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The bed! layout diagram control box cat

The love affair with N gauge started when my father, Malcolm, retired in 1988.  Having time on his hands meant he could finally indulge in his passion in model railways.  However the flat he was living in didn’t quite cater for the larger HO scale.  Instead he built a tabletop version in N gauge.  The final version having 6 separate circuits and could neatly be put away behind a dinning room cabinet.   

Not to be out done, I also got infected with the bug.  Living in a 3 bedroom semi meant I too couldn’t scale up to HO.  Nor did I have a large dinning room table the likes of Malcolm. Instead I would have to find another solution.   

After much thought and many proposals including versions hanging off ceilings, it was my disinterested wife who actually came up with the idea of using the wooden bed frame in the spare bedroom.  If it was the same size as the bed frame, you can put it on top when you want to use it and store it underneath when you don’t!  

I did refer to three books as guides, but basically everything else was done by trial and error. The books included  “Peco Settrack plan book” by Peco which is a good kick off.  Then there was “How to plan, build and operate a Minitrix layout” by Minitrix. This was detailed precision planning, great for the serious German modeller who follow set procedures!  If anything it was too much, as it left very little to imagination. Finally there was the “The Scenery Manual” by Woodland Scenics, a modelling book based on American railways but the style and instructions were very good.

The first thing to do was to build a pinewood frame virtually the same dimensions as the bed’s mattress, in height, width and length. The base within the frame was raised slightly on two wood cross supports strengthened by steel braces to prevent sagging. Also a lower and upper inner wood lining was added to prevent any movement off the base from the framework. Later on I raised the framework again by adding runners underneath.  This added a further 1” which allowed electrical runways to be constructed and turnout motors to be concealed. The runners allowed three hardboard service panels to be inserted so to protect the electric’s and allow access for maintenance.  Access was achieved by jacking up the frame on side within the bed frame and sliding out the relevant service panel.

Now for the fun part, designing and laying the tracks.  The space was restrictive so no possibilities for complex replicas of existing stations or branch lines. This was going to be pure imagination based on a German village some where in Bavaria near the Swiss border.  The fact that there is no coal industry in the region didn’t bother me one bit, it was just one way of using all the models I built some years back in Germany.

I laid cork matting with wood glue, then laid Peco streamline track on top first lightly securing it with only a few pin nails.  Short, medium and long radius turnouts were all used on the layout. The track configuration was then stress tested with rolling trains to ensure no collisions.  My son, Stephen, was a great help here!  Once convinced, I properly secured the track with the pins.

The main relief was constructed over the far side tracks using different thickness of plywood (4mm, 6mm and 12mm). The angle of the track climb proved difficult and I couldn’t follow the rules exactly (as mentioned in the Minitrix guide, the Germans will be disappointed).  The angle has since proved too steep as trains have a habit of uncoupling.  Future modifications will be required!

Laying the granite ballast on the track took a long time and had to be completed in nine inch sections per night. Ballast on the turnouts proved a problem and I later regretted not having at least painted underneath the turnouts before securing (in a colour matching the ballast).



Now a new skill set was required, electric’s!  As the layout is almost as wide as it is long, I didn’t want to constantly lean over the layout to change points.  What I wanted was to completely automate all the turnouts using Gaugemaster point motors (PM1 with an auxiliary switch for signals).

I did this by standing the whole layout on its side against the wall and started working on the reverse side of the baseboard.  Very soon it became a massive wiring loom of multi coloured wiring.  The wiring of the turnout motors was taken to a control box via an umbilical cord approx. 6 feet away from the frame. All the tracks were then wired to a Gaugemaster model Q Four controller.

The crossover turnout motors were also wired to synchronise simultaneously. As the turnouts needed 24V AC, a Gaugemaster T3 transformer was made which was linked into a Gaugemaster Capacitor discharge unit in the control box. The control box was constructed to work the all turnouts and all the track isolators.  Different types of switches were used depending on the function.  Resetting switches were used for the turnouts together with coloured lights to indicate whether the turnouts were in cross over mode or not.  Isolator switches used standard selector switches and were also connected to lights on the control box to show operation.  The lights on the control box needed a different voltage, 12V DC plus a resistor so a new Gaugemaster T4 transformer was built.  This time a DC Bridge Adapter was added to allow AC and DC from the same transformer.

The next milestone of this project was the installation of the signals on top of the baseboard and wired underneath to the turnout motors.  The signals proved quite delicate and I wished I had installed them after completing all the scenery (as I kept knocking them over).  Due to the size of the layout it was not possible to make the positioning of the signals realistic, just pleasing to the eye!  I used 17 British made Berko signal lights, 3 Ecokon signals and 1 Cockrobin signal light.  Not exactly German, but what the hell!

To add a bit of amusement I added 5 light circuits for the town needing16V AC.

·        Circuit 1:Coal mine

·        Circuit 2:Street lights

·        Circuit 3:Station

·        Circuit 4:Town

·        Circuit 5:Other

The light circuits were operated by a control panel built into the side of the frame. It included an additional master on/off switch. To enable this I had to build a new transformer using a Gaugemaster T1. It was about this time I gave up on colour co-ordinating the wiring for electric’s! It was proving too expensive and also a bit of an eye strain!

