Friday, November 4, 2011

Greenmax No. 12 Railway Signal Box

Nice, simple little building. The base will get some weathering treatment and more small details in the future. I decided to paint it "faded green" rather than the flat brown that's used in most images. This looks more "railway" to me somehow.

More on these structures: JNS Forum

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Layout Table Progress

Added the legs to the basic frame today. I went with a very cheap set of tools, and at least where the screwdriver is concerned, it was not worth it as the head has stripped after only a couple dozen screws. Below you can see my hand saw and drill; the drill is fine, but it's impossible to make any kind of straight cut with the hand saw, at least not without some kind of cutting jig.

The legs are bolted on, and it took me a couple tries to figure out how to line up the holes correctly but I finally happened on a method that worked perfectly. I will add some cross braces to the legs, as well as a temporary shelf for storage below that will sit on the cross braces.

The yard extension is assembled but not yet bolted on. I think I will need some support for it since the bolts will not be enough to hold it securely to the rest of the layout. For now the framework is serving as a worktable and storage space for my Dreadfleet set!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


The basic frame is together! Our new kitten got in on the supervision action.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Restarting from Scratch

One great thing about a hobby is that you can do it when you want to, and put it aside when you don't. Another is that you have no deadlines and no requirements; you're completely in control of your project. After putting together nearly the entire baseboard and track for my layout, I realized that the design I had used had some serious drawbacks. There was only one passing track, the 'town' area was very cramped, and there were some small track design issues that I really should have caught, like putting a short straight section between two otherwise continuous curves.

So I tore it all up and started over with a new design. I put some thought into what I actually want to do with the layout, and realized that a point-to-point, rather than a loop, is fine because I find that putting trains together in a yard and sending it off somewhere is what is enjoyable about operations. This new layout fits into a corner, has a good-sized main yard, a small dockside yard, and three industries along the way. It also incorporates the wooden kit bridge, in addition to four additional bridges! There are some pretty dramatic elevation changes, but the steepest grade is still about 2.5%.

I'm going to try using open benchwork, as well as making the legs bolt on so one day I can try to move the layout to a new location. This is the current plan in Google Sketchup. The extension piece for the town year will be bolted to the main frame and the track pieces fitted together so it too can be removed if necessary.

Overall I am really looking forward to putting this new plan together. I am currently painting the first of my buildings, the signal house, and will post some pictures of it when it's done.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Testing Continues

Waiting on some paints to get started on the buildings. Set up the layout to test the upper level, supervision cat supervised.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

New Structures

Received three new structures in the mail from Japan: a rural station, signal/switching tower, and a station master's building, all by Greenmax. The detail of the parts looks great, although I'm not sure if I will end up using the bases for the smaller two structures. I am very skeptical about using the included fences - they end up being some like 1x1m in N scale, far too bulky to look realistic. I should be able to start assembling them on the weekend.

Picked up some more wire and some terminal blocks, hopefully I can improve the wiring situation underneath the layout. I also bought some quick disconnect terminals for connecting the power pack to the layout, but they don't feel as quick to disconnect as advertised, plus I have no idea how the wires are supposed to be attached to the terminals; they are also labeled as "solder-free".

Got to visit the Hockley Valley Railroad recently, which has a great couple of HO-scale layouts and an amazing indoor G-scale layout set partly in the modern era and partly in the transition era. I would encourage anyone in the area (Alliston; in Southern Ontario, north of Toronto) to check it out, the owner is extremely friendly and helpful. They have a great selection of Canadian locomotives, although they seem to specialize in HO and G scale rather than N.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Upper Level Track and Bridge In

Finished laying most of the track for the upper level. Also, the wooden bridge has been fully assembled and installed, and just needs a little touch-up painting. In time it will get some foliage, especially around its base, but for now it's supported at the right height and the track has been glued down.

Here's an overview of the layout, just missing the rest of the spur track and the final bit on the upper left of this picture, where the other bridge will connect to a small sliver of hillside.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Building with Cardboard

Since using cut foam was out, I went with a cardboard structure to support my upper level. I still don't know if using so much cardboard is normal. As long as I seal everything down the road, I can't see any downside to it.

