How the temptation of my trains ended up saving a lot of work and taught me two valuable lessons.
Tonight I had planned on sculpting some Polystyrene hills around an incline section of track. I enjoy making hills, spending a lot of time out photographing the real thing, making notes and looking at terrain maps and then recreating them in miniature. Carving polystyrene slopes, and valleys, laying mod-roc or clay over the top and generally making a mess. Paradise!
As of happens however temptation got the better of me and I decided to have a quick play with my trains.
I was happily running my Class 08 shunter around a section of sidings, moving wagons around, until I took it over some points and off down a side track. It stopped. Dead.
I picked it up, put it back on the other side of the points and tried again. Nothing. Hmmm.
After a bit of experimenting and testing with the ever-useful Train Tech track tester it became obvious this section of the track didn’t have power.
This was odd as the power should have crossed the points but for good measure, I would also have additional power connections at the start and end of each section of track. Even assuming the power wasn’t getting across from the main line there should have been two other feeds.
I crawled under the baseboard and checked the wiring.
Damn it. Somehow I’d missed this section and it there wasn’t any wiring to the track.
This wasn’t good news. The track was fixed in place and even worse ballasted.
Time for a chocolate digestive, tea and a rethink.
Looking at the layout it was obvious pulling up the track and soldering the connections was something I really didn’t want to consider.
Even worse, this strip of the track was directly over a lot of other wiring under the baseboard. Drilling holes through that would be challenging and more likely end up creating even more problems. (In retrospect that may have been why I missed the wiring in the first place and with all the other wires wouldn’t have been obvious I’d missed it).
Everything is better after chocolate
A bite of the McVities and the solution came to mind. Everything is better after chocolate.
This section of track will run into a shed. Even better, the shed will have lighting (see here for my beginner’s guide to LED wiring) and there was a hole through the baseboard at the end of the track to accommodate the lighting wiring (as seen in the photo above).
I could run track feeds through this hole and avoid going through the other wiring.
The ballast at the end could be scrapped clear, joiners with wires soldered to them slid onto the rail ends and the hole and mess caused by all this work would be hidden inside the shed.
A little while later the track joiners were mashed onto the ends of the rails (fitting joiners onto laid and ballasted track isn’t easy but thankfully I have a tool I made that makes this much easier) and my Class 08 was shunting up and down the siding and into the shed and the casual observer would never know the bodge that lies beneath.
If I hadn’t been waylaid by temptation I wouldn’t have spotted the unpowered section of track until later by which time building and more would have been positioned and it would have been a nightmare to fix.
What I learnt, lesson 1:
It’s always good to play with your trains!
Joking aside, running the trains frequently not only helps keep the rails clean it also allows you to regularly test and check rail connections and spot problems easier than you otherwise might.
In my case, a quick play saved me a huge amount of work later. It’s always worth playing with your trains!
What I learnt, lesson 2:
Learn how to hide problems and errors. If you make a mistake work around it, cover it up and disguise it. Don’t just leave it.
Having seen a lot of layouts, it’s the modellers who have learnt and do this that end up with glorious worlds in miniature and railways that capture the imagination. As someone once said, “award-winning modellers don’t make fewer mistakes than others, they just know how to cover them up better”.
Better yet, the more errors made the more experienced you’ll get in covering them up. Next time you make a mistake just remember: it’s not a mistake, you’re just improving your concealment skills 🙂
Now back to those hills…
Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.