Albion yard

Well I’m definitely getting there, not just with the layout but to Define 2019 this weekend. Define will be a first showing for the layout, it’s a one day event, sort of a social/open house thing by the Define group. I had hoped to have the backscene and fascia’s completed, but the material is still in Germany after a Spinal Tap and measurements type re-occurrence! So this weekend I’ll rig us something that’ll give very much the feel of the finished design, but Blue Peter styley it’ll involve an adult, sellotape, sticky back plastic and a metal coat hanger.

The largest loco in use will be this Class 25 with a re worked chassis, fitted with Dinghams too, it’ll get a good test under show conditions.

The layout is old school DC, points are all electrical fired by Tortoise motors, and the Dinghams by Gaugemaster electromagnets. The stock requirements are pretty low on this one, hoppers, and a few brake vans, all getting final checks today. I’ll likely bring a handful of 16t’ers and another 08 in the event of coupling failures.

The woodland areas are nearly complete too, but you’ll be able to see the make up of them and how they’ll build to make a dense backdrop giving the impression of a small drift mine disposal point, on the edge of woodland. There’s the possibility this layout will drop into my Forest of Dean, Severn & Dean project in the future, hence the woodland. For now however, its rural Northumberland at Guyzance, in the shadow of the northern Cheviots.

Many years back I settled on three link couplings for my rolling stock on the OO and EM layouts I’ve either made or been involved with. Their visual benefits are easy to see, but they do have a few practical drawbacks. On short stock they’ve worked well, however as stock length increases the potential for buffer lock increases too, even allowing for sprung buffers. Throw in a reverse curve and the chance of buffer lock increases again, and all the while these couplings require large radius curves, meaning that layout design has to take these couplings into account from the outset.

There are some similarities with Dinghams in this respect, ideally the layout design should take into account the couplings, and there are one or two catches in their set up and operation. So this is how the Dingham couplings are supplied, as a flat etch with soft iron wire for the electromagnet dropper. I’m using them on Shelfie2 the track is Peco Code 75 flatbottom rail as well as the new bullhead track too. Baseboard material is 9mm MDF and Woodland Scenics foam underlay between track and baseboard. Track is painted with acrylics and the ballast is a mix of DAS modelling clay, and Woodland Scenics ballasts.

I’d written I was experimenting with these couplings in an earlier post, and Mark Davy responded in the comments section. His comments on his experience matched mine and clearly he and Brian Lewis has overcome some of the issues I’d yet to find. Mark has kindly allowed me to use his comments which form the core of this post, the images are mine from those I’ve assembled, and I’ll add a few elements of my experience too. So without further ado, over to Mark whose comments and notes are in bold italics.

The instruction regarding the height of the hook at the headstock is good, but the coupling often droops while being glued into place, and it is the height of the front of the hook that is critical. I use a jig to support the end of the hook to hold it at the correct height while the glue sets. The critical dimension is 12.5mm from railhead to the bottom of the hook. Consistency is essential !

It may not be possible to fit a hook with loop to some locos, because the chassis moulding obstructs the bent tail and magnetic dropper. The Hornby 14XX is an example. (The Airfix version is fine) Here we fitted a hook with latch at both ends and reserve the loco for auto-coaches with a hook with loop at both ends. (The Tetbury branch didn’t run auto-trains as such, but ran-round at the terminus)

Mark and Brian’s experience matches mine almost perfectly. I’ve also found that free running stock can also give reliability problems. The sprung buffers and free running can allow stock to ‘bounce’ backwards and forwards, this can sometimes bounce past the hook and latch, so an uncoupled vehicle can re-couple again. Hornby 20T brake van with axle brake fitted, note brass wire bearing on the axle shaft.

To minimise this I put a brake on the axle of any particularly free running wagon. It’s nothing more than a piece of 0.5mm wire bearing on the wagon axle, this provides sufficient retardation for the wagons so they rarely leave a big enough gap for the loop to re-engage the opposing hook. This was a bit of a culture shock having previously ensured that all stock was running as freely as possible! For the fixing I have used low viscosity super glue, this gives a very quick and reliable fixing, which to date hasn’t caused any issues.

