Completing some odd jobs!

Over the weekend I completed three tasks which have occupied the back of my mind for many weeks! The big one, which did not actually take very long, was properly mounting the control panel on a permanent bracket in front of the layout: the panel itself needs to be removable for exhibition purposes, and when I get round to making legs and fiddle yard in order to exhibit the layout then I shall have to find a way of mounting it on the baseboard, but there is no hurry to do that.

The other two jobs were painting tasks. I had already painted “rust” on the sides of the rails in the platform area but still had the approach tracks and the sidings to do; one snag of working in metre gauge is that the rails are rather small and painting is fiddly, especially with overhead wires in place. Mental note made to paint the sides of the rails during track laying in future! The other task was to do something about the backs of the signals, which show almost as much light from the signal lamps as do the fronts! I had experimented with applying a lot of black paint to the backs of two of them and this was largely successful and needed to be extended to the rest of the signals. Real Swiss signals are grey on the back and so I then needed to apply a decorative coat of grey. Working colour-light signals are always going to be a compromise and the backs especially so, with overscale wiring, overscale light fittings and sturdier fixings to the post, but at least if painted the correct colour they will not draw too much attention to the compromise, and now that the aspects do not show from the rear I am much happier with them.

And now to the application of more snow, a backscene, and the station platform canopies … then the construction of the baseboards for the next section of the layout, so that my trains actually have somewhere to go!

Smooth Running of Trains

Electronic Track Cleaning

I have now installed a Gaugemaster electronic track cleaner within the control panel of the Innsdorf layout, described in my latest video. Hopefully this, along with the use of live-fog points and careful laying of track, will keep my trains running sweetly. I’ll let you know in a year or two!

Taking the OHLE Over the Baseboard Join

A real problem with portable layouts, as Innsdorf station section is intended to be, is how you deal with joins in the baseboards. I never link the running rails over joins but simply align them very carefully when laying the track and then butt them up whenever the layout is erected – so far I have had no problems. Occasionally temperature or humidity may cause shift outside the tolerance of the small wheels in HOm gauge, but very slight levering with a terminal screwdriver fixes within seconds.

Hiding the scenic gap is more of a challenge: the usual line of hedging looking a bit obvious. At Innsdorf the gap is in town and passes between buildings, but it is hard to hide where it crosses an access road – I just have to hope that here is enough interest in the vicinity to take the eye away from the line across the road.

The biggest issue with this layout was the overhead line equipment: just how would I take the overhead wires across the gap and still allow the pantographs of the trains to follow them? I decided straight away that a gantry would have to be placed immediately beside the baseboard join on one board: the catenary and the conductor wire on that side were soldered into place on the insulator and the registration arm in the usual way according to Sommerfeldt’s instruction manual. On the other side I assembled the equipment in the usual way but left the catenary a millimetre over length so that it can be curved ever so slightly and popped into the insulator eye without being soldered, and the conductor, which normally hooks under the registration arm and is then soldered, was just left hooked and not soldered. Careful placing is required, but it does work and when properly set up there is no problem taking electric trains across the baseboard join.


When I set up the cableway system and few weeks ago I noticed that some of the cars had been built wrongly (it was second-hand) and the step was on the wrong side. Not only was this unrealistic (although it took me weeks to notice it, so I doubt anyone else would have!) but it interfered with the smooth running of the system as the step caught the gear at either end, so I had to correct it.

The pylon on top of each car is moulded in one piece with the roof, so the task was to remove the roof, rotate through a semi-circle and fix back on – but this took time and care as the roofs were well-fixed down with a plastic solvent. I got there in the end, and although the roofs do show some scars from the conflict this will not be too obvious once they have their covering of snow! While the roofs were off I took the opportunity to add more passengers together with skis etc to the cars that had been modified, so the cableway no longer has just one passenger per car without luggage.

Starting to Detail the Station; Building a Swiss Barn from a Kibri Kit

The only remaining “big” project on the scenic section of the portable layout is the backscene, and I shall be tackling that soon. But meanwhile there are many small tasks to undertake to bring the layout up to a good standard, and the most urgent of these is to detail the station platforms because once I put the canopies in place over the platforms the detailing would be much harder to do. Today’s video deals with some of these, ad the making of a building kit just by way of a change!