The street lights, spot lights, clocks and the telephone box are from Brawa. On the other hand, the building lights were mainly from Faller.



houses.jpg (16844 bytes)I wasn’t very sure how to start this and what materials to use.  As an amateur I thought I would be forgiven if I made a few mistakes!  I started high then worked my way down.  The outer track climbed a gradient around the sides, crossing a bridge (a modified Faller bridge with Peco accessories) on the west side to join together again at a small hill side station. Positioning was not easy as care had to be taken to co-ordinate with the tracks underneath. This track passed over the two inner tracks and was supported by 12mm plywood structural supports along the whole length of the south side.

On the south west side I built arches between the higher track and the two lower tracks on the base.  I made these out of cardboard strengthened by spreading white glue over the surface (this really worked). I then covered the arches in 2mm scale brick walling. Over the south east side I sculptured chicken wire and covered it in plaster to make a hill and cliff face.  I wished I used plaster cloth instead but I only discovered it after I had finished!

Next I added side access panels to the framework to allow access to concealed parts of the track (for maintenance and derailed train retrieval). This also made great viewing when the trains past in the dark.

It was about now that I started to plan the town on paper. Key focus being the station and coal mine. When I had the basic idea, I fixed the main station and other periphery buildings permanently to the baseboard.  In all cases I ensured maintenance was still possible for light bulbs by ensuring the roof came off.  All the cabling for the light bulbs passed through the baseboard to join the cable network underneath.

Now for a tricky bit.  I didn’t want to have everything attached to the baseboard as when guests stayed and slept on the bed, it would become quite dusty underneath! So I wanted to build a detachable town platform where the main town would reside. This could then be stored elsewhere in a dust proof environment (a box I built which looks like a coffin). 6mm Plywood was cut to shape and 7 bolts were permanently added to the baseboard to allow easy securing.  The other advantage was being able to fix the light fittings to the mother baseboard so light bulbs and wiring could be maintained when the town platform was removed. Likewise, it would simplify scenery maintenance of the town which was so far inland it was proving difficult to reach and add detail.

Most of the models on the town platform were from Faller.  These kits are very detailed and the range is extensive. The only problem is that they look too good.  They lack the lived in look!  I’ve started adding a bit of “weathering” and even graffiti but this will take a long time to complete.  

I now added low level relief using papier-mâché, directly on the baseboard, in order to bring the contour up to the town platform.  This also allowed the construction of a small lake by chiselling out an additional 1/4 of an inch of wood from the baseboard near/ under the bridge.

It was at this time our cat decided to nest itself in the lake to sleep. In the process she destroyed the bridge and some buildings were also damaged.  So the bridge was rebuilt and strengthened BUT version 2 only lasted a few weeks as it was damaged again, this time by myself.  I decided to use Z-E water from Woodland Senics which you have to heat up in a tin before pouring into the mould.  Boy did it set quick! I was left with a real mess and the only way to remedy it was by heating the compound itself in the mould.  And the only way to do that was to buy a blow touch with 450 degrees heat!!  In the process the bridge started to melt on one side and 12 trees near the waters edge received a severe case heat stroke, bending in all directions.  The bridge was strengthened again and the trees were encouraged to straighten their backs.

I tried all sorts of scenic material for scatter and trees.  The best in my opinion is Woodland Scenics with N gauge.  The only trouble is that you need loads of trees before you can make an impact.  I think I have nearly 200 trees yet you still get the feeling it can do with some more.  Watered down wood glue (white glue with a few drops of washing up liquid to reduce the resistance) does the trick for scatter material.  Mixing materials and not being afraid to “have a go” really helped in trying to gain that authentic look.  Once I accidentally knocked my coffee cup over the coal yard.  Then I thought, “Hey, it looks even better now!” 

During the construction at various times, I commissioned my brother Chris Dawson to paint the backdrops for the lay out.  It was important to get the sense of depth and right scope of scenery.  Lesson learnt here is to use the right grade of canvas.  Medium was to rough and the artist, my brother Chris, would have preferred fine. The canvas was secured using wood glue.  The last backdrop was painted around a new viewing gallery on the north side of the layout. I cut a section of the pine frame out and replaced it with Perspex.  This allowed eye level appreciation of the station.  Also, to add a bit of depth on the north side near the station, I modified some card kit buildings from Mainstreet Models. One in the northeast corner also hides electrical switches.

The amount of debris I was creating was proving havoc for the tracks.  They always needed cleaning to retain electrical contact. So I bought 2 Gaugemaster HF-2 track cleaners and added them to the Controller for all tracks.  It’s difficult to see and appreciate how they work.  If they are working, you should feel a small electrical current, if they are not, you are probably been ionised yourself!


The extension

Making the layout was certainly the fun part.  Using it proved highly entertaining especially with all the room lights off.  However, the layout only had limited possibilities with regards to train movements, being in a confined space.  So I built an extension which sits on the side of the layout. The extension can be added and taken away with ease.  As it is manually operated on the whole, so no additional modifications were required to the wiring or control box.  Its main entry point is track 1A, a siding which joins the main track.  Delicate modifications had to be made under the covered sections.  Its exit point is either returning through 1A or by rejoining the main track further down the tunnel.  At this exit point 2 motorised turnouts were added and the switches were concealed in the tunnel itself.  Between the two entry and exit points I added 6 sidings.  I also laid the track in a certain way which allowed the extension, if need be, to be connected instead to tracks 4A and 4B. The extension cannot be viewed facing south, the view seen at the exhibition.


What next? 

And there you have it!  If I could get paid for every hour I made this, I could buy the real thing instead!  If I had to do anymore (and I will probably over this coming winter), it would be to add catenary wiring for electrical trains, especially for the main tracks.