Some visible progress to report

August 27, 2010 § 1 Comment

Before I was actually able to put Stanley-knife to fibreboard, one evening was spent up to my neck in tracing paper with a full-scale printout of the layout plan, calculating the most efficient use of the board that I had, with one eye on how I might build a frame to support it. My choice of prototype meant that from the beginning this would always be a two level structure, and somewhat more complicated than the simple rectangular example in the Sundeala instructions. As I also wanted bridges over roads, building the upper level was not just a simple matter of cutting it out of the lower level.

Empty Saturday afternoons are a rarity when you have children, and when one came along I  grabbed the chance with both hands – repairing the rotting back-door window frame would have to wait. The sight of daddy with power-tools is a source of great excitement to any young boy, and Matthew is no exception and the construction of the frame turned into a great father-son bonding session. Not so long ago the only reaction I could get out of him was shrieks and nos and running away. This time he was only too keen to help and was exceptionally well-behaved on the unplanned excursion to B&Q to by more wood and Stanley-knife blades. In the end the basic frame came together without too much fuss, and more quickly than anticipated:

The frame

With a bit of help from Matthew

It did however spend a week on the bedroom floor disrupting wardrobe access before being fixed in place. I made the mistake one night of working too late on the upper level construction, causing silly measuring mistakes that threatened to disrupt progress. Physical progress was slowed sometime round this point when work also finally commenced on the blog.

The upper level takes shape

The final baseboard

When she finally saw the completed baseboard, it was a revelation to Ania that it was on two levels. Had she not been listening whenever a told her about my ideas? The above photos are already out of date, as it has since been covered with wallpaper to provide a smoother surface to model on and protect the soft fibreboard from degradation.

Proper Planning Prevents …

August 21, 2010 § 1 Comment

… poor performance.

I always knew I would find it difficult to meet my wife’s target of starting to build before the end of June – due mainly to the aforementioned reasons that the materials she thought I might use were entirely unsuitable, and if I was going to do it then I was going to do it properly – even if I did have nearly three months. I did however need to show Ania I was serious. So the first step was to get some proper baseboard.

Most of the German periodicals on the subject show plywood as the material of choice. My dad’s layout baseboard, was some sort of soft fibreboard similar to what is used for noticeboards, and covered the walls of my university architecture school’s studio walls for pinning drawings to. For display layouts designed to be dismantled and moved arround between exhibitions, plywood is the stronger and more durable choice, it is also cheaper and more readily available but it is more difficult to work with. The more common choice at least among layout builders in the UK is fibreboard. This is much easier to work with but is not without  its problems. The first being availability. It is not the sort of thing you find in your local DIY store. It is not something I had seen in any of my local model-shops (not that there are even that many of them) either. After much searching on-line (the internet must have hit the model-railway periodicals’ advertising revenue hard) I eventually found a company called Sundela that made exactly the product I was after, it was even marketed under the name Hobbyboard. Their distributor list is not exactly extensive so after much deliberation I decided that mail-order was preferable to a 70+ mile round trip on a saturday morning. Its arrival (over two weeks) later caused much excitement with my son Matthew, although I think he was a little perplexed when, after mummy had said the big parcel was for daddy’s trains, it was eventually opened to reveal 3 large plain-looking grey boards.

In the mean time I got busy with some proper planning. I read various blogs and forums describing  in meticulous detail the relative merits of code 75 and 83 versus code 100, and various manufacturers adherence or lack of to such and such a country’s standard practice concerning guard rails on turnouts,  and I now know the difference between flat-bottomed and bullhead rail. Considering the number of other compromises one has to make when building a model railway, I found some of these arguments about prototypical practice when it comes to track work slightly pointless. If you want to emulate prototypical running then your average Inter-City train would need to have at least eight coaches, or more on the continent. If each coach is a foot long then your average station platform needs to be somewhere near 3m in length or longer, and few people have this sort of space, even in their lofts. In the end it was all academic as my final choice of track system was governed more by how the turnout geometry would fit into the proposed space (and that my dad still had miles of unused Code 100 track in his loft). I had a little help from some planning software called AnyRail, freeware that comes complete with libraries for all the major manufacturers track systems. This was a major leap since the last time I tried any sort of layout planning about six or seven years ago, when the quality of available CAD tools designed specifically for this purpose lead me to believe I could do better myself by building my own blocks in AutoCAD.

I have often found in my experience both as an architecture student and as a professional computer software developer that the more simple and elegant a design or solution looks, the more effort has gone into it. You will learn from this blog that I am a bit of a perfectionist, and it was quite tricky getting a design that I was happy with. Here are some of my first attempts.

There were many considerations. Primarily I wanted to maximize the Stadtbahn element, that is why I chose a curve to get the longest run of railway arches. I was never going to fit an entire station in the space I had, and I did not just want a model of a station. This  pushed the station onto the shorter side of the curve. Curves on model railways are always much tighter  than they would be in reality, this means that track spacings have to we wider to compensate for larger overhangs when a long carriage is placed on a curve. While curved platforms are quite common, particularly in Britain, they look very poor when modeled. most of the work went into minimizing the wasted space between tracks around the station throat in order to leave more space for other models. Other considerations were the locations of bridges over roads so they would not conflict with under-board point motors.  So here is the final design, with some notion as to where the roads might be.

