Monday, 8 May 2017

Not Model Railway Related: Play Rock Paper Scissors Online (Just for fun!)

Okay, so this isn't related to model rail, but I thought that some of you -- you know who you are -- would appreciate it!

Turns out there's a new server where you can play rock paper scissors online against the computer. They're doing fun things like tracking the success of humans against the machine, and there's a kind of rock paper scissors FAQ, too.

Talking with the creator, there's also some plans in the works to try and see if player vs player would be popular, and if the computer can be made smarter, and increase its win ratio.

At the moment, there's a pretty even split between Humans winning, the Server winning, and a healthy number of draws!

So, to get involved, head on over to the RoPaSc site and play a few rounds...

Monday, 30 January 2017

OO Gauge Fiddle Yard Plans

Whether your model rail layout lives at home, goes on the road, or is an exhibition piece, fiddle yards are a vital part of its design.

There are many variants on OO gauge fiddle yard plans, and a lot of possible pitfalls. This article aims to sum up the considerations, and give a few examples of fiddle yard designs to help you avoid mistakes and inspire your own designs.

What is a Fiddle Yard?

There are two kinds of fiddle yard: the scenic fiddle yard and the off-scene fiddle yard.

For small layouts, a scenic fiddle yard is often used; it is either part of the layout that is not being employed in the running scenario, or plays an active part. For example, carriage works can be an excellent place to store lots of wagons!

The problem with a scenic fiddle yard -- which is often seen as an advantage! -- is that it is always visible, and as such needs to look reasonably prototypical. The design is therefore pretty important, as besides modelling a real siding, the fiddle yard needs to get the most out of the space required. After all, it represents the rest of the railway network.

Off-scene fiddle yards take more space, but can usually hold a lot more stock because they can be designed with storage efficiency in mind, rather than prototypical appearance.

Effectively, they aren't part of the layout itself, and as such also do not usually need to be ballasted, or otherwise decorated. However, you need to remember that they have to be accessible, and automated as far as possible to prevent them becoming more time-consuming than is absolutely necessary. So, for example, there's no point thinking about the lack of realism in using uncoupling ramps: nobody will see them anyway, so use the most reliable, speedy and appropriate uncoupling method that is available.

Fiddle Yard Mistakes

The first mistake I made was in forgetting that although my own layout is an oval, the sidings have created a situation known as 'facing sidings' and I failed to provide a run-around facility when installing the scenic fiddle yard.

This means that once wagons are shunted into a siding, they can only ever be pulled out, which then traps the locomotive at the other end, as there is no way for it to uncouple, run around the train, and push into the opposite sidings.

My advice: always provide a run-around if your fiddle yard creates facing sidings.

The next mistake I came across recently at a show, where there was a very deep fiddle yard (some 10 lanes), and the last lane was up against a wall.

This meant that when the inevitable happened, and the carriages jumped the points at the far side, it was next to impossible to reach across to fiddle the train back onto the tracks!

So, my advice: don't go for deep fiddle yards, make them long, and segmented with switchback arrangements instead.

Finally, I have an issue with track spacing in my fiddle yards; again because I wanted to get as much rolling stock in as possible.

My advice is to stick with 'standard' track spacing, because even if you use express points (the longer ones), there is always the risk of collisions in a small space designed for high frequency shunting and fully loaded sidings that run right up to the mouth of the points.

How to Make a Fiddle Yard?

Usually, fiddle yards are created with lengths of track (I tend to use offcuts, but these can be unreliable) and points that give access to an entirely symmetrical and hence fairly unrealistic collection of 'lanes' containing rolling stock.

In many cases, it bolts on to the scenic section of the layout. Access can be hidden behind buildings, or through tunnels, to disguise the fact that the 'rest of the railway network' is just a storage and retrieval system for carriages, wagons and locomotives!

If you are really pushed for space, then this article on Fiddle Yards for Small Spaces also looks at sector plates and traversers as a way to reduce the space required.

For those unfamiliar with the concepts, a sector plate is just a reduced turntable with a pivoting track that gives access to difefrent 'lanes', whereas a traverser involves sliding a piece of track either horizontally or vertically to give access to 'cassettes' containing rolling stock.

Making fiddle yard cassettes yourself is a time-consuming process, but the Nelevation Nelevator product provides an expensive, if extremely elegant solution.

There's also only really one book on the subject: the excellent 'Designing and Building Fiddle Yards' by Richard Bardsley, which is available as a paperback and Kindle book.

For further insights into fiddle yard design, model rail enthusiast, and writer,n Stephen Chapman has a page all about fiddle yard plans.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

All About the Model Railway Village Magazine

I came across this magazine under a different name originally, on the continent. The UK and ROI version - Your Model Railway Village - is published under the Hachette Partworks banner, and promises to deliver an interesting layout over a number of issues.

The exact number isn't mentioned on the official web site, however a number of review and fan sites, such as mention that it will run to over 100 issues! That puts the price somewhere around the 900 GBP mark; expensive by anyone's standards!

So, what do you get for your money?

Your Model Railway Village Magazine

The magazine that comes with the various bits and pieces that go to making the layout qualifies as 'light reading'. It also includes the instructions for building the layout, and is accompanied by 4 quarters of the track plan.

To give Hachette credit, they've done a reasonable job of reducing the complexity of the hobby into bite sized chunks of history and technique. It's thin on details, but this is a consumer magazine rather than a specialist publication so that is to be expected.

One thing that isn't included with the magazine is the actual train, or power for the rails or lights. These are part of the special reader offer that requires collection of tokens in the magazine, as well as a fairly substantial payment.

