Spring Module Meeting 2018

Following a chat among module owners in October last year, one of the comments made was that we don’t have any module meetings other than at exhibitions and sometimes it’d be nice to just play trains. So we came to an agreement with the Seaboard Southern club, as their secretary is also a member, to rent their club room a few times a year.

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Seaboard Southern Annual Exhibition 2017

On Saturday 30th September, the members of the Surrey & Sussex Black Sheep set up their largest modular layout to date, some 66′ or 20m around four sides of a room at the annual Seaboard Southern exhibition.

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Seaboard Southern Annual Exhibition 2016

A train passes through Dampier MineSaturday saw six module owners and three additional engine drivers arrive at the annual Seaboard Southern exhibition to which we’d been invited. By the skin of our teeth, due to some gremlins, we had erected and tested more than 60′ of modules, our longest layout to date.

Operating was on a warrant basis, with two in operation, one each way between the fiddle yards and the central passing module. There were also sidings to shunt in each direction, adding to the operational interest. With a crew of eight, we were split into teams of four and operated an hour on with an hour’s rest. That made the day go very quickly.

A passenger train arrives at Stenning CreekStriking down was a lot quicker, with everything boxed up and ready to load within 45 minutes of closing time. Lots of things were learned, experiences gained, which means that the next outing will be even better than this.

Modular narrow gauge railway modelling is some much more fun than having a single layout, not least because it doesn’t have to be the same each time. It’s also great to be able to exhibit works in progress, so long as they are making progress.

We’re waiting for confirmation of the date for this event next year, when we’ll hopefully be doing it all again, bigger and better.

Modules finally named and ballasted

In other news, the dry weather today was exploited and my boards have received ballast! Davidson Crossing, Sunstone Creek, Balfern Curve and Inworth Curve are now drying in the shed.

In addition, the creek itself on Sunstone Creek has been cut out. This was done at a very rough 45° so that the bits removed could be stuck back under the boards to both reinforce them again and create the creek bed.

They’ll be packed down by about 5mm to create some depth, with a rivulet running along the mostly dried creek bed. That’s the plan anyway.

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Painting the module boards

Another hiatus, another school holiday! Having put my Dear Lady Wife and Son / Heir on a plane to Slovakia for half-term, I was able to take the module boards out of the loft and treat them to a coat of paint.

The tops of the boards, up to the edge of the ballast, have been painted with a brown paint from Homebase, while the sides and ends have been painted with Rustin’s Blackboard Black purchased from Dunwoodys in Caterham.

four boards painted brown to the rail line

All four boards with brown paint to the edge of the area to be ballasted

Blackboard paint applied to straight boards

The two straight boards with their sides and ends painted blackboard black

Seaboard Southern Annual Exhibition 2015

Steve Cobb, Alan and Erik Rogers, Brian Daly, Tim Neale, Ian Lampkin & Mike Peace
Steve Cobb, Alan and Erik Rogers, Brian Daly, Tim Neale, Ian Lampkin & Mike Peace

Well, that event‘s been and gone. Thankfully, it appears to have been a huge success. Here’s what was learned on the day:

  1. It is possible to set up 23′ of modular model railway that’s never been together before in under two hours, including consumption of bacon butty and coffee
  2. A line token, or warrant, makes control easier for those operators that don’t get the whole single track main line concept
  3. A Work In Progress is well received in an exhibition environment, if it’s quite apparent what the end result is supposed to be
  4. It is actually possible to have too many trains, at least for the immediate occasion. One per fiddle yard road plus a spare would have sufficed
  5. We’re not the only nutters who are inspired, interested or intrigued by this project. At least three people loosely attached to the group have committed and we took enquiries from visitors too

Feedback from the show organisers has been positive too, which might result in a repeat invitation for next year. That’ll mean more modules and more progress on existing modules will be required!

Transit board modifications

To transport the module boards safely, I made some transit boards out of off-cuts of 12mm MDF. These were always going to be a Mark 1 version, consisting simply of a square with a line of holes drilled to match those on the interface plate on opposite faces and a hand hole in the middle. These worked, and well, holding the boards a small distance apart and making them easy to load. However, very quickly two limitations were noticed. 2015-09-04 17.20.05 Firstly, the hand holes are all but useless, because the boards are held so close together that there’s nothing for your fingers to grab hold of anything. However, I don’t intend to do anything about that, because these are Mark 1 and were going to be replaced later with newer ones out of thinner ply. And that was the other weakness. The 12mm MDF meant that the bolts, when used with two washers to protect the wood, were difficult to engage the wing nuts and, when done up, only just picked up enough threads to be secure. The solution was simple; embed tee nuts into the transit boards. It works a treat, but is still Mark 1.

First test run

Have I mentioned that it’s only two weeks until the first showing of our modular layout at the Seaboard Southern Annual Exhibition at Horsham? Having progressed to the point of electrical continuity, it was felt that a full test was long overdue.

