Lighting Mockup

As stated long ago, I want to light the layout with the actual lighting solution so that I can eliminate variance in light from the colour selection problem and this requires the prerequisite infrastructure. I have happily arrived at that point! Next up is working out how to actually mount the chosen LED strips to the valance/pelmet (I previously referred to it as a pelmet but I am going with valance since it is the more familiar word).

Questions to be answered:

  • One “daylight” strip or a daylight and a warm white?
  • Is one strip bright enough?
  • Can the strip(s) be mounted parallel to the baseboard (facing straight down) or does it need to be angled?
  • Do I need something to shield the back edge to direct light down?

The internet is full of various opinions on these questions with no clear consensus. I thus set out to experiment and determine what works for me. I cut a 4′ long cardboard strip and stuck lengths of both types of strip (the excess not needed from 5m rolls for Comstock Roads less than 4m length). After some practice soldering wires to the pads on the strips, I had a working light.IMG_20200711_140748211

Actual experience was informative. It was immediately obvious that the addition of the warm white strip made the overall effect way too yellow for my taste. (1970’s summer smog is not what I want to remember!)

I am unconvinced that one daylight strip is enough but it is at least adequate. It also has the advantage of only needing the default power brick for a power supply. I have decided include space for a second strip but not delay things on its’ account.

The default straight down mounting seems to be close to enough. The spread of light is more than enough to shine well above the backdrop edge so no need to aim it further back.

Here is the test shot with just single LED strip, no room lights and a car on the front track.IMG_20200711_164101780

You can see in the first photo where I put a bend in the cardboard to simulate some sort of backside restriction of the light arc. The LED strips are bright and nobody looking at the layout from the back is going to appreciate looking in the direction of the strip so something needs to block that. As well, any illumination above the top of the backdrop is wasted and perhaps a distraction anyway.

Here is my makeshift back bend in action. I am not excited by the angled shadows on the tall side boards but I can live with that. If people are looking up there, I have lost their attention anyway. With room lights on, the shadow is also much less prominent.


After some sketching and pondering, I think I will go with a simple right angle back of appropriate length rather than fooling about with an angled piece. Ease of construction isn’t my usual motivator but perhaps I am undergoing character development!

No Visible Means of Support

Way back when, I set a goal of getting Comstock Road self-illuminated so that I would be choosing the best colours based on the actual light conditions. (Or at least the best that I can). I have finally got the enclosing infrastructure to the point of proving that my light support concept can work. The first dry fit is pictured with a clear span of just over ten and a half feet.


The only support is the two visible clamps holding the light support to the side wings. Both side wings now have their front flush mounts to transfer weight directly downwards. I will be adding a couple of clips to each end of the top/side joins for the permanent attachment. Also missing is the front layer of hardboard.

The two sections are hinged together on the bottom edge with the biggest strap hinge that would fit which is not as bit as I would like. In place, the hinge is in tension and easily does the job but when moving the piece separately it is prone to twist. Definitely the weak link. A draw latch holds the back face together at the top but the two together are no match for the leverage of a six foot lever on either end if care is not taken.

It looks like it will do for the first iteration but I expect that it won’t take many outings before a second version gets developed.

I Meant To Do That


When I started this blog, I said I was going to share the mistakes as well as the things that go well. In a non-trivial design oversight, I implemented the above atrocity.  That is the backdrop extending about two inches into the space that the traverser used to travel through. First time operating with the backdrop up was a vocabulary expanding moment.

I cannot claim this was a failure of measurement since I failed to consider the traverser travel altogether. I think the much attentuated construction process allowed me time to forget about such an obvious thing.

On the bright side, the traverser is still usable as-is! The restricted movement means less flexibility and I am not sure that isn’t a good thing. Of the three tracks, the back one can reach the back siding and the runaround track. The center track reaches the runaround and the main and the front track just reaches the main. Effectively, there is a notional runaround with a turnout to the back siding and a storage siding off the main. Much more plausible than the full range of traverser movement. I think I shall keep things as they are and see if I like it. If not, I can rework that backdrop piece to clear things up later.

An Ambitious Number of Windows


Above is the trackplan for my previous, un-achieved layout, the Manhattan Terminal Railroad. I was corresponding with Chris Mears over our mutual interest in densely packed little bits of industrial railroad somehow I committed to posting the plan, so here it is.

