Thursday, 3 December 2020

Contingency Planning - no longer daydreaming

Well, with the house now sold, the search is on for a new home. A lot time is currently being expended attending open houses but nothing has yet emerged as a viable new home. With Philip's Creek now in store, during this period, I have been investing some time to develop a layout plan which can be used for the next iteration of Philip's Creek. My intent has been to use existing modules, where possible, supplemented by a few new builds.

From a family perspective, this is a downsizing exercise with the intent to move to a single level house. The irony is that while the family home may be going to a single level, Philip's Creek must become a multilevel layout if I am not to forego too much of its basic concept, a section of main line with several branch lines feeding into it.

While the previous iteration of Philip's Creek fitted into one third of a three car garage, circulation space was tight. Now as I move, most probably, to a two car garage, there will also be other workshop items that may need to be accommodated in the same space. The average double garage for the houses we are investigating is about 5.8m x 5.4m, so my designs have been focused on fitting the next layout into a 5.4m x2.7m space. 

The sketches below indicate the current concept showing where the existing modules will be incorporated. Hopefully, other garage items can be stored in the space below the lower level and bought out when necessary. In the event that we purchase a house with a larger space, elements of the plan may be extended -  time and finances will tell.

Lower Level


Upper Level


Saturday, 26 September 2020

'On the Road again!' - Updated

Willie Nelson's famous lyric probably sums up Philip's Creek's current situation.  In an earlier post, I foreshadowed a likely downsizing of the family home and consequently, yet another move for Philip's Creek.

Well, 12 months on and the relocation has come to pass. We have just exchanged contracts for the sale of our house with a settlement date in late November and based on previous experience, dismantling and packing of Philip's Creek has now commenced. In addition to packing away all of the rolling stock, it also means breaking the layout down into the modular sections and then constructing a box around one or two modules.

The first image shows a view of the layout about 12 months ago...

... and the second photo shows its current state from the same location.

While there have been two more recent partial moves, this will be the first full move of the layout for 16 years and in that time, the layout has grown with the number of modules doubling from 5 to 10. This means that the existing packaging which I have faithfully stored for the last 10 years will need be augmented.

In addition, when landscaping of some modules, I forgot the height requirements which are imposed when two modules are packed together as shown below. Around the Mount Windeatt modules in particular, it was necessary to engage in a massive deforestation that has turned the landscape into a model of the Somme in 1916 rather than a Hunter Valley site in the late 1960's.

So what next for Philip's Creek. I don't know how much space I will have available, but I'm fairly certain that some modules will need to be modified or rebuilt. I expect that less floor space will be available than the current 16m2. The next iteration of Philip's Creek will be multi-layer and my planning anticipates that this will include the two Philip's Creek modules and both staging areas.

The search continues for the next home and until that happens, Philip's Creek will remain in store. However, I plan to keep the locomotives accessible to tweak the CV settings using Decoder Pro. As I haven't used this software before, it's going to be a whole new learning exercise. 




Update 9 October

Well it took a lot longer than I expected but the crating process has finally been  completed. The first few crates, which had been assembled on previous moves, went together easily enough but I paid the penalty for some more bespoke construction over the more recent years. The photo below shows Philip's Creek in its current form. The level crossing sign provides a reference point for comparison with the first photo. The Muswellbrook staging area stands forlornly on the right.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

3090 joins the Roster

About three weeks ago, a new 30T class, 3090, joined the roster at Philip's Creek. This is the second 30T class locomotive in use on the layout. It's now just over two years since 3088 was introduced into service. ( ) 3088 is an elderly brass locomotive and notwithstanding my early optimism, it has proved to be a bit unreliable. Despite adding a stay alive to the decoder, at times, performance has been jerky and inconsistent. I sensed that some part of the running gear might be fouling but could not locate a specific problem. Often it seems that I have to 'run in' the locomotive for about 15 minutes before it could be trusted to haul a train to Kingston Plains without incident. It was this situation that provided the motivation for the acquisition of a more 'modern' 3090. 3088 hasn't been consigned to 'Rotten Row' but it probably will spend a bit more time in the workshop

