It’s all over!

Since my mother-in-law (MIL) came to stay, I have been restricted to a small layout which sits on the corner of my computer desk and across onto my wife’s dressing table. This has made it very restrictive to use and we have finally decided that it all has to go!

Initially, everything was moved down to our storage room but I have been thinking about my move to British outline, having been a very long term US modeller. Any potential move back to a model railway is dependent on MIL in a very sad way so neither my wife or I are prepared to contemplate what might happen when, eventually, I get my hobby room back. I am not even sure that I want to go back into model railways/railroads at all. Mind you, I am not sure that my current rebirth of interest in making plastic model aircraft will last.

My main hobbies at the moment are plastic model kits, tapestry sewing (where I am currently making a tea cosy for my breakfast coffee pot) and playing the concertina. I have a 20 button Anglo concertina which I use to play mostly music from the 1890s up to the 1950s. It has a restriction, due to its 20 buttons, that it can only play in two keys which means that a lot of the music I like is time consuming to play as it all has to be transposed. I am sorry if this means nothing but…

Given that I don’t know how long it will be before I get my room back and that I even don’t know what I will do in there, I have decided that satisfying my current need for a more capable concertina comes first. This means that I need to raise £750.00 to buy a 30 button equivalent of the 1880 made Lachenal concertina that I currently have.  The only way that I can do this is to sell up all of my carefully acquired N Gauge  stuff. This means that I have 5 locos, one two-car railcar set, an 08 shunter, around 10 coaches and 40 wagons plus 14 points (Peco code 55) and around 20 DCC Concepts point motors to sell. This should raise sufficient for my current needs so I will hang on to my Digitrax Evolution DCC set.

If you are a keen EBayer, watch out for my auctions – my EBay name is penningd. I have 1617 feedbacks with 100% positive so I ship quickly, handle any problems fairly and describe everything accurately.

So, that is it. No more Pennvale Sands; no more blog entries and no more posting on the forums. Check out my other activities on my other blogs:

Gentle Scale Models
David’s Other Hobbies
Ipswich Waterfront Blog

I may see you over there.

Ellerby First Run Through

I have spent the last 40 years using and programming computers from the very early days of Z80/S100 boxes up to my 27″ iMac/iPad/iPhone of today. I recently completed an Open University honours degree in computers which started in 1974 using Teletype terminals and punched tape through to finishing last year with programming mobile phones and creating cloud server farms. Hence, it is almost obligatory for me to use some sort of computer aid with my model railway. In fact, my final course was based on a project to manage the routing of freight cars on a US outline model railroad.

I am not going that sophisticated this time with my little 6′ long N Gauge “thingy”. What I am using is a combination of personally written software and JMRI. My DCC system is one of the latest Digitrax Evolution radio throttle systems with a PR3 USB connector box connecting to my Apple iMac. Eventually, the software is all going to run on a Fusion 10″ Windows 10 touch tablet, which will be great.

OK, so first off, my JMRI has been told of all of my “turnouts” (note that, even though I have returned to British outline, I must still use US terminology).

Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 14.57.11

Sensibly, they have all been given names that mean something.  Next, I accumulate those necessary into “Routes”

Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 14.42.16

These define the most popular pathways into and out of the station. I haven’t attempted to define any shunting routes. Routes aren’t strictly necessary but you have to define the turnouts to enable the creation of a track diagram. Once you have turnouts described and working, drawing a track diagram is quite easy (he says – you have to go through a quite big learning curve to get anything like a real layout).  Mind you, if you want to use JMRI track detection and signalling then you have to get fairly adept and go for it in a major way. Belonging to the JMRI news feed and also to MERG would be a help. My needs are a bit smaller than that. All I want to do is have a drawing of the layout and click on turnouts as I need. The way I did this was to use a screen shot of my layout on Anyrail as the background and then just place points – sorry turnouts – where they appear on that screen shot. This is what it looks like:

Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 14.41.51

If you enlarge the image, you will be able to see theJMRI points laid on the drawing. This is a quick and simple way to get a working control panel.