Making this video and viewing it has shown me that there are some important little things which still need attention before the canopies are placed over the station platforms, notably the gaps here and there between the building and the platform (what you get when buying a made-up kit which relies on others’ skills!) and a crooked sign for the Kkiosk (what you get when trying to position it with forceps under overhead wires). And, of course, I still have to lay snow on the track and the open sections of the platforms … Watch this space!

Lighting the Village (2)

Do enjoy the video, and if you watch it on YouTube please subscribe to my channel and give it a thumbs-up!

Although I wanted the building interiors to be lit at all times to bring the place to “life”, I felt it would be wrong to have the street lights on all day as well, so I wanted to put these on a switched lighting circuit. My original intention had been to wire up the seilbahn in such a way that when it was switched on and the street lighting was also switched on then the exterior lighting at the seilbahn stations would also be on, but unfortunately I had run out of pins on the multipin plug for the second baseboard, so all the seilbahn lighting has to be on when it is operating. One cannot have everything.

The LEDs fitted in the Kyte’s Lights street lamps were of two types, a bright white 3 volt LED in the main road lights and a warmer, yellower 6 volt one in the concrete-style lights that I used in the pedestrian and back-street areas. I had to be careful to ensure that the correct resistor was used for each lamp standard, with none being required at all for the building lights which had a resistor built-in. Combined with the need to ensure that the LEDs were wired the correct way round, being diodes, the project was fraught with the possibility of errors! Having accidentally subjected some LEDs to the full 12-volt supply when connecting the seilbahn I was especially careful this time, for they are very unforgiving.

In order to work comfortably on the under-board connections I placed the village baseboard on its side on my workbench, as I had the other board when connecting the seilbahn last time. The wire tails on the street lights, and on the building interior lights, were extremely thin and fiddly and needed to be somewhere I could easily see and reach. While I had this part of the layout on the bench I undertook some other work, including adding more of the “dusting” of snow. I added a few more people and began planning where the vehicles would eventually stand – but I need to put some people inside the buses before I fix those – perhaps a future subject for another video!

Lighting the Village (1)

Whether or not to add lighting to a model is a difficult matter. Lighting definitely adds “life” to models but can give some odd effects: for example, because I am using traditional DC control it is not a simple matter to light the carriages of my trains (although battery systems do exist, at a price, and I may consider these eventually), so true night-time operation will not look right. But the layout is supposed to be in winter and shops etc will be lit, and I have acquired LED lighting equipment which I am beginning to install now. This video shows progress so far. More in a couple of weeks or so!

Building the Village

Innsdorf is intended to represent a typical resort village in the Engadin valley early in the winter sport season. There is a “dusting” of snow in the village, but skiing is taking place up on the surrounding mountain slopes. I wanted to create the sort of busy scene that a visitor would see in such a village, the sort of thing I have so often seen when arriving at Alpine villages not just in this valley but elsewhere in southern Switzerland.

This is the story of the first five shops: a supermarket and two blocks of local shops. There are more to come, and the post office is already under construction, too.

While I was making these three buildings I ordered online some lighting equipment both to light the interiors of the buildings and for street lighting. A future post will deal with these. People and vehicles are also important to the atmosphere of the resort village, and these will be covered in another future post

Signalling Innsdorf Station

Swiss signalling is very distinctive and I had no idea (a) how it should work or (b) where I could buy the signals (or parts to make them). I searched on the World Wide Web for Swiss railway signalling and found some very comprehensive information, including a very helpful article on Wikipedia which I have printed out and filed. I also searched on eBay and found two or three people selling small quantities of new and used Swiss signals by Schneider, a German manufacturer, and I saved a search for Schneider HO Swiss signals so that I might in due course obtain the ones I needed. I could not find a dealer in the UK who had them in stock, and as usual eBay became the source of what I would need for the Alpine layout.

installing and wiring the signals

The signals would need a 12v DC supply and so I took the opportunity while wiring the signals to provide the power I would also need for the aerial cableway which I had already installed and for lighting of buildings, streets etc which was planned for later. I had included a switch for the cableway on the control panel and now it could be connected to the motor and the cable cars would come to life. I need to install more resistance in the circuit, though, as it still ruins faster than I’d like (and noisier!).