So the car was loaded, two straights and two corners crated together together with five sets of legs were all loaded into the boot of the car and carted off to Caterham for a trial run with Brian’s modules and fiddle yards.

Setting up on the deck outside the shed was very quick, especially as Brian had already set up one fiddle yard and his two boards. We added my four in as straight a configuration as could be managed with two corners, and added have of his other fiddle yard on the other end. Sadly, the deck wasn’t long enough for a full test but Brian had already confirmed full functionality of his complete set.

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Having plugged everything together it was all looking good, until the locomotive on the first train crossed the joint between Brian’s boards and mine, stopping dead with that annoying ticking from the command station notifying a short circuit. Thankfully, it was very easy to spot – I’d managed to get the plugs and sockets the wrong way round.

Sorting it was equally easy. Swapping the plug and socket on each end of my four module stretch confirmed that to be the problem and the train proceeded to the far end of the layout. Five minutes later and all of my plugs and sockets had been swapped so that, whichever of us was wrong, we are now at least the same!

All in all, the test was an outstanding success. It was pleasing to see how quickly the layout went together, and came apart again. That it worked almost straight out of the box was a bonus. We’re ready for the exhibition in two weeks, which is a huge relief to me at least. No electrical or mechanical changes will be made now!

Testing for continuity

Have made up all the jumper cables the other evening, the last remaining electrical job was to solder the dropper cables on the corner boards. These hadn’t been done because I wasn’t happy with the track alignment. However, with the first exhibition looming …

I’m still not happy with the alignment of the track, because it’s not centred exactly. However, to do it to my satisfaction, I need to invest in a Code 83 roller gauge and construct a jig to ensure the accurate centring of the track at the ends of any board. That ain’t gonna happen before the Seaboard Southern exhibition, so it stays as is.

All that said, the boards were laid loosely on the floor and plugged but not bolted together. The connectors at the far end were plugged together as well, to create a ring main, and the connectivity tested. The resistance dropping from infinity proved that current was flowing the whole way round. Result!

Making the Jumpers

After another long hiatus, and with the Seaboard Southern Show now only a few weeks away, I sat down this evening with a film on Amazon Prime, two rolls of cable, a bunch of banana plugs and sockets plus some chocolate blocks and proceeded to make up the jumper cables for connecting power to adjacent boards.

2015-08-24 20.18.43Here’s the work area and tools laid out, with three cables already made up. It’s not a big tool kit for this job; ruler, cutters, strippers and screwdriver.

The cutting mat is just to keep the tools up together, rather than spreading them around the entire floor as I work!

Each board requires one plug and one socket each in red and black, so I’ve got four full sets to make up.

2015-08-24 20.18.52I jury-rigged a cable reel as well, to stop the two large spools rolling around the room. You might recognise the IKEA Komplement shoe rack from their Pax wardrobe range!

The folding wooden ruler is ideal for jobs like this, as it’s heavy and sturdy enough to remain where it’s placed.

There’s a lot of jumper cables left on those spools, as I bought 100m of each!

1" of stripped wire is twisted ... ... then folded in half and twisted again ... ... and finally one more time The plug or socket is firmly screwed onto the end ... ... and the cable cut to 18" including the body of the connector

Here’s the basic process of making up each wire. This process was repeated four times for each of the four boards, so 16 cables in total.

Tomorrow’s job is to solder them to the boards.

Track and Wiring

Progress on the modules has been slow, for which read non-existent. With the looming date of the Seaboard Southern show in September, at which these are expected to not only appear but be operational, it’s high time to extract the digit! A sunny Saturday afternoon with fellow moduler Brian Daly saw:
  1. 11330019_1077673618914249_9158954348490870863_nfeeder droppers added to two yard lengths of Micro Engineering Code 83 0n30 flexible track
  2. said track pinned to the boards and soldered to the Gapmaster GM006 units used as end ties
  3. droppers on the straight boards soldered to the slug tape on the underside
  4. alignment tested by bolting boards together in various orders and running a skeleton log car
I’ve still got to add droppers to the curved boards and, having had some fun with the alignment, I think I’m going to make a jig for centring the track, just for my own sanity. The fact is that my eyeballs are rubbish at measuring! 549232_1077673665580911_7544881282843041056_nHere you can see the two 45° boards and one straight all bolted up together, with the other straight board standing on its end to the right. The flowing line of the track can clearly be seen. Module standards discourage connecting the two corners reversed without a straight between them. Before paint is applied, I think I’m going to put the supplied 3mm plywood fascias on, if only to hide the finger joints and screw holes. Then it’s time for some scenery!

Alan Rogers

Alan Rogers Facebook PictureAlan has no exhibition experience or indeed 0n30 pedigree but has been an active member of the 7mm NGA for twenty years, and its Surrey Area Group, as well as being a regular operator on the Rio Florida Logging Co.

Alan first floated the idea of collaborating on a modular layout some years ago and is one half of the driving force behind Frem0n30 in Surrey.

The history and construction of his modules are shown on his blog.