Saturday, 21 June 2014


LED Lighting:

On the diorama I built between houses I experimented with RGB (Red, Green, Blue) LED strip lighting. This worked very well. On all white it provided sufficient light to work on the layout and the various colours could be used to simulate various times of the day. 
I purchased all the LEDs and controllers and transformers from TheLEDLighting in China and they were very helpful. Delivery took a few days via DHL.
Some lessons learnt and photos to show the installation.

1. Purchase all the strips at one time as batches and suppliers LEDs despite to the same specification can vary.
2. Wire up and check all the strips before installing. I found one bad solder joint which was easily fixed at the workbench but would have been difficult once installed behind the valence.
3. I have one controller and a remote infra red manual switch with the various colour options. You can automate the colour change sequence and there are some good articles on doing this on the web and from NMRA conventions.
4. Check you have sufficient power and don't overload a circuit. I have almost 30 meters of strips and each 10 meters needs a 10amp transformer at 12 volt DC. 
5. Paint the back of the valence white to reflect as much light as possible.
6. Like all lighting consider the viewing angle and hence the size of the valence and amount of cover needed to hide the direct globes from general view. At my height I can barely see any of the LED strips but shorter people can look up to the valence and see the strips from end views.


This would be a day time light sequence.

Here is a slightly bluer sequence.

Here is a strip mounted behind the valence.
Here are two pictures of the transformer and the infra red controller and a transformer and the amplifier. An amplifier was needed after every 10 meters , so for 30 meters of lighting I used two amplifiers. With the amplifier the four leads from the leading RGB line feed in one side and the four leads of the output plus the DC inputs are on the right hand side in the photo.




Construction Begins:

I retired on March 31, 2014 and with the benefits of the planning done over the previous years, I was able to check out timber suppliers the next days. I chose top quality birch wood ply and manufactured framing timber rather than cheaper pine as it was more true (straighter).

Below is the layout room as finished by the builder and the first box frame installed. The round "pipe" on the wall below the frame is a 90mm exhaust for the painting booth I will later install.
The box frame is made from 68 x 18mm dressed lumber which is dimensionally stable and basically straight. I used a drop saw to cut the sections and assembled the box sections in my garage with screws and white glue. I supported the box frame as best I could whilst screwing to the walls. At this stage the frame is not 100% stable and strong enough to support the railroad. However once sections are joined they are reasonably stable. In some areas I installed braces from the outer frame end to the wall at the skirting board and this ensured the bench was very stable.


The walls of the train room are lined onto a stud wall, so it was key to find the studs. Initially I used a stud finder but found tapping the wall just as accurate. Before drilling to attach the box frames,  I made small holes in the wall to check there was an actual stud behind the location. I then drilled holes through the box frame so the screws would not split the timber. I used galvanized roofing screws (about 80mm long) to attach the frame to the walls and in several spots used a brace to ensure strength. The brace was supported by the skirting board and attached to the frame. Both ends are screwed to the wall and frame.

All the frames are screwed and glued. The base frame is up to a maximum of 60cm wide (most sections are only 50cm wide) and cross sections are every 40cm.  Cross sections are the sections between the wall and outside edge of the box frame.  The box frames were assembled in my garage prior to moving to the train room and installing. The valence box frame matches the base below but has braces (cross sections)  every 60cm, as there is less weight on the valence top. The valence has a 3mm MDF top which was painted prior to installing. Later it will be painted the sky colour to blend with the back drop. Having a drop saw to cut all the timber was a real benefit. I also invested in top quality rechargeable drills and a driver plus a spare battery always at the ready.
Here is a section of the base and valence. Note the valence "top" is actually on the bottom when hung so it will match the sky and background.
The second photo is of the island section and I used 2 posts to carry the island section. The posts are sitting on adjustable feet and tensioned into the ceiling. Once the frame was installed it was not necessary to bolt the posts to the ceiling as the frame held them in alignment. The frame is really quiet stable.




I proceeded with the base and valence and within a few weeks had all of that completed..
I then installed a backdrop which was a combination of a 20 meter plastic roll which I had previously purchased and 3mm MDF sheets. I screwed the backdrop to the wall.  Where it was going to be below track level I screwed the backdrop to the wall, and I used small nails above where the backdrop would one day be visible. I countersink the nail heads and used “no more gaps” to cover the heads before painting.
Using a continuous backdrop is important as it can bend around corners and provide a continuous  horizon with no joins. You need to seal any nail and screw holes before painting and with flexible sealers like no more gaps you can create that continuous backdrop. You can also see here the valence and the sealed joints and nail holes prior to painting.


Painting the sky was a challenge and involved several selections of paint. Eventually I settled on a “SkyBlue” colour for the upper reaches and a mixture of this and white for the lower sky. I painted both together with the two cans open and two brushes so I could blend the paints as they were still wet. I used plastic paint which dries quickly – hence the reason to paint both sections together with different brushes and blend them together. Also as the train room has no windows, I wanted to stay away from as many "smells" as possible, otherwise I would have used oil based paint. At this stage I decided to have no definitive clouds, even though on my previous layout I had clouds which looked very realistic. Maybe later I will change my mind but I want the scenery and trains to be the focus – not the sky.

