected, there was some leg adjustments for the uneven flooring.  Reconnection of the electric wires, power pack, and a test train was run around successfully.

The corner of the "train room" showing the layout, and a selection of railway posters in the room.  Please note, the missing backscene (awaiting the artist touch), AND that the room has not yet been painted after repair of the plaster.  But I hope that the new Bethungra loop layout will be the impetus needed to finish the room.

As painting the backscene is simpler for Bob without having to lean over the layout, the backscene was left off.  The museum is also hoping to get the Perspex front installed, the electrics, and curtains fitted.  I am sure they will want to do some other "improvements", but I think my work is done for now.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Future Proofing

Future Proofing

Last weekend, Rod sent me a great picture of Wagga signal box, and the cottages beyond.  Rod knew that I was looking at modelling the cottages, and this was the first picture I had showing the roof pitch from side-on.  I was also excited, as the signalbox was painted in the colours I chose for my HO model, AND the heater had not been converted to gas.  
I dutifully saved the picture in my folders showing Wagga’s railway infrastructure.
<picture from Rod>

Picture of the Wagga Wagga Signal Box, date 1978.  Photographer Ken Lewis

On Monday, I powered on the laptop, and I had a totally blank screen.

My Acer Aspire 5542 laptop was probably at the end of its life, having bought it in January 2010, with the then new Windows 7 operating system.  In the intervening years, the only hardware problems it had was a dead CMOS battery in 2016, which also resulted in a dead screen.  So thinking that maybe the CMOS battery had again failed, I totally disassembled the laptop to gain access to the motherboard hidden within.  Unfortunately, the new CMOS battery failed to bring the screen back to life.
The only quick way forward was to acquire a new laptop.

Rebuilding the new laptop has been an adventure, and has made me think about the risks one has in technology, and how that could affect our model train hobby.

Fortunately, I had a recent backup of all my data files dated April 30, and whilst Rod’s supplied picture was not on the backup, I had not deleted his earlier email.   Some people have suggested that I store all my data in the “cloud” and allow another company to manage it.  This has the advantage of not worrying about backups, and being able to access the data/images on any PC or smart phone also connected to the cloud.  Let us hope the cloud continues to operate, the internet stays running, as you have no control if they don’t.

Things outside your control
Those who saw the “oval” pictures on my two more recent Blog posts from March,  will see that certain unexpected changes happen. I still do not know what caused the issue, although Google did say they were working on the problem, which affected quite a number of blogs.  Now it was “fixed” but there was no automatic restoration of my images.  This was a manual process for me. Fortunately, I had my original images

Software and Hardware compatibility. 
Over the years (I started my computing degree in 1978, and was very familiar with programs coded on punch cards), and many "dead" programming languages (like Cobol - although I hear that there are still active Cobol programs out there).  But, a lot of my electronic stored data,  has been lost in the intervening years, as well as the software to read the 5.25”, and 3.5” floppy disks have also become scarce.  This might be considered progress, as we moved onto CDs, USB Thumb drives, SD Cards, DVDs, high capacity Hard drives, and now solid state drives.  Each move forward has left some of the old hardware behind.  I wonder how many people had libraries of Beta, and VHS video tape (many containing Railway videos) that they cannot now view?

Companies going out of business.
 During the reconstruction of the files, I found that the company that supplied my Solar monitoring hardware, had gone out of business.  Finding the drivers, and software to reconnect my hardware was non trivial.  This leads to another  aspect that also affects the railway modeller.
In the last few years, we have had the retirement of the owners of the following companies (there are more)  Shinohara, Mashima, Grandt Line, PSC, NWSL.  Luckily, some of the product ranges have alternatives, or have been retained, either with a new owner, or by acquisition by another company.  Things we are so comfortable with, can suddenly change.   Anyone with Virgin Velocity points will know how quickly things can change in just a day.

But who is to say, our carefully selected train control systems, signalling, etc systems that we buy for the layout will be available if the company that makes them goes broke?  You can hope that by adoption of a common standard, such as DCC, and JMRI, will future proof things somewhat, although, if your layout was controlled by my laptop that just died, you are instantly out of the model train operation business until you can find a replacement, and reload all the software.

And do you have the expertise to diagnose, or repair what has been installed?  Reliance on a few talented  individuals for all the electronics black magic is also a recipe for disappointment when failures occur.  Overly complicating things, and almost full automation is probably not a suitable way to proceed with a layout, unless you are into such things. 

What can you do? 

Sure, keeping a supply of spares is mandatory, and I have duplicates of the NCE Power Cabs, CDUs, power supplies.  I would also suggest that you should test them every so often. 

We take everything for granted at our peril.

An update.  My "new" laptop failed last Thurs, and is back with the retailer for repair, replacement, or refund.  After spending a lot of time on preparing this blogpost on the "new" laptop, I have had to do it again on a borrowed computer  Fortunately, this was the only document affected, and I still have my 30 April backup.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Bethungra - a finished N scale layout?

Finally finished (?)
When is a model railway layout really completed?  I have been debating myself on this topic for a while.  Should I spent the extra effort to add many small details, and thus delay working on my Wagga layout/models, or do I stop working on the layout once it has reached an acceptable functional standard?

View from the northern end, looking south.  The up and down tracks on the left weave to gain clearance for the crossover bridge. The level crossing is also not quite complete

My answer is at the end of this update

Fascia board
The white foam visible on the front fascia was always meant to be covered.  My original idea was that I could paint a suitable fascia colour on the future perspex.  Well, without the perspex, this was not a good idea.  So I fashioned up an MDF profile to hide the foam, and after fitting, found  gaps that needed to be filled with more scenery.  It would have been better to have installed the fascia earlier, so I wouldn't have had to try and match existing terrain.

