Monday, 11 October 2021

Why nothing happens quickly at Philip's Creek

As an aside, I thought I'd depart from the usual topics to show why it has taken so long to build Philip's Creek. The photo opposite, courtesy of my wife, was taken in 2019 when I had started to construct three Casula Hobbies TRC kits. I finally finished the third kit a few weeks ago, see photo below.




Friday, 24 September 2021

Building a Helix - Part 2 A few lessons learnt

Well, it wasn't quite a 'golden spike moment' or the completion of the transcontinental railway or Adelaide to Darwin link but last week, I finished the helix linking the lower and upper levels of Philip Creek. To mark the occasion, 4856, the oldest locomotive on the roster, collected a few wagons from the upper level and moved them to the lower level.

The concept of using an octagon shape to support the helix worked. I found it easy to cut and shape 540 x 125mm rectangles. Sure, the mitre saw got a serious workout but it was better than cutting circular strips. Originally, I intended to use 100mm wide strips but I found it needed to be wider at the octagon nodes. I wasn't too worried about getting the octagon geometry exactly correct. It was more important to get the circle within it laid out in preparation of the track laying. 

I did spend a fair bit of time getting the grade correct using a combination of spacers and a modified spirit level. This was all part of the build, check and test approach I used throughout the construction process.

I had to revise my exit arrangements from the spiral to the upper level of the layout. I had made a slight error in the measurement of the height difference between the upper and lower levels to the extent that the exit level had to be reduced from 5.3 turns to 5.1. The mis-close became obvious as I was setting out the fifth level and so the actual spiral finished around the 4.7 point and the remaining height is gained in the climb between the exit and the destination, the coal mine module. The photo to the right gives a birds eye view of the exit. The turnout will be the start of the Kingston Plains branch line.

As I was setting the height of each node, nuts were only finger tightened. I thought this would be sufficient but over the past few weeks, I have noticed some nuts required further tightening. I may have to revisit the whole structure with a spanner. 

Because of the long run of track in the helix (about 21m), I provided an electrical feed to each level of the spiral.

I used Peco track in the spiral and this track now includes provision for pinning on one side only. It's probably in literature somewhere suggesting that track should be pinned on the inside rather than outside of a curve. But I missed it and for ease of access, I pinned the outside of the curve. However, after a few days, the inner side of the track began to lift. I was able to correct this with staples pushed over the sleepers on the inside of the curve. See photos opposite.

And so the helix is now operational and the sequence below shows 4856's descent through the helix and exit onto the Yellow Rock module.




With the two levels of the layout now joined, attention has turned to the construction of the upper level staging area which represents Muswellbrook, Werris Creek and locations further north. With the helix  in place, I can also look forward to connecting the two branch lines, Mount Windeatt and Kingston Plains. These links will have to involve the creation of two lift up bridges, another challenging task. But it will give me the opportunity to run a few trains to actual destinations while I complete the rebuild of the Philip's Creek township.


Monday, 16 August 2021

Building a Helix - still joining the dots

I had intended that this post would detail progress on the Hunter River bridge, but the reality is that work on the bridge has stalled because my primary focus has been continuing to join the dots, specifically, building a helix. 

As I described in my most recent post, Philip's Creek, in its new arrangement, is now a two level layout and this means, I need some way to move trains from the lower to upper level and back again. To climb the 500mm between levels would require about 20m of track at a grade of 2.5%. Simply, there is not enough space in a 6m * 2.2m garage to run a visible climb between the two levels.  So there are not too many options other than a helix for continuous running between levels.

A helix is not without problems. A helix does occupy a lot of space. A 600mm radius helix will consume about 1.1m2 of space. This area may not seem to be a lot but when added to other space demands such circulation space and staging areas before we even contemplate sceniced areas of the layout. 

Access for cleaning and maintenance in the helix can be a challenge. Often I have seen a helix enclosed so trains are hidden from view as they monotonously go round in circles to gain height. However, this arrangement creates an issue if there is a derailment or when track cleaning is required. There have been horror stories of operators having to climb into the void at the centre of the helix to rectify a problem. I have decided to leave the helix open and accessible.

Another challenge is the combination of a tight curve and grade increasing the load more than it would for either individually. I have been very conscious of this problem and have experimented with likely combinations that will operate on the helix. To date, after being able to run up one and half laps of the helix, there have been no significant problems.

There are many documents and You Tube videos dealing with the design and construction of a helix. Most involve the cutting of circular sections which are then assembled into a helix. I was not too keen to do the necessary cutting of curved shapes and the associated wastage and I certainly didn't want to purchase one of the prefabricated kits available. I decided to try an octagon ring and lay a circular track within the limits of the ring. This has the advantage of simpler cutting of 10mm ply with less wastage. The strips do require some work with a mitre saw to cut each strip to get a 22.5 degree angle at the end. The eight section forming the octagon are screwed to short sections of 6mm ply which serve as a support or saddle at each the eight nodes. To support each level, I used 16 threaded rods, two at each nodes, with nuts and washers used to support each saddle. (see adjacent photo)

I struggled to fit the helix into the space available and had to reduce the radius to what I believe is the absolute minimum, 610mm. To accommodate this radius, the octagon had to have an overall width (A) of 1300mm and each side length (B) of 538.48mm, rounded up to 540mm.