As most followers of the NSW prototype will recall, a model of the 30T was released by Wombat Models in 2018. The initial release was limited to the six wheel tender version but last year, models of locomotives with the larger ex 50 class bogies tenders were added to the range. 3090 is one of the second release. The model arrived very quickly (within two days of the order being placed) and was given a good run-in on DC before the planned decoder install. As I read the instruction, I realised that I was facing another 21 pin installation. My one previous experience with a 21 pin plug had not been good ( ) so it was with some trepidation that I commenced this installation. I still haven't made the jump to sound and when I tried to source 21 pin versions of my usual preferred decoder brands, I found they were in short supply. It seems that the pandemic has been impacting the supply of decoders.  I ended up purchasing a DCC Concepts product. As well as the 21 pin connector, this particular decoder also includes extension wired to an 8 pin socket. This gave me some comfort that, if everything turned pear shaped, I could at least cut off the 8 pin socket and use the wires to do a basic four wire connection. However, that contingency was unnecessary as, this time, the installation went well, no bent or broken pins and the locomotive was running on DCC in short order.

As is usual these days, most of the electronics are located in the tender which was easy to access by removing two screws holding the superstructure to the chassis. The instructions indicate that there is sufficient room to include a speaker in the tender as well as some additional weight to the underside of the tender superstructure. I'm sure it's been done but I thought things were a little tight. I believe that adding some extra weight to the tender is advisable, so lead strips has been glued onto the coal bunker and covered by coal.

My initial testing indicates that the locomotive runs smoothly and handles prototypical loads without difficulty even with the extra weight in the tender.

Not surprisingly, I have chosen to weather 3090 as it was in Upper Hunter Valley around 1970 when it replaced 3088 working the Merriwa branch line and other local services. Photos taken around this time show a locomotive in a reasonably clean condition compared with a more degraded appearance a year or so later when working out of the Port Waratah locomotive depot. Therefore, my focus has been to dull down the gloss new model appearance and overlay a very light grime to match some contemporary photos.

The model also includes a number of small detail parts which have yet to be added. The instructions didn't identify where these should go, so a closer scrutiny of photos will be necessary. A crew has also yet to be added and I'll probably target two from the Andlan Models 3D printed figures range which really look great once painted.

As 3090 replaced 3088 in the Upper Hunter Valley I assume that the two locomotives were  never seen together. However in my slightly altered universe, 3088 and 3090 will both operate around in and around the area and may occasionally cross at Philip's Creek.

3090 starts its first run to Kingston Plains while Paddy and his mates continue working on the fence

Friday, 5 June 2020

Building a few Poplars

One of the consequences of the mess making described in my last post was that a number of trees had to move. Gum trees were relocated to other heavily timbered areas but a row of trees along the road leading from Philip's Creek was ditched (see adjacent photo). These trees had been a generic commercial product of no specific prototype. The only reason that they had been installed on the layout originally was because they were a gift from one of my children. However, over many years, these had degraded to the point that they were no longer fit for purpose. They had to go and question turned to what would replace them. 

One possibility for a replacement tree was the ubiquitous poplar. One commercial website describes them as:
"Large, stately trees which are widely used for street and avenue plantings, parks and gardens, large properties, shelter belt planting and along driveways. Poplars are probably best known by the stately Lombary Poplar, widely planted in temperate Australia"

I have been aware of poplars from a very young age. Probably, the earliest memories from the 1960s were the extensive plantings on the Federal Highway and around Canberra. That said, I don't recall seeing many poplars on exhibition layouts but maybe I was focused on other things. I was able to purchase two models of poplars recently but wasn't too happy with the leaf colour or density of the foliage. So I decided to have a go of making a few to supplement the commercial product.

