Tuesday, October 21, 2008


[click to enlarge]

Hi all,
In May on hols I got thinking about the other side of the layout...the Ffestiniog side.  Finally I've had time to draw it up into a kind of long-term Masterplan.  Of course the short term plan is to 'finish' Rhyd Ddu, but you will have noticed me building much FR stock too.  This is with one eye on the future of my train set (cos that's what it is really!).  

The idea is to feature something different.  I remain to be convinced that 009 shunting layouts really work (maybe County Gate could prove me wrong, I don't know), but I have plenty of evidence that through running layouts can work well (e.g. Dduallt etc) and the extra benefit of 009 is that the scenics can be extensive within a manageable space.

So, I thought of putting together 3 boards of scenic Ffestiniog vistas and if possible, a passing loop in the middle to add operational interest.  The three I have chosen are:

- Tylers Curve and Plas Halt (a beautiful peaceful halt in woodland next to the tightest curve on the railway, which itself resides in a rock cutting.

- Rhiw Goch loop and signal box for the passing loop, encouraged by a recent article in Narrow Gauge and Industrial Railway Modelling Review explaining how to model the fabulous new box there.

- Dduallt tank curve leading to Campbell's Platform - a gorgeous swinging curve.

The only issue I have yet to find with this is that the scenes are in the wrong order.  Rhiw Goch is just after Penrhyn, whilst Plas Halt is just before Tan-y-Bwlch, so really those two should be the other way around.  However Tyler's curve, as you can see, really fits with the necessary sharp bend out of HS1.  Also having Rhiw Goch in the middle helps operation.  Because of this I might add plywood backscenes between the three boards to separate them into discrete scenes...?

For those struggling to remember what these scenes look like, here's Rhiw Goch box:

Plas Halt and Tyler's curve:

and Dduallt Tank curve leading to the small halt of Campbell's Platform:

I would genuinely be interested in your comments on this plan, and by the way it is the layout with no name at the moment: perhaps Plas Rhiw Tank?


Friday, October 17, 2008

A Graham Farish chassis conversion to DCC experiment

An N guage chassis can be a right bother to convert to digital.  Certainly my 91 and 08 chassis are both troublesome.  This is beacuse the body is live and linked permanently to the motor. Looking at my 91 last night (to become the other funkey), I took it apart to see how I could convert it.  the bogies pick up and feed a brass strip underneath the motor and directly to the chassis block.  Both brushes of the motor directly touch either the strip or the block via a brass 'hat' which has a spring inside (to spring the brush up to the motor) and is kept in place by a keeper plate, itself rivetted to either the block or that brass strip.  

So, in order to convert it to digital I need to break the link between the pickups and the brushes...easier said than done when they are integral.

This is where the 'digi hat' comes in.  First you insolate the hat by replacing it with a plastic (not brass) one.  Then you place heat shrink around the keeper to isolate that from the spring. Finally, you solder directly to the spring, which sits inside the hat.  Confused?  see below...  Here are the hats, brass on left and new insulated one on right.

That fits into the heavy chassis block like so...

and the spring that sits inside the hat and has a wire soldered to it - that wire then goes to the decoder.  The isolated keeper device is then placed back over the spring to keep it in position.
On some models it is possible to do away with the soldering to the spring and the keeper plate thingy and use an insulated clip which sits on top of the hat to keep the spring tight against the brush.  This will be fine for my 08s but not for the 91 as the clip doesn't fit (chassis block much wider)!

Then you can solder the wires from the clip/spring to the decoder and the red/black wires to the pickups and it's converted.  

we'll see how it works in a few weeks after I've picked up some of these from Warley.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Je suis un Parisien

[written from a hotel room in Paris]

Research continues on all aspects of DCC and it's fair to say that I'm hooked.  I can't wait to try some DCC sound next - well my (30th - don't mention that number, the thought is quite frightening) birthday and xmas approach!

