Thursday, 5 May 2016

Advice for Terry

During our very recent trip to the UK, we stayed for a few days with my wife's cousin Terry. Terry has come to the model railway hobby relatively late in life and a few years ago decided to create a layout inspired by the LNER prototype.

His wife very kindly arranged for a  partial fitout of their roof space and this creates the potential for a reasonably sized continuous run bench layout.

While he has been dabbling with some new track, he has not made any serious progress for a while. Unfortunately our travel program prevented me from offering any 'hands on' assistance but I said that a would put together a few points to assist him making a start.

The following is a slightly edited version of the email that I sent to Terry. While it is a bit longer than my normal blog post, I though I would upload it to see if anyone can identify any significant clangers in the advice that I have given him, or can identify any other really useful youtube clips or other sources of very basic 'how to' guidance. There is a lot of material out there and segments that I have included were only subject to very preliminary review as we moved around the UK.

So if there are any suggestions,feed back or corrections, please let me know and I will pass these on to Terry.

Thanks Phil

The following notes cannot be considered as a definitive ‘how to’. The hobby is far too big for that. There are many ways to achieve your goal and the only wrong ways are the ones that don’t end up with the trains running.

There is a mass of ‘how to information’ available on the internet and in printed form. I have included a few links here as potential start points. No doubt, after a bit of searching, you’ll find others equally instructive.

Most layout constructions tend to follow a basic sequence:

1.    Obtain a suitable space

2.    Plan or concept

3.    Baseboard – what you are going to use to support the layout – part the way there

4.    Track laying – getting track onto the baseboard

5.    Electrical work

6.    Track ballasting – some people will do this after they have completed their basic scenery

7.    Basic scenery

8.    Detailed scenery

A suitable space

You have a great space in the attic and the work done to date down one side is a good start. However, as we discussed, you will need to get good general lighting into the space as well as a number of power outlets around the area.

I suggest that you get your electrician to mount the lighting directly above the proposed two main runs of the layout rather than in the centre of the attic. You will need extra lights but it mean that your body won’t cast a shadow over areas of the layout where you are working.

I also suggest that you locate several power outlets around the area so that you don’t have electrical cables running over the floor.

Plan or concept

You already have a concept in mind and I suggest that you document this in some form of a plan that you can refer to it to guide your construction. There are a lot of planning tools that you can use but a this juncture, a simple drawing possibly on graph or gridded paper should suffice. If you are like most people, I’m sure that you will modify it as construction progresses but at least you have a start point.


The bench work that has been done down one side of the attic is a great start and you can construct further framing as and when necessary. The following YouTube clip uses a similar approach to what you have in place.

At this juncture, you may wish to fix an 18” wide sheet of ply, mdf or a similar product to the roof frame for the length of the baseboard. This can serve as a back drop or back scene. You could paint it or fix a commercial product. These clips give some ideas

With one exception, my backdrops have just been painted sky blue for the time being and I’ll come back to it later. It’s going to be more difficult but I haven’t really decided which method to use yet.

Personally, I also suggest that you lay cork underneath your track. This material can be purchased from your hobby shop although I have made my own using cork tiles. Homebase has a similar product. This YouTube link gives one method. There are others.

Some modellers take a different view and you might care to watch this.

If you do choose to lay cork, I suggest that you glue it down with PVA wood glue and use some weights to hold it down as the glue cures.


This is where it starts to get interesting. You already have a quantity of Peco flexitrack and I suggest that you continue using it. You have also purchased Insulfrog points. I suggest you have a look at this clip to understand how these points work and distribute the current to the tracks.

This clip shows a basic approach to track laying

There are many other YouTube clips and other ‘how to” articles on the internet if you wish to read further.

You should consider purchasing a few specialist tools to help with this activity:

·         Small sharp knife or blade (you have this already);

·         Razor saw (you have this already);

·         Small file;

·         Track cutting tool;

·         Small soldering iron and electrical solder (try Maplin or similar)

·         Small drill and bits;

·         Tack hammer; and

·         Multimeter – to test electrical connectivity.

