So, back to ballasting.

I’ve established that sand makes passable ballast in my strange scale of 1:55, and putting black paint in the glue so it comes out grey makes it the right colour.

It would have been better to work this out at the beginning of the ballasting, not halfway through, but I had to paint the track and ballast together because it was the best way to hide the inappropriately underscaled track I was using.

I wasn’t that sure how to do this bit. Asking online brought lots of advice, some of it contradicting other advice, so in the end I sprayed the whole lot with primer and cleaned the rail tops with cleaning spirits.

The trains worked afterwards. This made me very happy, although that may have been that I’d forgotten to open a window when spraying.

The next day Eldest Son and I washed grubby grey-black acrylic over the primer, and spent three times as long cleaning up the resulting mess, then wiped the railhead down with thinners again.
I am a natural pessimist. So I fully expected it when the train stopped suddenly on some points. After some determined digging and scraping with a steel rule the trains ran smoothly for a couple of hours while we worked on other bits and pieces, stopping occasionally to change the points.


I may decide to change the colour in a couple of places, but as this is what I was aiming to do by the end of the holidays, I’m pretty happy. The layout is now safe in our cellar waiting for me to get myself into gear and make some kind of box to cover it.

In the meantime, I’ll work on smaller bits and pieces. More on that next week…

Field trip.

Model making is slowing, as I’ve started work at my training placement, a workshop that takes people with light to medium level disabilities leaving school and help them adjust to a work environment, and run all kinds of education projects alongside. I get to spend all day doing creative stuff that helps people: it’s a bit like being a kid in a sweet shop.

So to give me a time to develop a couple of projects on Wörnritzhausen, I’m taking you on a ‘field trip’ today.

I’ve long been an admirer of Ted Polet’s Craigcorrie and Dunalistair Railway, and I recently contacted him on the NGRM forum asking if he had any videos of his diesel fleet, whereupon he very kindly dug up a film he’d made several years ago and put it on-line. He claims the quality ‘is not so great’ but it is still far better than anything I’ve ever managed.

Still, it gives me something to aim for.

Back to my own bodging next week…

Making a mess…

I notice I’ve used this title before, but arguably I could use it for most of my blog posts, and it would still be correct.

So, ballasting. The goal for the end of the summer holidays was that we have the track wired, ballasted, weathered, and still preferably capable of running trains, as this is meant to be a model railway and not a diorama.

Most people ballasting track will tell you that the way to go is to put the ‘ballast’ where you want it, then flood the loose material with a mix of PVA glue, water, and a couple of drops of washing up liquid. For some reason I’d never quite believed that this worked, and I’d always put glue down neat on the board and laid the track afterwards.

Unfortunately this causes all kinds of problems, so I decided to take a chance that several thousand model makers knew something I didn’t.

For the ballast itself, I used sand, taken from a local playground and sieved carefully to get it to a vaguely uniform size and remove the dead mice. Sand seems to look about right for 1:55, and besides the local model shop wanted about seven euros for pretty small bags of 1:87 scale ballast that wasn’t the right colour anyway. You can get it cheaper online but postage was pretty high, and I’m not about to get someone to post me a bag of rocks. I mean, come on.

So armed with a jam jar full of sand, and the mother of all syringes, we began work:


I put the sand down. worried at it for a ridiculous amount of time with a brush, and then one of the boys gingerly pushed a wagon over it. The Wagon didn’t fall of the track.

I tried to look like I’d expected this.


Out came the syringe. We started with the siding, on the basis that this could be more easily replaced. Of course it was only after we’d finished this that I remembered to put black paint in the glue, which made the sand grey and gave a very nice representation of grey ballast. unfortunately this wasn’t much help as we were now committed to painting both track and ballast together, but I’ll remember this for the Körschtalbahn.

We left the track a soggy mess, and I put off a test run for a couple of days. Eventually I tentatively placed the locomotive on the track and turned the dial on the controller. It didn’t move.

Then I remembered to plug the controller in. The loco leapt forward. and juddered its way around the circle. Success was ours. Tea and medals all round.

Now all we had to do was paint the track…

Planning committee

Last month we found a village a few kilometres away that isn’t there any more. There’s a reference on an old map, but no evidence except a mill that shares the name. No-one even knows where the village was supposed to be: a place where several generations lived, had children, and died, seems to have vanished without trace.

Or maybe a map maker got bored.

Either way, I’m taking the name, so  welcome to Wörnitzhausen, population one. And he isn’t very talkative.

As you can see, the planning committee has been to visit.


The challenge is to make this flat bit of cork into a convincing german village with railway accessories, and incidentally hide the fact it’s a circle of out of scale track. To start with I needed to get a feel for how big a building is, and in 1:55 scale you can’t exactly go out and get a ready to plonk building.

Further along from the alleged site of Wörnitshausen We passed this farm, now surrounded by foul and ugly buildings:

I’m quite aware that this isn’t the best picture, but I only had my little ‘point and hope’ camera with me and I was struggling to keep up with the Elder Son as it was.

German doors are usually two metres tall, and I took that as my starting point and worked out the rest by eye, then Youngest Son and I cut up some paper to make the version in the top picture. I don’t intend to use this as a design for the layout, just to see how big a ‘typical’ farmhouse would be.

The scenic break will be a city gate. Because I like city gates.

Baeckertor_Landsberg-2(Image source: Wikipedia)

This is the Bäckertor or ‘Bakers gate’ in Landsberg am Lech in Bavaria, which was once our local big town. I’ll make my own version but it shows that city gates can be fairly small. I’ve occasionally come across villages near here which have the remains of a wall so I don’t think it will look out of place.