Brian used the 7mm versions on his O gauge ‘Llaniog’ layout. Both on this and his previous ‘Chagford’ layout (P4), he experimented with other auto couplers – Sprat and Winkle, DG, Winterley and AJs. All had their good and bad points. Some were obtrusive, some required an unprototypical shuffle in order to uncouple. Others did not take kindly to being transported or being subject to rough shunts and so needed constant tweaking. Opinions are subjective, but on balance he feels that Dingham couplings score highest in terms of all round reliability. Our couplings are not 100% reliable yet – but we’re getting there! Magnet location hidden beneath darker green foliage.

Like Mark and Brian I’m very pleased with the Dinghams. They do take a bit of effort in their manufacture and fitting. I’ve been very fortunate with Richard Chapman sending me some ready built couplings which worked superbly and helped me get my head around the construction and fitting of them. I’ve used a 15V DC source for my electromagnets, a Scalextric power supply which gives a smooth and efficient operation with a high 90% reliability. I’ve been using switchgear made from press to make, non latching switches which have not been reliable, the contacts have needed cleaning on a few of them. The next step is to build a dedicated switch box with better quality switches from RS components.

Once I’d become accustomed to using three link couplings over many years, I didn’t think I’d be so taken by these couplings. All coupling systems have their advantages and disadvantages, these appeal as they are completely hands free and once blackened very discreet in their appearance. One disadvantage is they are ‘handed’ so all stock has to be run facing the same way, so the original idea for a turntable fiddle yard isn’t practical. I’m not sure I’ll use them across other projects at the moment, the uncoupling does require straight or almost straight track, and coupling up on tighter curves occasionally means the loop misses the hook, sliding alongside the latch hook.

This spring I was invited by Chris Gilbert to see a Fremo meet using US HO equipment. The group meet regularly and use a village hall which they book and pay for, giving them a significant amount of space to ‘play trains’. Control is DCC using a mobile phone wifi network (wiithrottle) dedicated to the task. I’ve not really embraced DCC, but this system and Penmaenpool are both DCC. Unsurprisingly with Buckingham’s history it’s DC and will remain so, proving DCC is not an essential requirement for a multi location layout. The Fremo concept then worked well, but with a few ‘that’s odd’ moments for me. The layout was configured in an X with the main sorting and marshalling yard on the end of one arm where the trains either departed from, or arrived at.

Across the X were a number of locations requiring a train service, or with trains purely passing through. Some modules were work in progress, and there was a variety in style too, not enough to jar, but on first look, noticeable. Chris had generated switch lists and train consists from records of the stock the group uses, and the previous meet, i.e where specific freight cars ended up across the network of depots and industries.

Track on the layout/modules is HO off the shelf flexible track and commercial pointwork, alignment across boards being covered by the Fremo standards. The trackplan on the boards being up to the builder, but required to comply at baseboard ends. It was interesting to see some industries not having a run round loop, for us making our own standalone layouts, a loop is often a real operating benefit. Out on the open road however, this is a far lesser requirement, due to the locations being operated by trains travelling in the appropriate direction, a real world scenario.

The turnouts are operated using your fingers to throw the blades. Having spent time and effort on my layouts hiding point motors and wiring and maintaining them this getting your hands in there was a real culture shock. Uncoupling of stock was performed using manual picks, rather than electromagnets. Again these felt retrograde steps on first view. Then, we started operating. Myself and Hugh Edgely were allocated train 401, an out and back freight from Trent Yard to Blind River Valley. Very quickly the ‘downside’of the manual point switching was lost. The consist was assembled by shunting the Yard rather than a manual ‘crane shunt’ this form the train. Then we set off to Blind River.

On the way we passed two locations, one where we would switch cars on the return, the other where we would wait and cross an outbound train from Trent. The operation certainly became immersive when you looked up you were aware of the fact you’re done distance across the hall from wherever you started, rather than the 6ft to fiddleyard many of us are used to. Think of a small exhibition hall and driving your train from one layout one end of the hall, to another layout at the opposite end. This, this is different, your locomotive and train has gone somewhere. Because you have a switch list you then have specific moves to make, as well as being conscious of not blocking the main lines for through traffic. Thus the manual point switching and different build styles blend into not being an issue, because you get immersed into operating the railway they cease to jar or be anywhere near as notable.

Coming away from the event I was struck by the teamwork aspects. Not only in the operating the railway, but in the administrative elements too. To make this happen the hall has to be hired, the layouts put up and tested, as well as taken down at end of play. There’s obviously the social side of it too, meeting a group of like minded friends with a collaborative goal in some ways a club without a club.