To keep the grade to a reasonable value, I needed to restrict the height between helix levels to around 88mm with a clear distance of 70mm from track to the bottom of the next level. This gives a grade of around 2.3% and require about 5.5 laps.

The first octagon serves two purposes. It was the test bed for the construction process and once attached to the layout frame, it forms the foundation of the helix and the base for each of the threaded rods. 

One lesson which emerged from this exercise was the need for a slightly wider strip. Originally, I had anticipated using 100mm wide strips but I suspected this may be a bit narrow so increased the width to 125mm.

 The bottom circle of track had to include a point (turnout) which will connect to the Mount Windeatt branch line and the upper circle will incorporate a point leading to the Kingston Plains branch line.

With the first loop in place, I had to lay track from the Yellow Rock module to the helix and continue  into the helix proper. Getting into the helix  required the same tight radius but also a reverse curve. I incorporated a short straight in the hope that it would assist eight wheel steam locomotives to manage this section. Testing to date indicates that this arrangement has worked but it will be  speed restricted.

Once you finish one level of the helix, it is covered, and won't be easily accessible again. So the construction process has been a continual sequence of build/test. To date, I completed two loops with three plus to go.

Ian Millard (Liverpool Range) observed that one gets into a sequence or rhythm when building a helix. He's right! But Charlie from the You Tube channel Chadwick said that it's one of the most boring things he has done, and he's also right! Certainly, winding a nut along a threaded rod is a very mundane task, and it has to be done many times.

As I get closer to finishing the helix, I'll post again on a few lesson learnt but it's also time to contemplate the next projects, laying new track around Philip's Creek and installing lift up sections to access the branch lines. More to follow.

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Joining the Dots

In my most recent post, I likened the unpacking and reassembly of the modules to a game of 3D Tetris. Well that game is nearing completion as all but two modules have been placed in their new locations and the focus now is building new layout elements which will link the existing, 'joining the dots' so to speak. To date, new modules have been built for the Singleton/Newcastle staging area and the linking modules which lead to the Yellow Rock module. This includes the Singleton Hunter River Bridge. This project was started about two years ago ( Singleton Hunter River Bridge ) but has been dormant during the turbulence of the past 12 months. An update of this model will be included in my next post. A temporary structure has been inserted until it can be replaced by the completed bridge. 

The following photos show the module stacking completed to date.

The two branch line termini Kingston Plain above Mount Windeatt. 

The other side of the module combination above shows the completed Singleton/Newcastle staging area below with a yet to be reconstructed Muswellbrook/Werris Creek staging area above. The Halls Creek bridge module together together with the partially constructed Hunter River bridge have been temporarily stored on the upper left. Ultimately, this will be the home of a Philip's Creek module.

The coal mine module above and Yellow Rock module underneath. The coal mine will again be adjacent to Philip's Creek. 







 Another view of the same combination. One of the advantages of this new home is the inclusion of a roller door at the rear of the garage. This permits better access during the rebuilding phase and will allow emergency access during normal operations.


The location of the Singleton Hunter River module with a temporary structure in place. Philip's Creek (yet to be installed) will be above this module. The front joist appears to have a significant distortion but this is one of those camera quirks. It is a rectangle 2400*600.

The Philip's Creek modules will probably stay in their crate for while. As these modules are scheduled for a significant makeover, it's best to leave them out of the road until I'm ready to do that work.

Long time readers of this blog will recall that my usual construction technique sees the track bed laid on 100mm of styrofoam which in turn sits on a 70*19 timber frame. I described this in more detail in the post . With the new construction it became necessary to source more styrofoam and a trip to Bunnings was necessary. While there, I found a new product, XPS Handy Panel supplied by a company called Bastion. It comes in sheets 1200mm * 600mm with two thicknesses, 50mm and 30mm. This is a stronger product than the normal white styrofoam, it can be sawn neatly with minimal mess and, with care, one can even drive screws into it. It is considerably more expensive than the normal white styrofoam so I have restricted its use to below track level and will continue to use the normal white styrofam for the final terrain shaping. 

I have also used it for the piers and abutments of the Singleton Bridge but more details of that will be included in my next post.


I have also started to experiment with LED lighting strips as a means of illuminating the lower level modules. A quick initial test was promising but I'll need to set up an network of extension cords and power boards to ensure that I can switch the lights on from one location. The Singleton/Newcastle staging area will be the first area to be illuminated.




