Southport Model Railway Society (SMRS) Newsletter No29 – March 2014

ots-smrs newsletter march 2014 southport model railway society ots onthespot ots

Chairman’s notes

This year Spring came early to the clubrooms of Southport Model Railway Society.  As the continued winter weather threw everything it could at us on the outside, Hilary and her stalwart band of helpers, fired with enthusiasm gave the ground floor rooms a total facelift with paint to walls and ceilings and new curtains to the windows.  Through generous contributions mainly from members plus some help from clubs funds we now have new carpet laid to the ground floor.  More about these refurbishments will appear elsewhere in the Newsletter but meanwhile I would like to personally thank Hilary and all concerned for their gallant efforts.

Meanwhile outside, Network Rail and its associates were installing continuous rail, necessitating closure of the crossing.  With the co-operation (and help) of friendly supervisory staff and under their watchful eye we were given access to work on the trackside face of the building.  This enabled us to make good some urgent repairs to the fabric of the building and some hasty painting to door, windows and other woodwork, the overall result being a very smarter and tidier appearance.

Now with Spring properly on its way we can look forward to giving attention to the upper part of the building and garden area.  My thanks again to all those who have been involved in creating a property of which to be proud.



Monthly talks:

The January talk was be given by Tony and titled “A year in the Life of Footplate Junkie”. Tony took us on a photographic tour of the UK in the company of various locomotives that he has been associated with in 2010 – from Duke of Gloucester at various locations, down to Irish Mail at West Lancs. These were accompanied by various anecdotes.  Thanks to Ian and Heather for hosting the event.

February saw a rare event for the club, namely an external speaker at the monthly social meeting. After a meal of chip-shop pie and chips we were entertained and informed by David Bielawski from St Helens. As well as many years as the Community Landscape and Woodlands Officer for St Helens he has a lifelong interest in meteorology. His talk, titled “Meteorology global warming – fact or fiction”, ranged widely over why we get the weather we do, what drives it all and the likelihood of further global warming. His considered view was that we are more likely to get an ice age than any prolonged heatwaves, and it could, according to some predictions, happen very quickly. Still I suppose it will make a change to get endless snow rather than the recent endless rain. And no mention of railways, so that was a change, and a welcome one at that. Many thanks to David for giving up his time to present this talk, and to Tony for hosting it.

On 18th March, Mike Sharples will give us a talk on Class 37’s.  This will be held at the Clubrooms.



Layout reports

Portland Street – Upper & Lower – heavy usage virtually most Tuesday & Friday evening on Portland Lower, even though there has been much other activity downstairs over last month.  Intermittent s faults with Controllers have become rather annoying.  Some push switches for points are failing.  The planned redecorating creates opportunity to undertake this work plus realignment of trackwork on far side which will enable multiple additional local train services.  Portland Upper continues to work well but sees infrequent use.  Both layouts will be moved en bloc three times which also creates simple access where we need it.

Monsal Dale (Ian Shulver) Nothing to report other than it was on parade at Rainhill over the weekend of 1-2 March where it ran very well.  The planned training day in February had to be cancelled but hopefully will be rescheduled for a later date.

Talisker Glen – nothing to report



Exhibition (Tony Kuivala).

The 2014 Exhibition is coming together nicely.  All layouts are confirmed.  To avoid undue bias in selection we will commence in roughly alphabetical order with Brucklay which is BR (Western Region) mid 1960’s, green diesels in OO. Tracks are on two levels with DCC and sound. I saw Norman Raven briefly at Glasgow last week where he had his new 1860’s Prussian layout with magnificent locomotives.  Bob & Gareth Rowlands from Liverpool Model Railway Society are bringing their new N Gauge Burghead.  This is a wonderful small far north of Scottish fishing port. From Rainhill Model Railway Club Ian Wheelock and Harry Crossley will bring Clun in OO Gauge, BR 1955-1960 era.  The station is the terminus of two rural branch lines in Welsh Marches with a GW & LMS joint history.  One extra special attraction for 2014 is coming from Tony and Ann Reeves of Sandown on Isle of Wight.  Copperhead Crossing is a N Gauge American Civil War 1862era.  Tony and Ann are also a bringing figure painting demonstration.


Forthcoming events

The programme for the next few months is as follows:

March 1-2         Monsal Dale at Rainhill exhibition

March 18           “Class 37’s” Mike Sharples

April 12-13        National Garden Railway Exhibition, Peterborough – Derek’s WalmerBridge.