I also suggest that you work in sections. Get part of the track laid, connected and the trains running and then move onto the next section.

Electrical Work

Your controller and most locomotives are set up for Digital Command Control (DCC) compared with the older Direct Current. I won’t attempt to explain the differences but suffice it to say, the two systems are basically incompatible. This means that you will need to get your older locomotive 2751 fitted with a decoder.

Basic wiring for DCC is supposedly simpler but there are things to watch. Most writers suggest that you run a ‘bus’ or central heavy gauge wires to carry the current and then run feeder wires from the bus wire to individual tracks. Many attached a feeder wire to each length of flex track.

I suggest that you solder most of your track non-insulated track joints as well as soldering the feeder wires to the respective tracks. If you haven’t done much basic soldering, it’s probably a skill you will need to acquire or at least get someone to help you with the task. (the accent may be a bit difficult).

The following two clips seem to bring everything together albeit one with a bit of a corny start. and the second may also be complicated by the accent ( )


Once you have got the track laid and connected, I suggest that you consider ballasting the track, that is laying fine crushed gravel in between the sleepers to simulate the real gravel ballast used under real track. It is not essential but it improves the look considerably. Again, there are many ways to undertake this. The following clip shows a method very similar to what I do except that I don’t add india ink to the glue mix. Instead, I purchase ballast material that is basically a finer version as the gravel used.

One thing to watch when you are ballasting your track; make sure that the ballast, when laid, does not interfere with the operation of your points.

Basic Scenery

When I talk about basic scenery, I’m referring to the landform shapes that will be found on your layout, hills, rivers etc. From what I understand of your intentions most of your areas, dock, railway stations should be relatively flat but I suggest that you have some undulations as a billiard table like surface is never very realistic. If you are planning a dock, you should also consider cutting out a portion of your baseboard to allow for the relative height difference between the water level and the dock/railway track.

Again, there are many different options but generally they distil to two basic methods:

·         a ‘hard shell’ type where some form of mesh/wire netting or cardboard strips is supported by some solid shapes such as timber or Styrofoam to create the desired landform shape which is then coated with plaster or some similar product ; or

·         a solid material, often Styrofoam, that is then carved or shaped to the desired land form, and then also coated with plaster or similar or paint if you wish.

Personally, I have concentrated on the Styrofoam method albeit with a few variations on the method shown in the videos. One word of caution, it does create a mesh particularly when carving and shaping, so make sure you have the Hoover close at hand.

Detailed Scenery

This is where you will add buildings, trees, fences, platforms, signals, people etc to bring the layout to life. Each item will be different. You may place some straight ‘out of the box’ and others, perhaps, build from a kit. However, I do suggest that you spend some time ‘weathering’ your buildings, that is making them look as if they have been there for some time. There are a multitude of techniques and materials to achieve this but a great start point is to spray the object with Testors Dullcote. Sometimes, it is also a good finish to seal the work that you have just done.

Some modellers will use simple mock-ups of buildings to help them decide where things will go, or indeed to see if something will fit. Again it is a personal choice.

Extra support and advice

No doubt, there will be many times when you’ll need some advice or assistance to get you over a particular hurdle or problem. We all do!! You appear to have already established a relationship with a local hobby shop.  I suggest that you will find that they are always willing to offer some assistance. They may offer some services for things you may not wish to take on yourself such as decoder fitting.

Exhibitions are also a great place to gain additional information, advice and motivation. They are usually arranged by a specific club or group and frequently supported by hobby shops and smaller boutique suppliers.

Clubs are another source of advice with individuals usually willing to pass on their knowledge. Most clubs will usually be building a ‘club layout’ and participating in this activity may give you confidence to undertake work on your home layout.

There are also chat rooms and blogs. This link provides a start point only. There is a multitude out there.

Of course feel free email me with any questions and if necessary we can set up a Skype call to work through a particular problem.