Part of that payment is to buy the locomotive, but I'm fairly sure we can do at last as well as the reader offer by buying elsewhere.

Your Model Railway Village Locomotive

Being set in the 1960s, Hachette have chosen to focus on British Rail Maroon Mk 1 carriages, pulled along by a 'Junty'. This is an 0-6-0 steam engine, and the one presented as part of the special reader offer (see below) comes from Bachmann.

Given the quality of the rolling stock, the Bachmann locomotive that they suggest is possibly overkill. 

A good alternative to the Bachmann locomotive would be the Hornby Railroad GWR Freight Pack, which comes with a GWR Jinty, and an open wagon, box van and brake. Okay, it's the wrong era, and in a jaunty green, but it's half the price of the Bachmann suggested.

Amazon has the Bachmann model listed at around 75 GBP, and Hachette are offering it for 69 GBP, so there's a slight saving to be had. But what of the other special offer items?

Your Model Railway Village Special Offers

The Special Offer comes in three parts:
  • Bachmann Jinty 3F 0-6-0 Fowler Class locomotive (analogue) @ 69.99 GBP
  • Electrical kit for track & lights @ 39.99
  • Cork underlay @ 14.99 (or free to subscribers)
The engine, we've covered above. The electrical kit is a controller that can also supply accessory power, and comes with adequate cabling for connection to the track, and presumably lights, too.

Hornby manufacture controllers for around 20 GBP, which mounts to 35 GBP when you include the power supply. And Gaugemaster also do a combination for 39 GBP, which, at the same price point, represents better value for money. Gaugemaster kit is renowned for being solid and hard-wearing.

So, the special offers represent value, but for anyone who believes that the train, controller, and cork is an integral part of the magazine collection (which costs well over 900 GBP, don't forget) it's going to be a painful hit.

All in all, it's a good concept, and so far the execution represents value for money. In a future article, we'll look at the model buildings that will make up the 'village' in Your Model Railway Village.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

What is the Space Needed for OO Gauge Layouts?

This is a question that I always get asked by people who are either new to the hobby, or who are more used to smaller (or even bigger) layouts. The short answer is that it depends on what kind of layout you would like to operate.

My brother in law asked me recently why I didn't have a continuous running layout in my attic, and I replied that I preferred shunting operations. I have the space, but not the inclination.

So, how much space is needed. According to measurements taken from this Hornby track geometry guide, it is possible to get an oval based on first radius curves into a 4x3 foot space. However, this doesn't allow for much of a safety net for falling locos, and if you're planning on putting it under a bed, in a box, then you may find you have trouble with overhanging rolling stock going round the tight corners.

A better size is probably 4x5 feet. This will allow you to use second radius curves, and still have a decent margin around the edge of the baseboard.

Beyond this, those with whole rooms to play with get to play with double ovals, third radius and above curves, and so on.

On the shunting side, shelf layouts (see What's the Ideal Shelf Layout Size) are popular in OO gauge, as they can be transportable and extendable, and don't take up too much space. Even with only 30-40 cm to play with, a decent scenario can be modeled, complete with stations, wayside stops, and industrial areas.

So, there's no simple answer to the question of space, but hopefully these hints have given you a few areas to explore, and discover what would be, for you, the ideal size of layout.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Review : Scalescenes Coaling Stage (R026) - Comparison with Metcalfe, Hornby and Ratio.

The new Scalescenes Coaling Stage wasn't what I expected when I received the advance email showing the design. I was expecting something far less grand and complete at the sub-5 GBP price point.

The detail is as accurate as we've come to expect from Scalescenes, both inside and out, and is suitably grimy in the right places. It could have benefited from a more weathered look, but that is easily applied with a wash-n-fix with appropriate products.

Of course, it can be printed as OO or N, and comes in several brick finishes.

As is becoming more frequent with these kits, there are also etched windows available from Brassworks, which add to the price, but can make all the difference, especially if, like me, you're a bit clumsy cutting out the window frames!

A final note - for all of you building modern image layouts, and who want to include a deserted, dilapidated, almost ruined coaling stage, this would be an excellent starting point. With the addition of a few boarded up windows, removal of the staircase, and some weeds to add texture, it could be made to look thoroughly tumble-down.

So, either as an in-use, or an ex-use coaling stage, this is a good model; as usual you need to have the patience to either layer up cereal box card, or buy thick card (thereby increasing the price), but the advantages are in the quality, appearance, and size of this kit.

There are alternatives, from Metcalfe, Ratio, Hornby, and Scenecraft, among others, but they just don't look as good.

For example, this is the Metcalfe coaling stage.

It is less complete, and looks a bit basic next to the Scalescenes model pictured above. However, if you don't have a decent printer, and want something pre-printed with the correct colors, and which will also probably be the same coloring as other Metcalfe kits already on your layout, it's a good alternative.

On the plastic kit side, and for those who have a smaller layout, with less available space, Ratio's coaling stage looks realistic.

I'm not sure exactly which era it fits into, but the lack of a building would suggest a reasonably early timescale.

On a similar note, and for those who like red-brick, Hornby also have a reduced size coaling stage, pictured below.

Again, it's basic, but realistic enough to include on most layouts, provided that it is suitably weathered and filled with a coal look-alike to add realism.

All of the products featured here can be found by a simple search on Amazon, or a similar search on eBay.

The eBay product list contains pictures taken by real people of the products on their layouts, which are often a good way to see how they might actually look, so I'd recommend starting there, even if you return to Amazon to buy the actual product.

As always you can use the comment feature to start a conversation with other readers, or simply use the feedback form to email me your thoughts.