Here is the view at the end of May - 2 months into the project. It doesn't accurately show the sky colour  - a later effort included more "clouds" in the form of whitened sky on the lower sections of the background.
I then proceeded to install the lighting (RGB - LEDs) behind the valence - covered in a separate post.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The layout (room) Plan:

As I progressed plans I used advice from colleagues and professionals. One area I wanted to avoid was "hidden" track.
I had almost moved away from any hidden staging. I wanted it to be accessible and manageable. I debated the staging for my plan with experts in the Layout Design Special Interest Group. We compromised on some semi hidden staging at the front of the layout. Well, the consultants were so good they made me feel I designed it.
My diorama also gave me a chance to solve a long issue I had been tackling over the brand of track to use. I will not say I have the best solutions but I was struggling with Peco track, which was proven, solid and worked, but not all that DCC friendly. I had used Peco previously and liked the solid nature of it. Atlas Code 55 was beautiful, and more DCC friendly. Making turnouts with “Fast Tracks” to provide visually great track and more accurate dimensions, was also a consideration.
My diorama was built with Atlas as I had previously used Peco Electrofrog switches and code 55 track. I used DPDT (double pole double throw) slide switches to move the switch and provide power to the frog and future signals to show direction of the switch. Everything worked well and the Atlas  code 55 looks great.  One switch failed but was repaired easily.
For my new layout I emotionally decided on Peco track and swithches. I am not saying this is the best, but emotionally I know it will last a long time, and I can put up with a little less realistic appearance for the sake of strong operations. I just wish Peco were more DCC friendly – more on that later.

The final house plans included a room 6.5 x 5.6 meters, fully tiled, and lined. It could  easily be a home theatre room . It is the only room in the house air conditioned (in case it is needed). The builder also had to provide an exhaust hole for the painting table. 
The room also has two 20 amp circuits and 5 x 4 outlet power boards. All of these are controlled by 2 master switches at the door so I can turn off all power when leaving the room, in case a soldering iron or similar is left on.

I set about creating my list of "Druthers" - a list of "needs" I wanted to incorporate into the layout. here is my list developed over many months:

  •         Room is 6.5 x 5.6 meters – no windows – one standard door.
  •         Bench height will be 120cm (48 inches) and rise to 130 cm.
  • ·      Minimal legs – around the wall, with island. Use braces off wall if required for stability.
  • ·      N Scale
  • ·      Theme is “Mountains to desert”  - USA West Coast.
  • ·      Modern layout – current day – long freight and passenger.
  • ·      Single track but long passing sidings to improve operations.
  • ·      Less than 2% grades.
  • ·      Maximum radius curves and switches.
  • ·      1.2 meter (4 foot) aisles at minimum.
  • ·      Wireless walk around but use current wired DCC throttles
  • ·      RGB lighting to give day / night / dusk scenes.
  • ·      Shadow box design. Valence with lighting behind.
  • ·      Spline roadbed in mountain sections.
  • ·      Manual switch throws – maybe DPDT slide switches as throws.
  • ·      Servo’s for any turnouts out of reach.
  • ·      Concrete Code 55 track for mainline.
  • ·      Box frame construction. L Girder on peninsular for strength.
  • ·      Minimal hidden track
  • ·      Install backdrop first and paint sky and perhaps mountains / desert before scenery.
  • ·      20-24 inch minimum radius
  • ·      Engine and loco service facility ( in lieu of turntable?)
  • ·      6 x 4 point power outlets. Separately fused and door master switch.
  • ·      Work bench under layout on castors so is hidden most of the time.
  •     Install "curtains" of black material below fascia when completed to focus on shadow box.
  • ·      Spray booth and outside exhaust built into room.
  • ·      Signalling?  Powered frogs???

Background and Planning:

How I got to this stage.

In 2009  we decided to move house. We bought an old house which we would eventually bulldoze and then rebuild a new home on the site. Despite working full time I had almost completed my N Scale empire in it’s own air conditioned and well sealed room in the current house. I had managed to get a couple of NMRA (National Model Railroad Association) certificates and was feeling good about what I had created.
A keen Real Estate salesman for the "old" house decided the train room was a great home theatre or teenager’s retreat and should be shown as such to sell the house.. Alas the train was dismantled, some items boxed and many put into a dumpster.
The new house was on a block of land fronting the ocean, so  immediately plans and thoughts for the new train room in the new house started.
We decided to live in the old house whilst plans were done and also to get to know the weather patterns etc. This was a good move for the house design and also details of the train room.  The time also enabled me to build a diorama and experiment with new techniques I would use on the new layout. I wanted a full shadow box / museum type layout. I also wanted to use RGB / LED lighting to simulate time of day.  I used the time to do further research and use the experience and consulting of others.

I have been a member of the NMRA for 50 years – wow, that is a long time. I have enjoyed that time with the NMRA and have gained some skills I plan to put to use on my current layout and share with anyone that is willing to read my story.
As plans developed for the new house the architect was reminded that a significant room was needed within the house for a ‘hobby”. It did not require windows so could be behind the views of the ocean etc. In fact given the ocean outlook it was good to keep it away from any potential salt spray.
Every time the architect presented a plan the mind went active with possible scenarios of the layout and the practicality of the room. Could lumber be brought in easily? Could we paint in there and clean brushes nearby?Would this room work with the rest of the house?
During the time whilst designing and building I also build a diorama. It was a shadow box design: 1.8 meters long by 400mm deep. It incorporated RGB lighting with a manual remote control. The RGB was a stick on strip of lights across the top front, behind the valence. It worked great – providing day, night, and dusk scenes.
The time gave me opportunities to share my plans and “Druthers” with other modellers, especially local NMRA members. I became a member of the Layout design Special Interest Group (LDSIG) of the NMRA. At the Atlanta NMRA Convention I signed up for 2 consulting sessions with “experts”. As a professional business executive and consultant, I was blown away with the quality of the coaching and consulting I received from these NMRA LDSIG experts.