Landscape refining and engine oiling

Another successful evening in my garage saw a host of subtle improvements to my styrofoam landscape, smoother running from my Smokey Joe 0-4-0 thanks to some sewing machine oil, and a slightly longer siding to accommodate a two-carriage DMU.

I have to say, the blue is starting to get to me. It really needs painting. But before that can happen I need to refine the shape of it and figure out a seemlingly endless list of other details. Before I started work on it this time, the sheets of styrofoam were plainly obvious, and far too square to be believable. So I hacked away some more, taking off edges, introducing more randomness, and smoothing things off. It’s a subtle improvement. I think I shall probably still have to hide a lot of the edges underneath hedgerows and trees to make it even less obvious, but at least now it’s looking a bit more like a landscape and less like 4 sheets of underfloor heating insulation.

The most important refinement though was to the inclines underneath the track. I had previously hacked out the channels using a steak knife, so it wasn’t exactly smooth. Today I took a different approach, filing instead of sawing, extending the length of the inclines a little and smoothing out all the bumps. The track still needs persuading to lie completely flat, but once it’s actually pinned down it should look great and be nice and smooth and even.

A similar technique was used to create the road bed. I’ve planned out a road, coming in at the back and off again at the side, crossing the track in two places, and giving access to the car park behind the station. I could have just painted it on, but it occurred to me that since my entire floor is mouldable I could do an even better job by actually sculpting the road. It’s now got a slight camber to it at the edges, which has the dual effect of creating a defined edge for the curb of the pavement. Once painted up, this should look a treat! I also cut out some pieces of cardboard to experiment with the level crossings. I’ll probably use a more solid piece of card eventually, and embed it into the road a little.

Also, while I was in town, I bought some sewing machine oil. Nice and cheap from a local wool shop, and is perfect for lubricating locomotives. Smokey Joe was a little jerky, and sounded rough, so I took the top off and oiled all the moving parts. After a few laps to settle in, it’s much better. Still not perfect, but from what I read on the forums that’s typical of 0-4-0 locos due to the limited options for electrical contact.

While I was at it, and I also got my green Lima DMU out. It’s a three-carriage passenger loco, and I hadn’t planned on using on this layout simply because it’s rather big. Leaving out the middle coach it will fit on the main station, but is still too long for the top station. One option is just to live with it and assume that the DMU doesn’t stop at the top station (it’s technically a ‘halt’, after all). Or, if I’m feeling adventurous, I could scratch-build a station with a curve in it, so that it’s long enough to accommodate two long carriages. I’d worry about the clearance though, what with the overhangs on my tight radius curves. Either way, it looks good and drives well, so I’ve increased the length of one of my sidings so it’s long enough to hold those two long carriages.

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…