I cut a section of cork board, the same material I used for the ramp, to support the 2" high portion; later I'll build natural-looking slopes from plaster cloth. Since the cork board I have is 1/4" thick, I cut out reasonably level strips of 1 3/4 tall cardboard to support it and glued them to the bottom of the base.

I laid out the strips of board without any specific plan, just wanting to support the board evenly. Having them folded seemed like a good way to add stability. The corrugated bits are running vertically. I weighed down everything with some heavy textbooks, which also flattened the board on the table.

After this dried I placed it on the baseboard and glued and weighed that. Once everything was dry, it certainly felt like a strong surface. I wouldn't start swinging around the layout while holding it, but it doesn't budge when pushed on. Also I can easily pierce it to run more feeder line, or trim off sections to better shape the hillsides.

Overhead view without the upper portion of the track in place. Lots of room for the small, rural passenger station that will be going on the spur to the right of the image.

Our cat seems pleased with the whole thing. You can see the wooden bridge, still unfinished, in the spot where it will eventually be fixed. Next comes laying the rest of the track, then fitting the bridges. Soon I'll be receiving shipment of new structures: the station, a signal box, and a small office.

Bridges in Progress

I'm in the process of assembling and painting both of the bridges. The deck girder bridge went together without any trouble. The instructions confusingly try to cover the steps for HO and N scale, 40' and 80' bridges, so I had to figure out for myself that the included deck plate was 80' and had to be spanned in half for my 40' model. Right now it's painted a flat black but will receive some grey and rust details. The Stoney Brook Bridge is fantastic. I do regret the time I spent putting the scale rivets into the sides of the supports (I only did so on the outside too) but so far it is looking great. The picture above is only missing the walkways and side barriers.

I finally hooked up my wire foam cutter to the 4.5 battery it requires, only to find that it doesn't heat up for some reason. I had hoped to build the upper level yesterday, but since I can't cut the foam effectively it looks like I will have to build a strong but light base from cardboard sections to support it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Bridges of Taihoku County

The two new bridges have arrived: the N scale 75-153 Deck Girder Bridge by Micro Engineering Company, and the #874 N Scale Stoney Brook Bridge by Branchline Trains. Both are interesting in their own way. The deck girder bridge is simple but detailed for a plastic model, although the instructions could have been a little clearer on how one should prepare the 40' model from the 80' deck provided. The Stoney Brook Bridge is just incredible in its detail, but unfortunately one sprue of plastic bolts got a little warped. I'm looking forward to assembling both of them.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Building the Ramp

Working on the ramp that connects the upper and lower levels of the layout. Since I'm not able to get the foam ramps cheaply (nowhere in the UK seems to stock them) I am going with a completely home-brew system. The roadbed for the ramp is 1/2"-thick cardboard with a very thin layer of cork, originally sold as a cork-board for messages and the like. I traced the ramp from a 1:1 printout to the board as a 1"-wide winding path, and cut it out. Next I cut the thin supports based on the 1/4" thickness of the roadbed and the elevations calculated by XTrackCAD. Once they were fixed to the bottom of the ramp, I pinned the track to the top, just to make sure everything could line up, and started gluing the bases of the supports to the baseboard.

In this picture the highest two supports are not yet glued, since there was a twist in the ramp and I wanted to fix the main part before tackling the wonky bit.

As always our cat is very interested in the progress. Here you see some small weights being used to hold down the last two supports. The end is not yet supported because the wooden bridge will connect it to the 2"-high area in the centre of the layout. Once this is dry I will add some additional, stronger supports now that the grade is pretty much established by the initial ones. After the ramp is good and sturdy I'll glue down the track, adding a feeder line near the top, since I figured that locos climbing the grade will need all the juice they can get!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rethinking the Upper Level

Ok, one good thing about doing things in sections is that you can test running on the build portion while redesigning the part that's not yet built. After running my D51 around the base level, I realized that having a runaround track would be extremely useful if I am going to go with my plan of having this be an end-of-the-line mining town. I changed the upper level a little to provide a two-ended siding, and the industry track now runs off of that rather than the mainline heading down to the lower level. Now I can head up there to drop off full cars of ore, or to pick up freight that has been left on the siding, and I'll have more flexibility in terms of making up short trains.

