Track laying

Having planned out my model railway layout in theory and built my base board, it’s time to put the two together and see if it works!

I already had all the track pieces planned out, so it wasn’t actually too hard to put it into practice. And because I had mapped it out on the computer beforehand I knew it would fit. What I didn’t have was enough points, so those went on order from eBay. Before long I had my track roughly laid out, and very satisfying it was too. I took all the fishplates out so that I could check them and then reinstall them, replacing any that were beyond hope – they had previously been painted brown, so some were stuck fast and took some persuasion (and in some case deformity) to remove. Thankfully I already had some spares.

Then I started actually connecting the track up properly. This was an insightful step, because it took out the vagueness somewhat and showed me where my calculations were slightly off. I had to cut one of the tracks up a bit because it was too long, and another I had to replace with a different combination of straights to get exactly the right fit. Still, it all went in.

Next came the electrics. Every joint was tested with a multimeter to make sure there was a good electrical join, and fishplates were replaced where necessary. In a couple of cases I had to take a screwdriver to the edge of the rails to scrape off the excess brown paint so that there was actually some bare metal to make use of. Eventually, though, all the track was connected and tested. Of course, I needed some way of hooking up some actual electricity to the track, so I bought some Hornby power clips (yes, I know, not as good as soldering, but I don’t yet have a soldering iron), some 7/0.2 wire, some toggle switches, and once I realised I needed them I got some crimped pin terminals to go with the power clips. eBay is a wonderful place.

It only took an hour or two to connect up all the wires, plumb them in under the base board, connect them up to my controller, and get an engine running around the track! Hooray!

Of course, then came a whole lot of cleaning, both of the track and the engine wheels. Sadly, at this point I began to realise my error in building such a compact layout. My favourite locomotive, a Bachmann 57xx pannier tank in GWR green, doesn’t like the new points or the tight curve radius, and keeps popping off the rails. I tried all sorts to try to persuade it to stay on, but you can hear it scraping its way around the curves. It’s just not built for R605 (radius 1) curves. Very sad. I did do a whole load of research one evening and found that Hornby had made a cheap version of a 57xx, with far less detail. Interestingly, that had flangeless centre wheels, which presumably help it to get round the tighter corners. I briefly considered whether I could take the Bachmann apart and replace the wheels, or grind down the flanges somehow, but I love it too much to tinker with it. It’ll just have to sit in a cupboard until my next layout…

In the meantime, I’ve been getting my Smokey Joe saddle tank in better working order. Being an 0-4-0 (that’s a ‘four wheeled locomotive’ for us laymen), there is apparently very little that can really be done to make it super-smooth, because there are only four potential points of electrical contact, which means things can very easily get stuttery. Still, I cleaned up the wheels, took the body off and cleaned up inside, and I’ll probably oil it too when I find some suitable oil. I also did some detailing and weathering on it, not with these expensive weathering paints and pastels you can get, but with my kids’ pencil crayons – worked a treat! It now has faded lettering, rusts spots and water staining in appropriate places. The same principle has been applied to some of the trucks and the engine shed, covering them in a layer of black pencil to make them look a bit dirtier. I also found that increasing the weight in the trucks meant that the engine had to work a bit harder, which weirdly made it slightly smoother. I’m thinking of getting hold of some lead fishing weights to cram into Smokey Joe’s bodywork, as that should help it keep in contact with the track too.

The next step is getting the polystyrene foam board to start making the landscape. I can imagine that taking some time…