I am particularly interested in the digitrax sounddepot.  You can buy one of these:

for £17 and add a 'soundbug' for £31 (it plugs into the above decoder - I might have to substitiute the speaker for a smaller version though 28mm is big!):

and then using this 'bad boy':

you can add various sounds to the decoder (it comes preloaded with generic sounds, these are extras): including a 108 dmu, class 37, yorkie 0-6-0 shunter, standard 5, GWR prairie and various other american locos.


add to that the fact you can even record your own sounds and upload them and I might just be seen recording various sounds off FR and WHR locos at source!  Obviously it'll only work in locos big enough to take this kit, but I guess the NGG16s and the funkey would be worthwhile...?

In other news, I have been extensively testing the DCC locos I've collected - a GP38 (bought as a possible chassis for a funkey, but too short) and the new farish warship (image above) which I've adorned with a gaugemaster 6 pin decoder and features directional lighting.  I've also successfully tested a ZTC 255 on an ibertren chassis (to become Conway Castle).  Good times.


Friday, October 03, 2008

Digital update and Bromsgrove Models


Bromsgrove Models is a super 'little' company trading via the internet and selected model railway shows.  Run from a residential address, there is no shop to pop along to and browse, but the website is excellent and overheads (and thus prices) are kept down - e.g. gaugemaster sell their prodigy system for £225, I got the MRC version [gauagemaster rebadge it] via Bromsgrove models for £165 with free P+P!  

They are also very friendly and knowledgable.  Even though I had an issue with the power supply, I was able to pop around and get it swapped easily with no bother.  Whilst I was there I was also able to talk about subjects as diverse as 6 pin decoders, sound chips and decoder testers.

The issue is now sorted and I have been able to add a gaugemaster 2nd throttle to the system succesfully.  This works very well and I like the way the 2 throttles interact when handing over a loco between them.  I am very pleased with the system and can't wait to set up the layout in the new garage and get playing.

My study now also has an ESU decoder tester set up (courtesy of Bromsgrove models again) - this takes either wires or a 6, 8 or 21 pin plug and allows you to test the decoder using an onboard motor, lights and even a speaker!  Using this I was able to find that I have already fried a decoder - I think due to a short circuit on a tight fitting body.  oh well.

The ZTC decoders have been OK - the detachable harness is useful to separate the circuit board portion when soldering.  The functions, PWM, ability to use as a DC loco, feedback, size and price are all good and they are rated at a decent ampage too.  However, I have found one issue - they don't support advanced consisting.  This means that I will either have to set up a consist (double heading) on the controller [it will only remember 1 consist at once] or reprogram the engines in the consist to the same address manually (although in that case speed matching won't happen]. But then none of the cheaper decoders seem to support this (certainly the hornby R8249 doesn't) and what do you expect for £10.80 per decoder!

So far the DCC experiment has been good though... more news soon.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Digital woes

Houston we have a problem.  Well two actually.

Firstly my MRC prodigy advance2 has a dodgy power lead socket, so is going back tomorrow for repair/replacement/refund.  In the few minutes I had playing with the system it looked really good though!  Can't wait to have a working version (hopefully for the weekend).

Secondly, I bought a load of ZTC 255 decoders on 26th Sept and on the 30th ZTC ceased trading, placing the epitaph at the bottom of this post on their website.  That means any support or guarantee I might have hoped for ceases too and as their whole site has been taken down I can't access the manuals (you only get a quick start guide with the decoders).  bandits!  Luckily I managed to find an old download I had accessed for the manual in the google chrome downloads bit - thank goodness for google.

It also means I can't buy the ZTC decoder tester I was going to...  oh well.  at least they posted me the items, otherwise I would have ended up as a preferential creditor or something like that!

dear dear dear...


Dear Customers,

We regret to inform you that ZTC Controls Limited ceased sales, support and servicing of its series of DCC train control products on 30th September 2008.

Despite every possible effort by the management and staff of ZTC, in today's difficult financial climate our low-volume hand-finished products are regrettably unable to compete with the market-price set by the mass-produced products offered by the recent international entrants into the DCC market.

ZTC has always prided itself on being a UK company employing local designers and local manufacturing. We had hoped that a sufficient number of UK modellers would continue to appreciate the advantages of our equipment over cheaper mass-produced alternatives, but sadly, this has not proved to be the case.

We wish to take this opportunity to thank all of our loyal customers for their support over the years.