The plan is on a 1 foot grid, the scale is still 1:48, the main entrance is through the drop leaf at the top. The overall concept, as suggested by the title, was an offline(accessible only by carfloat) terminal operation on the island of Manhattan, somewhere on the west side in the 30th-40th street range. (40th was the PRR, the Erie, B&O and several others were also there. I cherry picked the bits I liked to produce a proto-freelanced line that would fit my space. The ruling curve around the end was a flange squealing 38″ so fit was tight and the location provided the excuse for the intense switching I desired.

In no particular order, here are some things I like about the plan:

  • The carfloat based fiddle yard: instead of hidden cassettes, I imagined waterline model carfloats with felt lined bottoms manually pushed over the resin “water”.
  • Water covered drop leaf. I generally wish to avoid this sort of entrance blocking compromise but a surface merely for sliding floats across would be quick to raise and replace.
  • Plausibly scaled carfloat and pier warehouse. The proposed carfloats would be over 250 scale feet long which approaches prototype dimensions and would hold about 15 40 foot O scale cars. You can see why sliding is indicated!
  • Multiple routes through the trackage. The float bridge can be switched from both a front and back lead. One could conceivable have two switchers going at once.
  • Working a landmark, the expressway in. Most of the prototypes had to cross under that expressway to get from shore to the trackage that earned the money.

What killed it? Other than life distractions that may have provided an excuse, the scope of the structures required matched against the prospect of an eventual move. The backdrop would need to be 40+ feet of multi-story masonry buildings with the exception of the merely tall single store pier warehouse. I shudder to think how many windows that would require in the days before 3D printing was a thing. I am sure others could get it done but it eventually became obvious to even me that I was not that guy, at least not then.

As a contrast, Comstock Road is mobile, not just movable and will have, depending on whim, no more than 5 major structures. It offers much less scope for switching operations but, other than rolling stock, it is operational now. It took me (this is where a blog is handy to avoid rosy recollections) Roughly two calendar years to go from trackplan to operable with no scenery or structures yet in sight but momentum has been preserved.

Book Nook Mockup

It appears that I have some time on my hands in the next few weeks so I intend have a go at my proposed railway themed shelf insert. I cut the pieces for a 8.5x11x6″ wide box from 1/4″ plywood on my new table saw(more on that later). In my enthusiasm, I glued one side to the back before I realized that one would generally find it easier to build up the scene before enclosing it inside a box…

So, last night I took some salvaged foamcore and mocked up an alley. The black colour makes the jog in to the right hard to pick out but, like a bare plywood baseboard, I can see the intended result in my head. The major point was to check lines of sight which were satisfactory.

Next step is permanently glueing the foamcore together (currently held with straight pins) and attaching each section to the appropriate wall. I haven’t committed to scale and gauge yet but, as the bit of N scale flex indicates, On18 is a possibility. This would put me in the neighbourhood of the Guinness brewery railway’s 22″.


Modelling Idea: The “Book Nook”

One of the modelling challenges I ponder regularly is the logistics of taking modelling output (hypothetical though that output might be) to distant events especially those involving plane travel. I can’t see putting any non-trivial structure or diorama in a checked bag which means you are wanting something that qualifies as carry-on.

At major events featuring modelling contests, there is often a diorama contest with limited space for just such travelling modellers. I have seen square foot, a ceiling tile, peanut butter jar lid, 2×2 inches, and so on. One I have not seen yet is the shelf insert or “book nook”. The basic format is a roughly book shaped box diorama viewed from the narrow edge while inserted among books on a shelf. I didn’t want to pirate anyone’s photos so here is a link to a BBC article on the subject. If you search online, you can also find numerous photos of fascinating instances.

Many of the existing instances are variations on a view into a narrow alley framed by structure faces depicted against the inside of the box. Usually some sort of lighting is included. It occurred to me that I know of a bunch of folks who like to model structures… I also see why there couldn’t be rails running up that alley since even modern O scale (1/48) horizontal minimum clearance is about 4.5 inches. Giving it a bit of thought produced an extensive list of possible ideas.

Why wonder about this when I have a layout already under construction? If the blog title didn’t warn you already, I am not the most laser focussed person when it comes to modelling subjects. Such a format offers a change to try out all sorts of techniques, materials, scales and eras that do not fit within the primary project. The book nook format would also solve the question of where to put the non-conforming item once completed. Leaving aside the problem of having bookshelves already stuffed with train books, of course. 🙂

Keeping My Hand In

I use Templot to generate templates for hand laying track. Templot is a very powerful program that knows way more than I do about prototype track design. It also has a unique user interface that takes time to learn. My challenge is that I don’t create new track templates very often and so tend to forget a lot and have to relearn things.

