It had been a year since I exhibited Fryers Lane (as a work in progress) at Scaleforum in 2015 when, in September 2016, I had the opportunity to exhibit the layout in a much more finished form at ExpoEM North.
Here is a brief recap of how the layout came about and a reflection on how various elemnts of it performed. I’ll start by saying that I’ve had a P4 itch to scratch for a while, I’d also been slowly building up a collection of air braked freight stock and a few locos to suit a late 80s setting. The Scalefour Society’s Standard Gauge Workbench provided the impetus to put these two things together in a layout that would be easily transported and not require too many operators.
As well as testing out my skills with the finer tolerances of P4, there were a number of things that I wanted to try out for future layouts and this seemed a reasonable place to try:
- Steel rail
- Servos driven turnout operation
- Foam track underlay
- Hex Frog Juicer to switch crossing polarities
- Cameo layout design on a single monocoque baseboard
- LED lighting (integrated into the board design)
I’ve found steel rail challenging at times, but in use, it is (so far) proving to be very reliable and require little cleaning. Yes, I did find soldering droppers to it to be a bit of a pain and yes, filing vees and switch blades takes a little longer, but on reflection I think I’ll be using it again in the future. Interesting quirk we noted on Sunday of ExpoEM North was that the nickel silver rail in the fiddle yard was filthy, enough to cause locos to stutter, whereas there were no such problems on the steel. I wondered if the different properties of the materials was somehow the cause of this? Easy enough to deal with though. The Frog Juicer works well but does have a slightly annoying tendency to arc for a split second when a wheel runs onto a vee of opposing polarity. For this reason, I’ll probably switch (pun intended) back to more conventional methods next time as I feel this visual impact negates any benefits derived from (slightly) simplified wiring.
The servos are great. Cheap, reasonably easy to set up and no issues. Definitely on the list to use again. Can’t say the same for the underlay. This was the black foam stuff from C&L. IMHO, it is too soft and has a bit too much give in it. Back to cork (or maybe thin ply or MDF next time I think).
The “cameo” baseboard has worked well; but the dimensions of this board are approaching the maximum practical size for a board that can be handled without assistance, particularly within the confines of a 200 year old cottage with its low ceilings. It’s on the heavy side too; although that may partly be down to my use of 12mm ply (because I had a spare sheet left over from another job). I might use something thinner (9mm ply?) for all but the board ends if I was doing it again. The lighting probably deserves a separate blog post, as it was quite a journey, but overall it’s working well.
So, what next? I don’t subscribe to the view that “a layout is never finished”. I think it’s important to aim to push your standards, but know when a particular project has gone as far as it can go. Fryers isn’t there yet, there is more scenic work to complete, namely to fill up the skyline along the back of the layout and to improve how hidden the exits to the fiddle yards are.
Beyond that there is (always) the tempting prospect of extending the layout. Another board at the right hand end would allow me to model the level crossing, the signal box and maybe even the goods shed (although that would be likely to be disused). On reflection, I think if I wanted to do that I’d be better starting again, with new baseboards of a different design as a longer layout would benefit from deeper baseboards. That would then start to take me away from the original aim
For various reasons, I’d slightly gone off the idea of exhibiting and was thinking my next project would be a home based layout, not intended for the exhibition circuit. However, exhibiting at ExpoEM North reminded that I do enjoy doing shows and of the advantages of small layouts which can travel in a car and only need one or two additional operators. One idea I have buzzing around in my head it to build alternative modules (of similar dimensions to Fryers) that utilise one or both of the existing fiddle yards, now I have some that actually work!