Lastly, I want to be able to manage a timetable. Now this can be done on a sheet of paper and tick the trains off. It can be done with a set of cards but, of course, I like to use a computer. First off, I built an Excel spreadsheet that understood the times between trains and indicated where a loco was. This resulted in a coherent timetable to meet my expected train route times. I used this to build a CSV (Comma Separated File) which could be used as input to some software. This CSV looks like this:

ID Train Location To Loco Max Min TrainName %
1 Local Ellerby Carlisle 108 2 2 Up Br. DMU 1
2 MG Carlisle Ellerby 37 8 6 Down Mineral 1
3 Milk Manch Ellerby 24 All All Up Milk Empty 1
4 DMU Carlisle Ellerby 108 2 2 Dn Br. DMU 1
5 Local Manch. Ellerby 25 4 4 Up Br. Local 1
6 DMU Ellerby Carlisle 108 2 2 Up Br. DMU 1
7 Local Ellerby Manch. 25 4 4 Dn Br. Local 1
8 Parce London Ellerby 47 3 2 Up Parcels 0.7
9 Milk Ellerby Carlisle 37 All All Down Milk 1
10 MG Manch. Ellerby 37 8 5 Up Mix.Goods 1
11 DMU Carlisle Ellerby 108 2 2 Up Br. DMU 1
12 Parce Ellerby London 47 All All Down Parcels 1
13 Expr. London Ellerby 47 3 3 Up Express 1
14 DMU Ellerby Carlisle 108 8 5 Dn Br. DMU 1
15 MG Ellerby Carlisle 24 8 5 Up Mineral 1
16 MG Ellerby Manch. 37 4 4 Dn Mix Goods 1
17 Expr. Ellerby London 47 3 3 Dn Express 1
18 Local Manch. Ellerby 25 2 2 Up Br. Local 1
19 DMU Carlisle Ellerby 108 4 4 Dn Br. DMU 1
20 DMU Ellerby Carlisle 108 2 2 Up Br. DMU 1
21 Local Ellerby Manch. 25 2 2 Dn Br. Local 1
22 DMU Carlisle Ellerby 108 2 2 Dn Br. DMU 1

This defines the day.  The % column indicates the percentage that a train will run (0.0 – 1.0). All of the trains are currently marked as 1 except for the Parcels which only runs 70% of the time. The returning parcels is set to 0 as it only run if the previous train runs. Obviously, if the Up Parcels doesn’t come in then the Down Parcels isn’t even there to run! The max and min describe the number of coaches or wagons on each train as suitable so that every train isn’t the same length. Where I have a fixed number of wagons, such as my milk tankers for the Creamery, ALL says take everything that there is. There is no attempt to manage actual wagon movements as I have sufficient for any one day’s run. The software is written in my favourite Smalltalk language and the face of it looks like this.

Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 14.40.43

This screen gives you all that you need to fish the required set out of the storage boxes (see previous post). It also shows you the DCC address of the required loco. At the moment, it is quite simple in that there is only one of each type of loco as I was using my second Class 25 as a station pilot. However, good old Kevin at Coastal DCC has tinkered with the 08 that I wired up for DCC and it now runs well, or so I am told. This means that I will have two 25s to get into the schedule so some programming is required.

I ran the whole system all the way through, yesterday afternoon and found a small snaglist that will need sorting out. No, the program didn’t crash. No, JMRI didn’t change the wrong point in a route. There were things that I should have worked out before I got to this stage:

  1. It is no good coming up with a departure for the express in platform one if you haven’t yet released the loco on the head end. I was left with a Class 47 behind the train and had to do a release manoeuvre before the train could go.
  2. There was not enough engine storage so I had 3 locos spread across the layout with nowhere to go.
  3. There was not enough fiddle yard. As the DMU and the Local Passenger come and go regularly, it would be good to leave them out all the time.

Point 1 needs a small software change. I will have to create a new timetable line to instigate a release process somewhere within the three train movements between the arrival and departure of the Express. The second and third points are easily fixed by buying points. (Isn’t English a crazy language –  American “points are easily fixed by buying turnouts”makes it much clearer!). This has been done and an extra track will be laid by the engine shed and an extra line will be added to the fiddle yard. The fiddle yard will also be extended by about 1′. I will try and extend the engine service area but that may impinge on SWBO’s dressing table. She only has about 18” left as it is!

Ellerby is ready for action

I love laying track and wiring up. It is all done now. The track is down; the wiring is in place; all point motors are wired up; JMRI is configured with “turnouts” and “Routes”. It has all been tested thoroughly and everything works as it should. The whole layout is shown below as a slide show.

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As you can see, it stretches across the side of my computer desk onto my wife’s dressing table. The fiddle yard is attached as and when. The track for the coal drops has been raised by a suitable amount with a fairly gentle gradient but there will be a Class 25 pushing a maximum of five wagons up there so it should be easy.