I was therefore pleased when my friend Trevor Marshall asked me if I would produce a template for a simple Proto:48 test track he is contemplating. Since my entry into 1:48 scale was largely due to enablement by Trevor, I am happy to return the favour and enable right back at him.

I will let Trevor share the details of his project if and when he wishes but I will say that he is using different track castings that I have (more that one choice, we are spoiled!), different rail size and different frog numbers. All of that meant I was essentially creating the template from scratch rather than just copying the old reliable #6 I created many years ago.

After much googling for AREA standards, measuring castings with dial calipers (because my digital one’s battery up and died…), and poking about in the Templot menus, I achieved what I will call success. Because Trevor was mostly concerned about turnout geometry I forwent the refinements like shoving ties around, adjusting the length of guard rails and such.trackpad_screenshot

I got it done and printed out in time for delivery at via dinner at the Harbord House last Tuesday. Pub based delivery best delivery.

Subroadbed Installation Begun

I have the reference points of the main subroadbed (joints and end) secured. This allows me to exercise the advantage of the “cookie cutter” approach which is smooth grades. Grades, on a tiny switching layout? Yes, indeed. The end of the CNR GECO spur which serves as Comstock Road’s inspiration features a grade near its end that I estimate to be on the order of 6%, possibly more. Insane on a class one main line but not uncommon on industrial trackage where a switcher would not be expected to manage more than a couple of cars. I want to feature some small changes in grade to provide scenic interest and to capture the fact that Scarborough is not flat from a railroad point of view.

So, recent progress includes splicing the end bits of plywood on to the main piece. I used 3/4″ brass Robertson screws since those were what was on hand.splices

And installed supports at the main reference points using 1×2, 1×3, glue and yet more Robertson screws.trial grades

I mocked up a theoretical 8% grade for the back track. Eight feet doesn’t sound like much of a change in elevation but seen from the side it looks mighty high. I think I can ease that off to six feet or so and get the desired effect. Especially if I drop the front track a few (4?) feet to create a plausible slope.8percent

Speaking of Robertson screws, I thought my fellow Canadians would be amused by the fact that some of what I am using are the original product passed down from others. robertsons.jpg

For non-Canadians who may not be among the enlightened, what is the big deal about Robertson screws? Besides being near impossible to strip, this:tada

That screw and driver are horizontal. No magnetism is involved.

Layout on a Sheet of Paper

I dropped a PDF file of the Comstock Road Templot plan at a local print shop yesterday only to discover that the large format printer was down. With some trepidation, I left the job in their hands (It is easier to ensure “no scaling” when you are there to remind them) and returned to pick up my printout today. The job cost me $25 CDN and I don’t have much concept of whether that is a lot or not but I do have a very good idea of how much time is saved by not having to cut and paste some 40 or so 8.5×11 sheets of paper together so I am calling it a deal.

I answered a co-worker’s enquiry about the contents of the tube by unfurling the drawing on the office floor. Many of my colleagues being of the engineering persuasion, this drew a crowd while I enthused about the project. Hopefully I did not alarm anyone with my excitement.

Here is a view of the finished product rolled out on the baseboards over top of assorted building materials. Comstock Road will probably never look this pristine again but I can call this a view from the traverser. I checked things with digital calipers and as far as I can tell the whole thing is bang on. Which is close enough.printout

Valance and Backdrop Mockup

While I was out on the weekend acquiring my table-leaf fasteners, I also picked up fasteners for the fasteners as well as assorted hardware and materials for constructing the backdrop and lighting valance. I have a rough plan in mind but I wanted to verify the height of the lower edge of the valance and the top edge of the backdrop. While I was at it, I got out the LED strip that I plan to light things with.

Here is the whole mockup in final form lit only by the LED strip. It looks reasonably bright in the photo but in person I found it a bit dim. I will have to consider a second strip although normally the room lights will also be in play.valancemockled

I determined that the top edge of the backdrop is visible to anyone about 5’4″ or shorter. From what I can tell from photos of UK model railway exhibition layouts, obscuring the top edge of the backscene is not considered absolutely necessary. The backdrop as mocked up uses two foot wide material so I think this is a reasonable compromise.

Here is the mockup with the room lights on just for the curious. Note that I do not intend to have a pink coloured backdrop.