Construction of the trunk and branches was fairly simple using the common twisted wire technique. I used two sizes of wire; about six strands of 0.5mm diameter for the trunk and main branches, and a very fine fuze or armature wire intertwined for the smaller branches. The twisted wires were given a thin coat of Shelley's filler and each tree was sprayed with grey primer followed by a light spray of burnt umber.

In keeping with my usual practice foliage was fixed to the branches using spray glue but I'm sure readers will have their own preferred techniques. I used Woodland Scenics course turf - light green to simulate the leaves.

With the benefit of hindsight, I probably didn't need such a long trunk as the foliage on prototype trees starts at ground level as the photo opposite shows.

The process was a bit laborious but not difficult and I'm reasonably happy with the result, although I note that the foliage on the two commercial trees is thicker (see trees 1 and 4 -left to right on the photo below).

With the small stand of poplars finished, it's time to get back to the more extensive but certainly more mundane fencing of the newly terra formed area.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

What Happens When One Gets Some Spare Time

One makes more mess!!

I have always said that there are two constant threats to our hobby, time and space. Other challenges may come and go depending on an individual's personal circumstance but insufficient time and limits to space seem to be an ongoing issue for all modellers. However, unexpectedly, over the last two months,  the corona virus has reduced the impact of the time constraint.  Like many others, my plans for the next few months have been disrupted. We had expected to be in another part of the world at this time but cancelled plans meant that there is a bit more time to do things on Philip's Creek. The upgrading of the repair pool ( Create a Repair Pool ) was a simple job quickly completed, and the mind soon turned to more substantial projects.

The need to downsize the family home continues to drive long term planning and the prospect of having to translate Philip's Creek into a multilevel layout has dominated my thinking over the past few months. Access to the lower level tracks for cleaning and maintenance has lead me to review any higher topographical features that could impede that access, which brings me to the sidings in the first photo.

In Philip's Creek's original and shorter oval form, the siding was actually the main line leading to the staging area. The high features on either side to the track were intended to conceal the transition between the sceniced areas and the staging area. I continue to use this device elsewhere but as the layout was extended, it was no longer needed here. The original mainline became a siding, initially for the coalmine and then the very basic locomotive facilities shown in the photo. The justification for a significant cutting was gone and the major cutting here looked a bit artificial. However, there were other things to do and this job slipped to the bottom of the pile. Gradually, that pile has diminished and the time has come to rectify that artificiality.

So out came the excavation tools to get stuck into more terraforming! Well sort of. My usual tools for this activity are a long bladed knife and the rasp shaping tool. However, for the 'bulk earthworks' contemplated, I found it easier to remove one or two layers at a time using a cross cut saw, basically the reverse process to the way the styrofoam was installed initially. Once the approximate level was achieved the final shaping with the usual tools came into play.

To finish the scenery, I'll use similar processes as those I detailed in my 2014 post
( Terra Forming ) but even now, the area has been opened up considerably as these 'before and after' photos show.

And when the final scenicing is done -  what's next?

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Something to do during a lock down - Create a Repair Pool

With most of the population facing enforced isolation, the opportunity for work on one's layout has risen exponentially to the point where some might be scratching for things to do. Here's a suggestion for a simple task that can have a benefit further 'down the track' so to speak.

Any layout is prone to some damage during normal operations. We reach over the layout to clean track, remedy a derailment or perhaps assist an uncoupling that hasn't worked as it should, and invariably, things get damaged or broken.  For me, the scenic items with the greatest potential for such damage are telegraph and power poles.

In the days when I had a green skin, one of the things that we would frequently hear about was an entity called a Repair Pool. This was a collection of various items of equipment that could be borrowed by a unit when a like item owned by it required significant repairs. The idea of having spares on hand is not new and we probably all carry a collection of  repair parts such as wheel sets, coupler springs and the like. However, this takes the idea further to complete scenic items ready to be installed. 

Over the past 12 months, I have fabricated and painted a number of  extra telegraph and power poles to establish this pool. I needed to make two different telegraph poles, three crossbars for the mainline and a single crossbar for the two branch lines. All power poles have two bars.