You may observe that the computer desk is at exactly the same height as the dressing table. What a wonderful coincidence! Well, actually, no. The computer desk is one provided to me by the Open University for my studies and is actually electrically powered so can be raised and lowered as and when. This meant that i could set the height to be level and steady. The fiddle yard is attached to the main board by a short connecting piece of track and the base itself is held firmly in place by a foam core bar that goes through both side and holds it firmly.


As there isn’t much room on the fiddle yard, I have created some storage for my wagons and coaches. using my trusty foam core, I have knocked up some trays using hot glue. Each tray has compartments to hold the type of vehicle to be stored. There are currently three: open wagons; vans; coaches. This will be extended to a further tray for locos as I currently have a few – two 25s, 1 24, 1 37,1 47 and 1 08. There is also a two car 108.

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The ribbon in each compartment helps me get the item out without gripping any of the detail.

My next post will be to describe my process of creating a timetable for one day. In the meantime, I need to explain my choice of rolling stock. As you can tell from my choice of locos, I am basically set in the mid-1960s. So what are grouping vans and private owner open wagons doing here. Well, I only had a tight budget so purchased bulk sets on eBay. I am claiming Rule 1* here. The coaches are in three sets – Stanier Maroon for the local train; Mk1 maroon for the express and a maroon Siphon for express milk traffic to augment the daily milk run to the creamery.

  • Rule 1 – I’ts my railway so I run what I please (actually,I run what I have).
  • Rule 2 – I refer you to Rule 1.

Squeezed into the bedroom

I haven’t had a layout in my bedroom since I was 13. Mind you,then it was a little shelf layout against the wall that overhung my bed. At least, this time, it isn’t like that.

What is happening? Well, as explained, I have had to clear out my “hobby room” to make way for MIL to come and live with us. This has taken the best part of a week and a half to clear out and get most of my “stuff” into storage. How my wife puts up with me having so much “stuff” I will never know, but she does – and she encourages me to have my hobbies. I mentioned, in the previous post, that I was going to lay the railway on top of my desk. However, SWMBO came up with a plan. It is very good of her as she loses her dressing table top.  The idea is that she clears the top and then I can put my railway across that top and on over my computer desk into the corner. This is fine because the computer desk is a fancy adjustable height one that I was given as part of the Open University disabled students scheme.

Now that was settled, I could get on with rebuilding. My first step was to get some black 5mm foam core. I have found that this is more stable than the white as the foam core itself seems to be harder. Unfortunately, Hobbycraft don’t sell black so I had to pay the “real” price rather than their discounted one. Hobbycraft charge £12.00 for four sheets (used to be £10) and black foam core is £6.83 per A1 sheet. I needed three sheets.

Before I could start, however, I had to agree on a layout. As mentioned in my previous post, I was thinking of one of the layouts in the “Modelling Branch Lines” book. I finally settled on “Chagford” as amended by the author.  I laid all of this out on Anyrail using Peco N Gauge Finescale as I was unhappy with the fragile nature of the code 80. As the rail is buried in the sleepers for the code 50, it actually makes the track more robust. This is my final version of the plan.

Screen Shot 2018-05-20 at 15.46.07

The size is 72″ x 16″ with a small fiddle yard on the end.  This fits perfectly on the dressing table/desk combination with the exception of the fiddle yard, which might need some creative thinking! I printed this out in full size to ensure that the track went on correctly. Normally, I don’t need this because there is, somewhere on the layout, a straight that is parallel with the edge but there is no such thing here. I placed the printout over the boards and pushed pin holes through at the point sites.


Everything is on hold for the moment as I have two deliveries coming tomorrow. One is for a reel of multicoloured solid core wire. I know that solid core isn’t liked but I get on OK with it and it is easier to get into Cobalt motor connections than multi-core, which you have to twist up carefully or bits stick out. The second one is a couple of right hand points coming from Hattons. I would normally buy these from my LHS but, when I bought the main stock of rail last week, they didn’t have enough of these for me. These are coming because I bought a double slip, as required by the plan in the book but hit some snags. I am not used to using electrofrog points in the way that most N Gaugers use them so I set up a test bed to understand how it was done. First I set up a point like this:


Usually, I wire the running rails to the stock rails, cut a break in the frog and wire it from the Cobalt motor. This time, I just set it up to use the stock rail connection for the feed. With the Cobalt installed and no frog feed, this worked first time. I then set it up to use the double slip.