April 15              Monthly talk

April 19              Awayday to York Exhibition.

April 26-27        Riverside Steam Rally and Liverpool MRS Exhibition at Waterloo.

May 2                SMRS AGM

June 21-22        Woodvale Transport Rally

June 21-22        Wigan Exhibition

June 28              Southport Model Engineers Open Day

June 29 – July 6 Sleeper Trip to Scotland.


57a Redecoration.

We have been in our present home for 25 years.  The building is 166 years old and owned by Network Rail.  Internally the décor is “tired” – not that we had not redecorated!  At end of January, Hilary undertook to put matters right. Her dedicated team have, at the time of putting these notes together, completed in excess of 20 days (nearer to 80 person days) overlapping Network Rail’s nine day closure to relay about three miles of the up line.  The kitchen was first on list, then the lounge. Everything was moved into Monsal room (Monsal having its winter break elsewhere before appearing at Rainhill Exhibition) while old carpet was removed, paint and varnish applied before a new carpet laid.  The Monsal room then received the same treatment.  We let Hilary choose the colours – it was wise not to argue.  Whilst not everything is completed, it nearly is. The next stages move upstairs.  Preparatory work is in hand on stairway which also includes access to our roof spaces.  These have been closely inspected and found sound.  There is some evidence that plaster in Portland Street room and Talisker room is failing, the walls would need repapering anyway. Both layouts will be moved around within their domains and fully protected whilst work is in progress.

Whilst there were no regular trains operating outside we took the opportunity to undertake minor improvements. The important words here are “regular trains” as there were Class 66s and 70s constantly moving spent and new materials about on the down line and self-propelled rail mounted contractors’ plant was ever present.  At same time the Level Crossing at our front door was relaid by Stobart Rail whose staff very supportive.  We have acquired a goodly supply of firewood.

Overall the financial cost to SMRS is not that great through the generosity of Members with amounts both large and small.  We owe a great debt of thanks to Hilary for organisation, leadership, hands on activity and generosity.  But there is still the small matter of upstairs to be started.


News from members:-

Tony reports that the Glasgow Exhibition last Saturday was it’s usual excellent mix of interesting layouts, societies and traders. Five SMRS members travelled by Stagecoach’s X2 to Preston for breakfast then by Virgin’s 10 coach Super Voyager to Glasgow.  We were there before 11.45am.  Lunch and red wine accompanied us so there was more than adequate time to savour atmosphere and layouts that are rarely seen south of Carlisle.  Old friends appeared so we spent time in chatting.  The afternoon flew by so eventually we made our way home on an 11coach Pendolino which surprisingly lost 10 minutes south of Carlisle. The silver lining was that we had 10 minutes reduced waiting for our bus in Preston.  An excellent day.  Our next awayday will be York Exhibition on Easter Saturday.



Continuing with Allan’s series of papers on electrical matters – I hope everyone is taking note and following his advice!

Short Circuits No. 9.

Routing for your trains.

Routing systems for a layout makes operation much more straightforward and less easy to set thing wrong.  If you have noticed, in a real mechanical interlocking signal box, the signalman requires considerable skill and experience to route the trains safely through his domain.

With the arrival of electro mechanical interlocking and before computers, the task became a bit more intuitive.  One common system used was referred to as an NX (entrance exit) panel.  Here you press switches along the route you wish the train to go.  If the route is free of conflicts, the route and the appropriate signals will be set and locked until the passage of the train or the routing is cancelled.  This is possible on a model railway but requires rather a lot of complicated wiring and many relay interlocking circuits.

There is a much simpler way of achieving a routing system for model railways as long as you are willing to accept the absence of any form of interlocking and inter linked automatic signalling systems.  Non locking push to make switches can be located where routes divide or merge and on operation of the correct switch a group of point can be set in the appropriate position.  There is no generic format for this, each layout has to be custom designed for the track layout.  Limitations are the power of the capacitor discharge unit but the correct type can be made to operate up to six or more Peco type point motors simultaneously.  Using common return from the point motors reduces the amount of wiring considerably.