The more observant or knowledgeable among you will notice a large concession to the prototype. The Berlin Stadtbahn is four tracks, two S-Bahn suburban, lines and two Fernbahn lines.  Once outside the station my stadtbahn has only two. The real art of model railway building is knowing where to compromise and making the best use of the limited space you have.

Space … the final frontier!

August 16, 2010 § 3 Comments

The previous post was cut short due to the demands of parenthood, but I decided to publish anyway just to get the momentum going. There is still more that I feel I need to fill you in on before I get into any serious detail. Firstly I need to say a big public thank-you to Ania my wife for giving me the push I needed to get started, and for allowing me space in the house to do it.

Due to my Dad’s interest, trains and model railways were an integral part of my growing up, and once I bought my own house I always intended to build my own. Well it has taken nearly ten years to get started. There has always been some sort of obstacle, first and foremost being space. The traditional place where men have built their model railways has been in the loft. The first house I grew up in had the ideal loft space: high, long and due to being of traditional purlin construction relatively unobstructed. It was in a detached house and therefore reasonably well ventilated. My Dad’s model railway layout was huge, literally the stuff of childhood dreams. It had at least four stations, two levels, a large engine shed with turntable and seemingly miles of track. It allowed non-stop running and almost endless possibilities for shunting.

Unfortunately when I was eight we had to move house, and space for the layout was not the only consideration in the choice of new one. While the new house was much larger in terms of floor space, the roof was a trussed rafter affair with a very low pitch, rendering it useless for the purposes of a model railway. Of course the house did have other benefits, the garden was a quarter of an acre, and my childhood memories are full of long summer afternoons and evenings playing football, cricket and pitch and putt golf. The model railway was more modest than what we had been used to, Mum And Dad having given up nearly half of their bedroom to accommodate it. It still had a four track main line, that split onto two levels and roundhouse but just one main line station, and could only accommodate less than a quarter of a rolling stock collection that was continuously growing. The layout has undergone various revisions over the years as my younger brother Matt and I practiced our model-making skills, but has recently shrunk again after it had to be dismantled and rebuilt so the bedroom carpet could be replaced.

So when it came to building my own layout I always had high hopes in terms of size and operational complexity. The original plan was to put it in the loft, but my house is a Victorian terrace, where the loft ventilation is poor. It is freezing in the winter and like a sauna in the middle of summer. My dad will tell you that our old Loft layout suffered the same problems, but I also have less faith in the fabric of my roof and the structural integrity of the ceiling. There are also extra props bracing the purlins that obstruct the space. After the guest bedroom the final spare room would not accommodate the my grand schemes, and the basement is now full of bikes! This does not leave much space left, and Ania is insistent that I do something, however small  as an outlet for my latent creativity. You may by now have guessed that the new layout I am about to build is going to follow the general shrinking trend described above. So where do you think I am going to build my new layout? A corner of my own bedroom of course! So here it is, the space earmarked for my grand project.

Not even enough space for a single loop, let alone a full size station or engine shed! I am however going to finish this post on a high. This venture is being carefully planned to showcase my model-making skills, and I have not been idle for the past ten years. So here is an example of the quality of work I hope to be exhibiting on this post and on my layout over the next ten years! It is not quite finished but it is all scratch built by my own fair hand and not a plastic kit in sight.

Words do not come quickly, and it is getting late so I will leave the history and inspiration behind this model for another day!


August 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

Contrary to one of the comments in my previous post, while the novelty has not worn off, the entries will probably come thick and fast. There is already a lot to catch up on, and a lot of background to fill you in on.  So where to start? Firstly the name; it really should not have done, but not being able to think of a good name did delay me starting the blog. The Berlin Stadtbahn is the primary influence on the architectural setting of my planned model. Berlin and its railways have been a source of interest since I first visited on a family holiday nearly 30 years ago. You may notice that the current background wallpaper to this blog is a 1984 vintage BVG map published just after the BVG took over the running of the West-Berlin sections of the S-Bahn.

The tile is also a thinly veiled reference to the music of David Bowie, although the album Station To Station was written just before he took up residence in the city in 1976  where he wrote the Berlin Trilogy, Low, Heroes and Lodger. My Wife and I chose Heroes as the first dance at our wedding.

Hello World!

August 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

Sorry about the unoriginal title, as there must be a million other first posts by people only starting to find their internet voice. So where to start? A few months ago my wife gave me a sort of ultimatum. I say sort of because there were no real consequences of failing to meet it. She told me that by the end of June she wanted me to start building my model railway! You know you are a lucky man when your wife not only allows you time to pursue your passion, but actively encourages it.

Inspired by my brother who started his blog right here on WordPress to document his attempt to take a photograph everyday for a year, I decided maybe I should get with the zeitgeist and start one too. So the primary objective is to document the progress of my model railway, and as this may not always be very fast so don’t expect too many posts. My model-making is not only a vehicle for may passion for trains, but also the outlet for the frustrated architect inside me, so I am not going to confine myself to just to the practicalities of the construction, but hopefully use this blog to explore the inspiration behind it.

You may have noticed that it is now August. So did I mange to start in time? Well not quite. Ania (my wife), underestimated the complexity of the task in hand, and the fact that I live by the maxim that ‘if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing properly.’ So the bit of chipboard shelf, that had come out of an old wardrobe and has been lying round in the garage that she though I might use, was not going to be up to the job, and it was in fact going to be slightly more complicated than just making a table out of it and placing a few models on it. This was going to take careful planning and research. Progress has been made, but more than I have time to write about now, so you will have to wait!

Where Am I?

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