This time, I got lots of shorts. I am getting a bit fed up with hacking points around and was very reluctant to get into cutting rails on the double slip so I asked a question on the forums. From someone who should know, I was advised to move the frog wires to the opposite motor – something that should have been obvious. Unfortunately this didn’t change anything. I played around with the wires to the Cobalt and there was no improvement.  I am lacking a bit in patience with these things nowadays and want a simple life so I reworked the layout to use two right hand points back to back instead of the double slip. There is enough space in the design for this to work without any compromises.

So here I am. a lot of the layout down and waiting for the last two points and the dropper wire. Everything starts again tomorrow afternoon.


Everything changes – again

I never seem to get any further than laying track with my layouts. Since I shut our model shop in 2012 I have built six layouts – in order – N Scale US, British OO, British OO9, US HO, US HO, US HO. Each of these has had to come down soon after the track was laid and working and all for good reasons. If you wish to follow the pathway of my railway modelling, going right back to August 2009, you should check out my Gentle Model Railways blog.

This time, I think that I had it sorted. A nice big roundy roundy with a decent sized station so I could run everything from small local goods to fast passenger trains and still with a nice little branch to build off the side. Then my mother-in-law(MIL) fell ill and had to go into hospital. MIL is 92 and blind but has been living in the apartment above us with my wife providing her care. It is obvious, now, that she can’t come home to that situation so we have had to have a big change around which means that I have had to take my railway down and clear out the room  to turn it into a bed sitter for her once she leaves hospital. I am now squeezed down the end of our, admittedly quite big, bedroom.


As you can see from the image, I have a nice big desk for my Macintosh computer (courtesy of the Open University Disabled Students scheme) but no room for a model railway. Well, that isn’t true.  If I clear the front of my desk, I have 63″ of desk width and 18″ of depth. Ample space to hold a portable railway. I still have to store it so that is a bit of an issue which I have yet to sort out with “she who must be obeyed”! However, I am working on the theory that I can get away with a 72″ by 15″ board (as a bit of overhang won’t matter). This would stand between the drawer unit that is seen on the right and the wardrobe door(just out of sight). Fortunately, we don’t use that end of the wardrobe much so this could be a goer!

The next step, carried out in between clearing out the hobby room, sending everything to storage, filling holes, repainting a wall and getting MIL’s apartment into good condition so that she gets her full deposit back, will be to plan a layout. This will have to be a smaller branch terminus rather than the busy seaside one that I have the stock for. This means putting the Mk1 carriages and the class 47 back in their boxes. I don’t think that I want to make a dockside station now so I am “EBaying” my stock of Dapol fish vans with the intention of reinstating a creamery so using the funds to buy some more 6 wheeled milk wagons (as I like them).

I am perusing the Crowood book “Modelling Branch Lines” and looking at “Chagford” and “Alston” as described in there. Chagford needs me to buy two double slips and I have run out of railway budget after my investment in a 14′ double track layout! Hence, I am think along the lines of Alston.  I will draw up my versions of these using Anyrail and then discuss them here.

As an aside, I had a try of SCARM but found it very difficult to design a layout using flexi-track. I have a suspicion that SCARM was built more for continental modellers who are sticking to the track systems of the major manufacturers. This seems to make designing a Peco layout quite difficult. Tell me I am wrong!

All the track is laid and working

I pressed on and laid the rest of the track. I had a lot of point motors to clean up from previous layouts. Each point motor is installed on the foam core using double sided tape for the initial placing and then I run hot glue all around the edges. I don’t use the DCC Concepts provided double side foam because I used that “years” ago on other layouts and the screws won’t hold. This means that I have to clean off the hot glue and peel off the double sided tape. I then give it a wipe with IPA and put some more tape on.  As there are   17 points on the main board, this is quite a big job.

It is all done now and all of the track is down. I finished the wiring up yesterday to find that I had a short. Now there are two ways that the track is powered across the board joins. One is via bus wires and the other is simply by the track connections. There are three tracks that cross over the board joins – one in the connection to the main station and the other two are via the two oval tracks. Everything went fine until I connected the front rail connection to the outer loop. This created a short. My first action with a short is to disconnect the track from the bus, which I did. There was only one connection to the bus from the outer loop on the “left hand” board. Once this was disconnected, everything worked fine. On looking at it, my simple mnemonic for wiring – “black to the back” works fine until the loop track comes round the front where it has to be “red to the back” as the inner rail is, obviously the front at the back and the back at the front.(I loved writing that but it might be difficult to understand – unless you have been there yourself). At the moment, I have left it unconnected and am relying on track connections across the join.