To understand this routing system, a wiring diagram absolutely essential.  Draw all your point motors showing the set and reset connections.  Plan where the routing switches are to be located and installed in geographic position on the control panel.  One side of all the routing switches is connected to the positive of the capacitor discharge unit.  The common of all the point motors is connected to the negative of the capacitor discharge unit. Now comes the fun bit.

Starting with the first route, on the diagram draw the wire to the points you wish to set or reset.  Do this for all routes until you come to a point motor with a wire already on the terminal you wish to connect to.  In this situation two diodes are required at the point motor to prevent feedback to other routes.  If you follow the logic of the routed wires it does make sense.

Alternatively if you have for example four routes converging into one, it is possible to wire the point motors in series as long as the capacitor discharge unit has adequate power.  No diodes are required in this situation.

Parallel connection. Diodes required.

Series   connection. No diodes required

Allan Trotter

And now an article on taking a layout to exhibitions.  As it says, these are guidelines and after due consideration may or may not be followed,

I was recently given some old model railway magazines and whilst scanning through them I came across an article by D. Milton entitled ‘Prelude to Exhibitions’ (Model Railway Constructor, March 1967).  This is primarily an article about taking layouts to exhibitions.  Much of this article is common sense and is just applicable today as it was back then and so I thought it would be useful to use it as a basis for setting down a few guidelines to be followed when taking a layout to a show.

The first thing to bear in mind is that the majority of visitors to an exhibition are not modelers, and they cannot be expected to appreciate the finer points of modeling or operation, so there must be something to hold their attention.  An obvious candidate is continuous activity as far as operation is concerned.  This does not necessarily mean that something has to be moving at all times, but there should be an expectation that something may happen within their attention span (which is usually surprisingly short).  For these short periods when there is nothing is apparently happening, their attention must be captured by the scenery (building, trees, etc) which must be attractive, relevant and of a high standard, or perhaps a small working diorama.  Last but by no means least, the layout must work reliably and continue to do so throughout the exhibition – not only for the public but to avoid frustration to the exhibitors.  There is nothing worse than everything grinding to halt whilst attempts are made to change a failed point, or get a recalcitrant loco working in full view of the public.

Having stated these ideals, we can look now look at how they might be achieved.  Most failures are put down to “exhibition gremlins” – damage in transit, expansion caused by high temperatures encountered in exhibition halls, or dust from the atmosphere.  Troubles from all these causes can be minimised by careful planning and the following points should be considered.

Layout design and construction:

  • Unless you are unusually proficient and/or have a large back up team, plan for simplicity.  This does not necessarily mean a small layout but one where a number of operations can be carried out simultaneously.  For example in an end to end layout the good yard/ engine shed might operate independently of the arrival/departure platforms.   With a multi track continuous circuit try to avoid shunting operations that necessitate crossing over other tracks – it reduces the amount of activity and as we all know crossovers and slips are recipes for disaster.
  • Use the best quality materials available for constructing the baseboard, and make it strong enough.  This does not mean that you have to go overboard on the size of timber used, but sound engineering practice should produce a lightweight and strong structure.  Two areas that need particular attention are ensuring that baseboards are not prone to warping and that the ends are rigid enough to mate reliably with their partner.
  • Consider the size of the baseboard.  Too small and you will have many baseboard joints with all the problems of leveling and electrical connections.  Too large and they become difficult to manhandle which make them more prone to damage.
  • Transit damage is a constant worry.  Not only can you knock down trees, building etc, but electrical wiring can be snagged, rail joints bent and, if fitted, dowels damaged.  The best way to avoid this to form boxes of matching baseboards held apart by end pieces that can be bolted on to protect the track ends.  If side pieces can be made as well, this will help protect the layout from dust, spider, cats etc during storage.
  • When designing the baseboards consider the question of putting up and taking down the layout.  If possible use bolts and ‘T’ prongs to bolt the baseboards together – no danger of losing the nuts and even the bolts can be used for the end pieces for transport.   Trestles and legs should support adjacent baseboards (it makes it easier to bolt them together and takes the strain off any connections) and, since exhibition floor are rarely level, should ideally have leveling devices (a box of wooden shims of various thicknesses will suffice if you do not wish to go to the expense of leveling screws).  Minimise the amount of loose equipment – pack extension leads, tools and any other paraphernalia into boxes.  Label each box/ baseboard pair etc and have an inventory so that you can check that you have everything you need – it is no good arriving at the exhibition venue and finding that the control box is still in the clubrooms 200 miles away.
  • Make certain that the basics of the scenics are finished, or at least give the illusion that this is so (additional detailing is always an ongoing feature of modeling).  This does not mean that you should not exhibit a layout under construction, but if you do then it is important that this is explained on the layout.
  • Plan for simplicity in the electrics.  If feasible use a ring main type set up to improve reliability.
  • Most exhibition halls do not have good lighting so make certain that your layout has its own.