The colour was a representation of the "red brown" clay that is typical of this area.  A 250ml sample pot from Bunnings, and a roller to apply.

What did we do without grip clamps?

Fascia board installed - secured with screws and painted.

Wiring considerations
The H&M clipper control had previously been placed above the layout, with wires running direct to the track.  Whilst this was OK for testing, it was not going to work once the perspex was added to the front.  So I made up a shelf under the extension board out of scrap timber.   The control to activate a train has been agreed with the Museum.  Using a Clipsal “push button” timer light switch,  will activate the clipper transformer.  Being 240 volt, this needs to be wired by a licensed electrician, so I will leave that task to the Museum.

The other way to do it is to wire this plug up to the controlled 12 volt wires leading to the track.  This doesn’t need an electrician – but it also means that power is constantly on to the Clipper, and relies on the Museum volunteers to turn the 240volt AC supply on and off.  Risk of fire from an overheated transformer is significant, so whilst there is more cost with the electrician, safety is the route forward.

I am assuming that the museum will want to install curtains at the bottom of the fascia board to hide the transformer, and wiring.

Cleaning track.
As trains had not run on the layout since I started scenery, there was around 13 metres of track to clean.  Some of it had been affected by glue during  the ballasting.  So armed with my block of wood, I slowly polished my way around the circuit.  I do not use an abrasive cleaner, as this introduces scratches into the surface of the rail, and becomes a groove where dirt can accumulate.  The tunnel scenery inserts were popped out to expose the “hidden” trackage.   A vacuum clean then picks up any loose ballast etc.

The tunnels, after removal of the inserts.  
The 4 tunnel inserts resting in the middle of the balloon loop whist the track is cleaned in the tunnel.  The balloon loop area has been deliberately not sceniced, as it does not represent the actual loop at all.  It could be used for a small display by the Museum,  The inspection train waits patiently for clearance from the railway authorities. 

Test run.
I own a few N scale locos that need good clean track to run.  So these are the best locos to test the track.  All was going well, until the loco stalled in the tunnel.  Turns out that one of the tunnel scenery inserts had too much foam extending downwards from the tunnel roof.  Very easy to fix.  There was also a fair bump over the track join between the main board and the extension.  An adjustment on the screws holding the track  alignment plate in place, cured this.   Once I had a few laps under my belt, I added a couple of test carriages and again, a few more laps.

Carriage modifications.
The Passenger carriages all used Rapido N scale couplers mounted on the bogies.  All the museum locos use microtrains couplers.  So I converted one end of a passenger coach to microtrains.  I cut off the Rapido coupling off the bogie, and body mounted a microtrains coupler direct to the underside of the coach end.  Amazingly, the coupler height was spot on.
Obviously, this modification also needed to be tested.  The best running loco in the museum fleet is an Atlas GP38.  After coupling the carriage to loco, a few more trips around the layout were successful.
A layout tour.

The official inspection train, emerging from under the crossover bridge.  The GM class locomotive was kindly donated by Peter Dinham, of the Canberra Monaro N scale group.  The coaches are Kato, and if you really look closely, are of Japanese prototype.
Our train passes over the #1 tunnel

Continuing down the hill, the other 2 tracks are for the spiral.
As before, the track at the bottom of the hill is not sceniced, as it is purely there to turn the train back up the hill.
Our train starts it climb up and around the loop - about to enter #1 tunnel
A view of the loop, showing the unsceniced section (the white foam, and no ballast track) at the back of the hill.  I couldn't really justify spending time on an area that would not be seen form normal viewing angles. The train  has climbed the hill.
The train passes the upperquadrant signal, and relay hut.  The upperquadrant signal is one feature I recall from my early days of riding trains to Sydney, as it really stood proudly against the sky, as viewed from a train carriage window from the lower track.  Both structures are scratch built, and sadly, the upper quadrant doesn't operate  
Our inspection train heads towards the crossover bridge
After crossing the bridge, the train hits a downgrade.  On the real Bethungra  loop, the bridge is a below deck girder, and the track continues for some time on a rising grade, until reaching the level crossing.  But compromises have to be made, to squeeze, and compress the model to fit a tight space in the Museum. 
Finally, our train reaches the olympic highway level crossing, and end of the scenery

The Museum owned  NSW freight train drifts down the hill.  It would be nice if they had more than 4 NSW freight wagons.  

What lessons learnt
Construction of a model layout has refreshed a lot of my skills, and allowed me to try out some ideas that could be used during the construction of my Wagga layout.

- Install the fascia early, not after the rest of the scenery has been done
- Polystyrene foam  is effective for creating landforms, but messy to work with. Hot wire works, but extruded foam may be better than white beaded foam
- Storing things for 20-30 years on the offchance you will use it is false economy.
- Sculpt-it “plaster” is excellent for rough rockwork
-  Large areas of scenery are not something I enjoy building
-  I am not a fan of tree making
-  Forced perspective works nicely
- Hidden trackage MUST be accessible
-  I need more experimentation with my static grass techniques

It was good to put some theories into practice.  Perhaps the best advice is to trust yourself, for even if it doesn’t work, you will learn something. 

Probably my favourite angle to view the layout.  The forced perspective on Bethungra hill is quite effective, and the shadows from the trees along the road looks good.  (Sorry to show the clutter in my garage - spoils the illusion).

The answer
It has been been 9 months since I accepted the challenge to rebuild the Bethungra Loop layout for the Broadway Museum, and I think it is time for the layout to return to the Museum.  I have contacted them, and they are arranging the transport.  However, with the current COVID19 restrictions, this may take a few days (or weeks), so I will keep adding details until then.

Stay safe.