The paper model to the right of my gate is supposed to be a garage, repurposed as a maintenance shed for the railway. I’ll need to work on that one; I wanted something modern and unsympathetic to its surroundings, but you can have too much ugly.

I’ve had a few more ideas since then, but first I needed to get the track ballasted and painted, a job I was frankly terrified of, but I manned up and went to the local chemist to get a syringe to put the glue down with. I did ask for the biggest one they had, but I wasn’t quite expecting this.


I’ve used something similar, but only administering medicines to farm animals.

If you know what sort of human ailments require such a thing for treatment, please keep it to yourself…

Having spent a ridiculous amount of time soldering up bits of wire,I finally had a chance to run some trains on the ‘Kreisbahn’. Of course, being me I’d not used it for five minutes when I decided some things could be improved.

The first thing which irritated me was that I couldn’t put a locomotive in the bottom part of the loop (shown with the red arrow below) and still have another locomotive run into the siding.


While I was deciding if I could be bothered to do anything about this, one of the wagons started to drop of the rails with annoying regularity. Closer inspection revealed this:


Every time the train went around that sharp curve as the track ran onto the ‘viaduct’ the loco coupling yanked it off the rails.

This is not something I wish to encourage.

The simplest answer to this, I was assured by some helpful people who actually know that they’re doing, was to replace the track on the ‘viaduct’ with a longer piece, and while I was at it to move two of the insulating joiners over to the end of the points to the siding.

I dithered about the insulating section because I could see it was going to be a royal pain in the backside to persuade that bit of track to go where it was told, and also because I’d lost the insulating rail joiners, so if the ones on the track broke I’d have no model railway.

On the other hand. I knew this would annoy me whenever I ran the railway, and I found a spare set of rail joiners. So I got myself into gear and got on with it.

Old track removed, I then managed to pointlessly solder a wire in the wrong place and nearly wreck the points, then nearly wreck them again trying to get the wire off again.

Then I discovered my ‘spare’ rail joiners were the wrong size.

A word about plastic rail joiners: don’t use them on a slightly off-grey surface unless you want to spend five minutes looking for the things every time you put them down.

Eventually I managed to get them to stay in place for long enough to join the track, and went to subdue the other end

The ‘viaduct’ was like a dream in comparison.


The revised track plan, with a couple of other awkward kinks straightened out.

The wagon that came off the track before and started this process now throws a wobbly somewhere else, but that is one of those things that has to be, and an example of the unfairness of the universe.

And now back to the job I was trying to avoid by gallivanting around the countryside: wiring and point control.

Finally I trudged back to the workshop made a start on the test version.


It didn’t work very well: the brass rod bent and wobbled and generally felt thoroughly sloppy. It also tried to fall out of the useful little hole in the points and had to be held up with plasticard.

Slightly dodgy point rodding was only matched by completely awful electrics. The controller threw a fit as soon as I turned it on, and after trying several methods starting from “Look at all the wires in turn to try and find a fault” through to “Stamp around kicking the workbench”, I contemplated placing a notice in the 1:55 society magazine: “Model railway, half built, free to good home.”

Eventually I did what I should have done at first, and rewired the points with colour coded wire. I’d also spent a few moments between kicks actually thinking about how to improve things, and made the second version of the point rodding.

If you have perfect eyeesight (or elnarge the picture) you’ll notice the thin wire goes through a slightly larger tube. The breakthrough came when my remaining brain cells realised this didn’t have to be held down, but could move with the thinner wire. The only problem is when you bend the thin wire then realise you need to put the tube on, and try to straighten it and then force the tube over. This only works with much swearing.

Much better to put the tube on first, working backwards from the ‘L’ shaped hook to the omega and the next hook for the switch.

The third set of points required a bit more thought because I’d completely neglected to plan ahead, As usual.

Two pieces of scrap beechwood saved the day. I clamped them heavily and left them to dry overnight.


You shouldn’t glue wood like this, so I’m going to pretend it isn’t there. Still it works: the points change, the train moves, so far nothing has blown up.


On the farm

This is frankly a morale boosting exercise as much as anything.

I’m working on point control for the ‘Kreisbahn’, and although my soldering is improving slowly it still isn’t pretty. I don’t think electronics will become my favourite part of making a model railway. I also reckon a quantum physicist would have something to say about the goings on in some parts of the circuitry.

So to keep myself motivated, I had a look around for some prototype buildings I could model. With the murderous curves on the line, I wasn’t sure what to put in the ‘village’ side of the layout, as I hadn’t seen many curved buildings in villages. There is no shortage of them in cities where buildings tend to be tightly packed together and follow the line of the street, but I needed rural buildings, like farms.

This week The Elder Son and I went for a moderately epic bike ride up a valley we can see from our apartment to a village called Gutenberg. We turned around there because it is the last village before the road climbs  up into the hills, and I’m far to lazy to indulge in any of that climbing nonsense.


It occurred to me that Gutenberg is pretty well the sort of village that our railway would serve, so I confused the locals for a bit by wandering about taking pictures of vaguely interesting buildings.

After a couple of minutes of random wandering I came across this farm, squeezed into a curved patch of land between the river and a largish open space which probably was once a gathering point for more attractive vehicles than overdone compact cars.


Imagine a small narrow gauge railway running along the front of the building, with a loop and a siding, an you’ve pretty well got what I’m aiming for. It will need a fair bit of squeezing into the gap, of course, but I’ll work on that as I need to.

The half-wooden shed was interesting too. It was clearly home-made, but whoever built it clearly invested a lot of time and effort into making it neat and tidy. A low-relief version could well become a small industry or locomotive shed.

On the way we passed several station buildings that would be perfect for the Körschtalbahn and which I’ll write about in due course.

You’re excited, I can tell.