If I were designing this again from scratch, I would definitely include a runaround in the small yard. But the track is down, and I'm going to stick with this for now. I am considering adding a small stream on the lower level, with culverts where it intersects the track rather than bridges, but I can't figure out a route that doesn't criss-cross the layout in too artificial a fashion.

Also - the two bridges have been shipped!

Monday, July 25, 2011

One Level of Track Down

Just finished laying down the track on the base level. I ended up gluing two layers of cardboard on top of the MDF base, since I didn't think the MDF would make a good working base for the track and structures. I used wood glue and let everything dry for 24 hours. The different layers (4 now) should prevent warping of the flat surface. Since neither the MDF nor the cardboard is suitable for traditional track spikes, I did a test with a small piece of cardboard and some extra Atlas 80 track, and just using PVA glue I found I could fix it to the base really well. In the future I can also pull up the track by pulling apart the cardboard. The two cardboard layers give an extra bonus: I can carve through them to add depressed areas on the layout as well.

Each section of track was glued to the cardboard with PVA, weighted down and allowed to dry for at least 12 hours. Our cat helped again, as pictured. I did learn an important lesson - even though it seems easier, do not fix the track in sections, because you might find out that the ends of those sections are slightly out of place. Although I transferred the key track end locations from the full-sized printout to the baseboard, the track and the glue conspired to introduce some kinks into the line. After each section was in place I ran the loco around a few times and it seemed fine, but it's the transitions between sections where the tangents are slightly off-center. It's nothing that should be a serious, track-ripping problem, but I will have to be more careful when I lay the upper level. I did figure out a good way to use the natural channels of the corrugated cardboard base to hold the feeder lines to the track. I probably added too many for such a small route, but I wanted to be sure that my locos have enough power no matter where on the layout they are.

Speaking of which, I went ahead and ordered Branchline's N Stoney Brook Bridge kit as well as a more modest N 75-153 Deck Girder Bridge from Micro Engineering. I wanted the bridge kit to have something "modelly" to work on, as well as to have a good-looking structure for the overpass, since it will be near the center of the action and an important detail on the layout. The girder bridge will be on the edge, near to where the line continues on to imaginary and distant locales, so a more simple structure seemed appropriate. Everything from Micro Engineering always looks very well-made as well; I thought about getting a classic Atlas or Model Power truss bridge, but the pictures just looked too toy-like for my tastes. Both of these bridges are well within the realm of possibility for a Japanese colonial-themed route.

After ordering the bridges, and with the main level track fixed, I realized that since the branchline bridge has an arched support structure, the track below would have to pass under the middle of the bridge in order to maintain its overhead clearance. Unfortunately the original plan had the lower track passing near one side. So I opened up XTrackCad and moved some things around. I think the result is even better than before, and I didn't have to modify any track that is already in place. The wooden kit bridge will have even more space, and the opening between the "bowl" and the main yard/station area is now wide enough to justify a dirt road or something leading in to it. I am thinking that a mine would be a good industry to stick in that narrow space, similar to the small mines on the Pingxi line in northern Taiwan.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Laying out the Layout

I made a few additions to the plan, marking out the different levels more clearly and noting where I plan to have the feeder lines connect to the track, and I printed out a 1:1 scale plan. I've left out the center section for now, since I plan on laying down the flat track first before moving on to the upper level. Of course, any large flat space with things going on is a magnet for cats.
I have identified one possible trouble spot on the layout: on the upper left, where the track heading up to the upper level comes very close to the level track. Originally there was this snaking S curve in the plan, I believe intended to add distance for the 4% grade. I kept this, thinking that I could add a rock outcropping or other feature to justify the bend in the track. However, right now two tracks come within 1 1/3 inches of each other, which is a little tight for a curve (Armstrong 1998, 81), but more importantly the rising track is 0.81 inches off of the base at the point they are closest. This means that the track and whatever is supporting it will be intruding into the clearance space for any trains on the lower track. I will need to make a mock-up and see if anything needs to be changed.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Back to Basics