Installation of lighting will take place soon in parallel with the building of the village. That, and the carpentry involved in providing a “fiddle yard” so that this first section of the layout can be used, will bring first phase completion to Innsdorf and I can turn my attention to devising a suitable running programme and hopefully preparing the layout to be exhibited once we are able to hold model railway exhibitions once more.

The Pre-planning Fact-finding Tour

Before I could do much in the way of planning my Alpine layout I really needed to visit Switzerland specifically to look at its railways. While I had visited a few times, always by rail, I had not really looked at the railways themselves very much with a view to building a model. Although I had been building model railways all my life, they had always been based in England, where I have always lived, and the way they work has been second nature.

I had decided to base my layout on the Rhätische Bahn because that was not a cog railway and therefore had the most interesting spirals, tunnels and bridges in order to cope with the mountains, and so a stay in the Engadin Valley, near the towns whose stations I thought might make the basis of an interesting model, seemed like a good idea, and our tour manager on last summer’s holiday in Grindelwald suggested Samedan. Today’s video is the story of this research for Innsdorf Modellbahn.

Short visit to the Engadin, Graubunden Canton, Switzerland, to research for the model railway

If you would like to read more about the trip, then it is described fully in my rail adventures weblog, The club whose layout is shown at the local museum in Bergün is the Albula Bahn Club.

Scenery: the village and the mountain

To some extent the scenery has been progressing along with the construction of the railway. I have been acquiring buildings, vehicles, trees, people and scenic materials of various types while I have been buying the track and trains etc., and some of the scenery has to be built as the railway is built: the station building determines the platform height, and some electrification masts are planted on its platform; the tunnel mouths need to be in place for the electrification system as well, and they in turn need the basis of the mountainside to be in place. But work cannot really start in earnest on the scenery until the track in fixed and wired and tested, although building kits and buildings made from scratch can be put together on the workbench when a change of task is required or desired.

Die Post signs downloaded from the web, stuck to the Playcraft office block kit to make Innsdorf Post Office

A couple of weeks ago I experimented with putting some light snow on some of my road vehicles to suggest that they had come through snowy weather on the mountain passes before arriving in Innsdorf village where there had been only a “light dusting” of snow. I am using baby powder for the light snow covering in the village, a technique I learnt from another modeller at an exhibition a couple of years ago. The snow is kept in place with hairspray – the only use I’ve had for that since the 1970s …

For the more plenteous snow on the mountain I am using a winter starter pack from Woodland Scenics (purchased at a recent exhibition) which also includes material for making icicles. Its snow effect actually sparkles a little, just as snow should, and is far more effective for anything other than the light dusting of the village. I am not attempting on this part of the layout to create the 2 or 3 metre depths I have seen in the Swiss Alps, but may have a crack at it on the next section (which will probably not be portable) if it seems appropriate.

Overhead Line Equipment and the Seilbahn

All my previous layouts have used steam or diesel outline locomotives and trains, with just a touch of London Underground third-and-fourth rail electric. So the installation of overhead electrification equipment was quite a challenge. I don’t, or didn’t, know much about overhead electrification at all, and was unaware of the specifics of RhätischeBahn equipment, or even who might manufacture the components I would need. A friend lent me a magazine which recommended some publications which I acquired from Peco Publications, one of which in turn pointed me to Sommerfeldt OHLE and their manual, a 162-page illustrated book which I also bought. I was fortunate to acquire a large job-lot of Sommerfeldt kits and components on eBay. I had to bid a huge sum to make sure of winning it because the alternative of slowly collecting all that I might need was not attractive, but the eventual cost was not too bad for the amount of equipment I was able to buy all in one go. Quite a lot of the manual had English translations alongside the German text, but the diagrams tended to be labelled only in German – and I don’t even know much of the technical terminology in English anyway! Here is how it all went:

Installing the Sommerfeldt catenary system
Sommerfeldt’s own video showing how to install their catenary system!