Previously, when one of these is damaged, it would probably stay in place until several similar incidents make a repair worthwhile. Now if this occurs, the damaged item can quickly be replaced with a like item and repaired at my leisure. While it may take me as long to get around to repairing the damaged poles, at least visually, the layout is not degraded. The repaired item is returned to the pool and waits until it is needed again.

While I have limited my repair pool to telegraph and power poles, it can easily be applied to other scenic items such as trees or perhaps signals. That said, given the cost and complexity of signals these days, one might need to consider whether the repair pool concept is worth it.

The size of the repair pool is a question that each individual needs to determine. Over time I have tended to settle on 2-3 of each type. From experience, I have learned that the greatest potential for damage, around the junction of the Kingston Plains branch as I attempt to clean the tracks in the two cuttings and the coal mine siding where the four wheel LCH and and CCH sometimes misbehave as they are shunted onto the sidings. This experience has helped me determine the quantities required.

Having said all of this, I have to confess that the repair pool has not be used to any extent in the township of Philip's Creek itself because of the uncertainty of the future of those two modules(see 
Contingency Planning ). However, those modules which will continue on into the next iteration of Philip's Creek, the repair pool is used frequently - yes, I'm clumsy!

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Exposing a Vulnerability

Every now and then you learn a lesson about the layout you built that you didn't expect. It happened to me recently.

When I converted to  DCC in 2010, I purchased a NCE Powercab. At that time, the layout was a U shape with an additional staging yard at the end of the U. The tethered Powercab allowed an operator to stand in front of,  or at least see a train operating at any part of the layout. However, at times, operation was still challenging and around July 2013, in anticipation of a planned expansion of the layout, I invested in a NCE Cab06 wireless controller  Going wireless

Since then, this controller has been an integral part of Philip's Creek operation, allowing me to follow a particular train throughout its entire run and, where necessary, complete any shunting activities. This capability facilitated the extension of Philip's Creek and the use of 'compartments' to simulate a sense of distance.( Attempting to manage distance  ). I noted in that post that the wireless controller is essential to make this work. With hindsight, that may have been an overstatement because there are other ways that a tethered controller can be extended but probably not with the Powercab in its present form.

So, a few weeks ago, it came as an unpleasant surprise when the Cab06 started to malfunction particularly during the 'select a locomotive' process. After three sets of batteries, I was convinced that they weren't the problem. The main issue seemed to be an unresponsive key pad. The controller has always been slow to establish the link once a specific locomotive number has been entered but now it was even failing to register individual numbers as they were keyed in.

With some trepidation, I opened up the controller and examined the keypad mat and the contacts on the circuit board. The contacts on both were wiped with a dry cotton bud. This may have solved the problem because now the controller is again functioning  normally.

Although the problem now appears to be rectified, it highlighted a vulnerability in the operation of Philip's Creek. Without the flexibility of a reliable wireless controller, a significant element of the layout is difficult or impossible to reach. Both staging areas (opposite) can be reached with difficulty if the Powercab is passed underneath the baseboard but the Kingston Plains branch line (below) is inaccessible.

This means I need some redundancy, specifically another wireless controller. A second Cab06 is the obvious choice but, over the years, I have found the controller to be very basic and I miss the functions available on the Powercab. Although it costs significantly more, I'll probably target a Procab R, the wireless version of the Procab controller.

Of course, the DCC system as a whole is also a vulnerability. In the days of DC, over time, I accumulated several power packs and even more controllers, but after the conversion to DCC, the Powercab has been the core of the system. It is now 10 years old and has performed well over that time. Hopefully, it will continue to do so but, if it doesn't, operation of Philip's Creek will come to a grinding halt until a replacement can be sourced. Alternately, I may investigate the NCE booster option but this will have to wait finances recover from the Procab purchase.

In the meantime, it's back to 'business as usual' albeit now with my fingers crossed.