OK, so I now have a fully working railway which has some scenic panels fixed to the back. Actually, they aren’t fixed but slot on so they can be removed if required. This will be temporary whilst I have two separate boards but eventually the panels will be joined. I am also waiting for my friend Mark to come round and tidy up the joins between the panels. He painted the back scenes for my previous HO railroad and they don’t match when applied to this one.



Here is a panorama of the whole thing put together.

1 Anchor Street, Ipswich - England, United Kingdom

I now have all of the track laid and wired except for the branch which will be left until later.

One problem that I have resolved is how to hold the two boards together at the front during the time when I am keeping them as two boards. I have a set of tools for working on foam care. This is the one that is most useful making the join.


This cuts a “V” in the board, making it possible to fold the board in a 90 degree shape as in this example:


I made two tubes, one which fits inside the other. The outer tube is fixed across the join and then split into two. The second fits into the tubes very firmly and holds the two boards in alignment.

Lastly, I have to report that I changed my method of running the track across the boards. As I had to continually pick up boards and move them until all of the wiring was done, I found that the track ends were getting pushed out of alignment. I have gone back to an old way of doing things, as if it was a fold up layout and that is to use joining stretchers of track. All six of the tracks that cross the baseboard join were cut back by 50mm. After finally getting the wiring completed and having fixed the boards strongly together, as above, I then cut 6 x 100mm lengths of track across the join. I will leave these loose until I, finally, fix the boards together.

Lastly, I thought that I might show how complex the underneath of the left hand board was. This has the majority of the points installed and the wiring was quite tricky.


As you can see, I had to reroute some of the strengthening struts to accommodate the point motors. This is easily done with foam core – just cut away and hot glue some new in!

Laying the first track

The main railway is to be on two boards; one to be 7′ x 2′ and the other 7′ 4″ x 2′ (both extend to 2′ 6″ at one end. This is because I need to be able to lift the boards to carry out the wiring and install the point motors. In future times, I might need to lift a board if there should be a wiring or point motor problem so not only must there be two boards but they must be physically separate and liftable.

I have started work on the right hand board as you look towards the wall – with the fiddle yard to the front and the station further back. As described in a previous post, the board is completely constructed, including the incline down from the main height to the fiddle yard height.  It needs extra being added to the outside of the 180 degree curve as I didn’t leave enough there to construct the scenery against. This can be added later as it doesn’t affect the track laying.

Using the Anyrail plan and some Peco templates that I printed and cut out,  I have been able to determine some fixed points for the track and then work off these. The track is all Peco Code 80. I buy my flexi-track in boxes of 25 yard lengths – it’s cheaper that way.

This is what has been laid so far. I have reversed the board to make it easier to lay the track. This is the main junction off the double track main line and part way down the incline. I am using the useful little Peco 6′ way templates to keep the spacing correct. I have some super sticky double sided tape that I get from Amazon. This does a great job of holding the track down to the foam core until I get the ballast fixed. It is no good using track pins as these just pop out from the foam at the slightest provocation. I tend to use Peco set-track curves to ensure the correctness of the radii and to avoid the ends of each stretch of track from trying to go back to being straight.


The connection between the main line and the branch to Pennvale is in modern form – using four points – and not using a diamond – because I couldn’t find a combination of  Peco components that would make one without a lot of extra track involved.


Here you can see one of the passenger coaches being used to test the flow through the complex. So far, everything runs smoothly.


You have to be careful with exposed ends when using Peco flexi-track across joints. One tweak of a rail and a few inches come out of their fasteners. I used to use a piece of PCB cut out and soldered to the track then epoxy glued to the baseboard but, again, this doesn’t work with foam core as the paper just peels away from the core. What I finally came up with is this:

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 21.54.44

I then push the tails through the foam core and press the PCB board down onto some epoxy. Then, I twist the tails tightly together (with a small piece of plastic card to stop them tearing into the base). I can then solder the rail ends onto the two PCB areas and we have a solid fitting. The end result looks like this – I haven’t yet cut the exposed rails to length.


Painting these over with the rail paint will soon disguise them.