My method of wiring is also changing. Instead of running wiring underneath the modules, I am starting to chase wires into the surface layer of foam and run it to a control panel in the front which is also connected to the DCC bus wire. Subsequent scenery work will conceal the wiring.

The past few weeks have seen some fairly intense activity on Philip's Creek but, for domestic tranquility, that work rate must taper off as other non hobby activities demand attention. But, at least now, I have a reasonable start point. In the mean time, the rolling stock is being unpacked and placed on any available space. It's pretty crowded but at least all of the rolling stock will be visible and not locked away in boxes.

More to follow!!

Sunday, 30 May 2021

Setting up Philip's Creek (version Kellyville)

It's taken a while but finally, Philip's Creek is now being unpacked and reassembled. There has been some minor damage, mainly items which broke loose during the move but the effort to box up the modules has paid off. Some other damage was sustained when I installed one module, Kingston Plain, above another, Mount Windeatt. However, these are relatively minor and will be corrected when other landscaping tasks are completed. 

Right now, the reassembly is like a game of 3D Tetris as modules are placed where required for version Kellyville. To date the main focus has been on the construction of the support structure to carry the lower level modules and getting sufficient track laid on the lower level so that I can run a few trains over a little distance before I start work on the upper level. Some modules destined for the upper level will have to remain boxed until the appropriate support structures are established.

As I have been reassembling the layout, there have been a few adjustments.

We all learn lessons from our previous efforts and Philip's Creek is no exception. Version Kellyville will have larger staging areas and slightly wider aisles, two issues that caused me problems on version Hornsby

Previously, I had inserted short piece of track over the interface between two modules but this has now changed. Now track will be laid across module joints without any considerable of future demolition. While one should never say 'never', it is very unlikely that Philip's Creek will again be moved by me. The track and scenery has value to me, but I need to acknowledge that the disposable value of the layout is in the locomotives and rolling stock. Therefore, the next time that Philip's Creek is demolished, a skip bin will probably be in close proximity. If, by chance, the person demolishing the layout wants to retain its integrity, the person can use a Dremel tool to cut the track at the module joints. However, more likely, it will be my angle grinder which is used to facilitate demolition.

The early work has shown me that I need to be much neater in my wiring underneath the upper level module. Previously, it didn't matter if wires hung below the support frame but no longer. Now any wiring must not be visible when viewing the lower level module.

Lighting for both the upper and lower modules will need to be improved. The need for lighting for the lower level modules is obvious but the lighting in the garage is not too good and I'll need to improve it.


So work continues on a layout which, about two years ago, I foreshadowed was almost complete. Well, not quite!!

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Decisions, Decisions - Layout Planning - Ongoing

It's taken a while but we have managed to purchase a new house and should move in later in March. Quite a challenge in a rising market! It's been a busy time with little opportunity to pursue hobby interests or accept those kind offers to get a train fix.

The house is a down-sizer but it does have a reasonable double garage 6.1*5.5m. This means that the area available for a remodelled Philip's Creek will be in the order of 6*2.7m, slightly longer than my earlier planning figure of 5.4m.

I am still wrestling with concepts for the reassembly of Philip's Creek. My last post identified a possible configuration but the need for more access and storage along the length of the garage has led to a reconsideration of that arrangement. While the location of the helix has moved, the key change has been to place narrower modules in positions which will increase circulation space between the car and the layout. The revised concept as at now is shown in the two sketches below. It's still a work in progress.

Lower Level

Upper Level

Both staging areas will need to be reconstructed and the Singleton staging area will need to be first cab off the rank followed by modules for the lower level (Philip's Creek and Mount Windeatt). A backdrop will separate the staging areas and the adjacent modules. These modules, Hall Creek bridge and Mount Windeatt (lower level) and Kingston Plain (upper level), will only be accessible from outside the layout space. A folding bridge will be needed to facilitate access through the lower level into the layout area.

Once work on the lower level is complete, I'll focus on the helix, the upper level staging area and finally the upper level modules.

Work on the rebuild is unlikely to start any time soon as experience has taught me that domestic calm is best maintained by completing other moving-in projects first. 

In the meantime, I need to make a couple of decisions. 

Firstly, I'm must decide whether to rebuild the Philip's Creek modules or simply refresh the existing modules. Although I had already completed some of the refresh work before moving, presently, I am leaning towards a rebuilt as it will allow me to simplify the track plan while increasing the holding capacity of the coal mine sidings

Secondly, I need to decide what to model on the upper level noting that I have the potential to create a reasonable run linking the helix to the Werris Creek staging area as well as the Kingston Plain branch line. Currently, I am considering a version of Muswellbrook (perhaps a Muswellbrook Lite) which could include another coal mine loader, turntable, roundhouse, goods sidings and station building. 

All of this is predicated on one thing, there will no decrease in enthusiasm. Unfortunately, this is something that I know can happen after such a significant disruption like a house move. At least this time I won't be attempting to balance work obligations and house extensions as well. 

Time will tell!


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