Before the exhibition

  • Ideally erect the layout in the clubroom or other venue and clean the entire track.  Check that everything works as you expect it to.
  • Repair any damage that may have occurred to the scenery paying particular attention to the baseboard joins.  It is inevitable that some damage occurs at exhibitions (chimney pots knocked off, signal bent etc), so consider using a notebook to record these as they occur so that you can rectify at the first opportunity.
  • Check all the rolling stock, particularly the motive power.  Clean the wheels and, if you have one, give each engine a blast on a rolling road.  At least you know that they were working and if not either repair or leave at home (no danger of attempting to use a duff loco).
  • When loading the transport, check the inventory so that you know that you have everythin you should have.
  • Make certain you have an adequate tool box and repair materials.  Items that you may need are spare base board joining bolts, spanner/screwdriver,  extension leads, RCD unit, spirit level, glues, soldering iron, solder and flux,  spare wire.
  • Consider making up a small first aid kit containing plasters, paracetamol, a bottle of water etc.
  • Have a roster of operators drawn up, with substitutes available if someone is unavailable at the last moment.  You will need one or two more people than the number required to operate the layout to allow for breaks.

At the exhibition (it is assumed that the layout have been successfully erected and is running)

  • Presentation.  First appearance counts for a great deal, and a touch of showmanship is necessary to get the public interested in any layout:

–      Legs and supports should be covered over with material stretched across the front and sides, as this gives a neater appearance and provides somewhere to store boxes and oddments.  Although not as important nowadays because of the ‘no smoking’ laws, it is a good idea to finished the curtaining a couple of inches or so above the floor.

–      Information notices should be neatly printed, using stencils or be computers.  If the layout is based on an actual location a few large photographs of the original may be used to advantage.

–      The scenic items must be firmly fixed in place and be capable of withstanding shocks in transit.  The last thing anyone want to see are drunken people or church steeples at crazy angles.

–      A backscene is essential, even if it is only a sky scene.  This delineates the extent of the scene and more importantly hides cups of tea etc.

–      Keep the operating area clean and tidy.  Route extension cables away from where you walk, have a box or bin bag to deposit rubbish and store all empty boxes carefully under the layout.  Remember it is not a storage area for the coats/rucksacks of club members visiting the exhibition and who are not part of the operating team.

–      Make certain the integral lighting is doing its job – illuminating the layout and not blinding either operators or public.

  • It should be understood that the exhibition is being staged for the benefit of the public and NOT the operators, and this means that a certain degree of discipline must be enforced.  Only those directly concerned with the running of the layout should be allowed on the inside, or behind it during working hours.
  •  As a generalization all trains should be run at, or close to, scale speeds and all movements made as realistic as possible and in a railway-like manner.  Where possible, layouts should be run to a timetable or at least to a set sequence of operations.  This has several advantages, as it gives the operators something positive to do preventing them from running the layout for their own amusement rather than the spectators and gives some coherency.
  • Consideration should be given to having a ‘front of house’ person whose sole task would be to speak to the public, explaining the operation and method of construction.  This person should have an outstanding knowledge of the layout, be friendly and have a charisma.  Although, it does mean an extra person on the operating team, it benefits the actual operators greatly in that they are less likely to be distracted by the public and hence make schoolboy errors – like setting the wrong road.
  • If a locomotive fails, or a item of rolling stock starts to play up, remove it immediately and relegate to the repair box.
  • If  there is an electrical failure, hopefully it will only affect part of the layout (one circuit, or the goods yard).  Unless it is immediately obvious what the problem is and can be fixed quickly, do not attempt a repair until the conclusion of the day’s operation.  It is doomed to failure, particularly changing a point or point motor.  However do plan for possibly having to replace a controller which may be effected simply if thought about in advance.  This where the ‘front of house’ person comes into his own since he can still hold the show together.

A final thought: It is better to operate a simple layout that really works than a complex one that does not.

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Ian Shulver




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