After a lengthy hiatus I am back on the model railroading bandwagon. Planned out a small, 48 x 26 inch layout to work on as a starter project, the planning and research for the larger Taihoku project will go on but this will give me something to learn and practice on. I started by buying two sheets of 1/4" MDF, since one seemed to flimsy, and glued them together with woodglue, offset so that the total width is 26 inches. I will fill in the depression with foam or cardboard to bring it up to ground level. The baseboard is resting on a coffee table, but when not in use it will be propped up against the wall out of the way.

My track plan is a modified version of one on the excellent Mike's Small Trackplans Page. The dark polygon is raised, while the lighter one is a 4 percent grade up to the bridge. I found that the double track on the right didn't add anything, so I removed it and widened the main loop a little. I also removed the crossover since Peco Settrack doesn't have a ready piece for this angle, and I wanted to keep it simple. I still have two levels, three industries, and a decent-sized yard. The theme will be a small Japanese/Taiwanese end-of-line area with some farmhouses and maybe a small passenger station.

To make the upper level I was going to use 2" thick polystyrene foam, and I bought a foam cutter for £5. I have some foam packaging from a TV table that is exactly 2" thick, but it feels a little squishy for this; I really don't want the entire upper level to sag when a locomotive rolls on to it. Any suggestions? Also, do I need to be careful about the fumes from the hot wire cutter?

(Track plan made with XTrackCad)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hayami Kazuhiko 速水和彥

Hayami Kazuhiko was an engineer with the Taiwan Railway Authority. Pictured above is a bronze bust of him originally located in front of the Matsuyama Workshop. Today a sculpture of the logo of the current railway authority is in its place; Hayami has been relocated to the interior of one of the workshop's buildings, not normally open to the public. From 應大偉, 吳小虹, 鐵道歲月 (台北: 田野影像出版社, 1997), p. 141.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Urban Storefront 1

A quick preview of my current modeling project, an urban storefront building based on a real example that (until recently) was located not far from my flat. Model and texture file are done, just need to apply the texture to all the model faces.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Signal Tower

Signal and interlocking towers are buildings for which I don't really have any good historical references. I did find this picture of what I assume is a Japanese signal tower, which looks about the right style for the period.

This is the model I made for it:

Also added a night mesh for lit windows!

This model is available for download from the Download Station, KUID 62560:100009

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hokumon 北門

The North Gate (also called the Cheng'en, or "Receiving [the Emperor's] Kindness" Gate) was completed in 1884 as part of the Taihoku city wall. Although this was during the Sino-French War, the French forces never made it as far as the city walls. In 1895 Taiwan was ceded to Japan, and in spite of Taiwanese resistance Japanese forces took control of the island. The North Gate was the location of a historic scene when Japanese forces marched into the city without a battle.

As part of the new colonial government's development plans, from 1901-1904 most of the city walls were torn down, leaving only four of the city gates standing. Many of the stones from the wall were used in other constructions, and the land upon which the walls had stood was turned into broad, tree-lined boulevards.

The North Gate was left on an island of grass and trees in the middle of a roundabout, not far from the new main train station. The status of the gates was still very much undetermined until 1935, when they were declared historical relics and thus protected. In 1919 the gate was joined by the offices of the Railway Authority to the north, and in 1930 by the Taihoku Post Office buildings to the southeast. From 1915 to 1923 there was a small station on the railway line nearby as well.

Today the North Gate is still standing, although the nearby railway line has been moved underground, and two generations of train stations have disappeared.

This is my model of the gate, as seen from the railway line on a rainy morning. (The trees and bushes are separate models, not by me.) I'm not sure if the gate was indeed painted red in 1937, but it's an iconic look so I will keep it for now. You might notice that there are some problems with some of the surface normals (basically how the engine determines which direction a face is facing.) This was a complicated model and probably not the best one with which to start. I learned a lot, however, and hope to revisit this model later on after I've had some practice. The model was built with Blender and the textures based on my photographs of the building.

Source (Chinese)