As the saying goes, "The Driver drives the Guard's train on the Signalman's railway"
It is this concept that has governed our choice of operating methods and procedures. We don't want to decry those who choose to have computer controlled automatic model railways. It's just not for us.
Our model hopes to replicate the scene at South Pelaw and Stella Gill as it was in the 1950s and 60s. So our control methods for the scenic side of the layout is based on the signal box as it was then.
South Pelaw box had an 85 lever frame, with 6 spares. We have modelled all the turnouts and signals but have not catered for facing point locks nor detonator placers, (though those would liven up things at an exhibition!).
We have added to our panel some signals that would be controlled by our neighbours - slotted distants. And have included controls for turnouts that would have been operated by ground levers.
So our signal box controls 55 signals and 33 turnouts. The Stella Gill box controls including the signal bridge with it's 13 boards, are at present included in the fiddle yard operations but there are plans to make it a box in its own rights.
All the signals are capable of operation and the panel has interlocks based upon our understanding of the system but updated recently by the acquisition of details from the Ken Hoole Centre.
Drivers of trains (now using DCC) will have to observe and obey signals. SPADs will cost a round of drinks for the rest of the team! (orders taken on the back of a Form 1).
All signals have been hand made from etched parts and the usual metal materials, with a lot of scratch building to best replicate the originals. Here's one ready for painting which has a lower quadrant arm for the Down Main towards Ouston Junction and then Gateshead and an upper quadrant arm for crossing over onto the Down Branch to Tyne Dock.
The finished article can be seen in earlier postings on this blog.
Here we show the variety of what was there before rationalisation in the mid to late 60s. The signal on the left has the section signal towards Durham Turnpike and thence Tyne Dock with the slotted distant below it (just to confuse - not a slotted post). In between is a calling on arm for giving access to the crossover. Then on a little bracket to our left is a shunting signal (slotted post lower quadrant) for crossing over in the opposite direction.
The post on the right is the Home for trains going on the UP Main to Consett or across the junction to Stella Gill.
Away in the distance, in the right hand side cess is a diminutive slotted post shunting signal for crossing over at the junction. See next photo for better view.
This picture shows the tail end of a lengthy operation. Trains of 21 loaded wagons were split into rakes of 7 at South Pelaw for the gruelling climb to Consett. This phot shows the loco picking up his last 6 (would really be 7) from the goods sidings to then cross back onto the Up Branch to collect the brake van before setting off up the bank.
A closer shot shows that there are 8 signals in this view and the driver has the OK to proceed from the tiny rotating NE pattern shunt signal (Dusty Bin signal) at the foot of the small post.
The turnout that the loco is stood on is one of those that would not have been operated from the box but by the crew with a ground lever - as yet to be added to the model.
Only a few yards further on and we have a traditional NE slotted post shunting signal - with it's tiny friend on the far side of the tracks. This train will eventually join that main line towards Consett but has to go out onto the branch first - to at least pick up the brake van!
For an out of the way, work-a-day railway South Pelaw had some beautiful signals. This one featured as an ornate frame for several artistic photos taken by photographers of the real place.
Careful examination of the right hand abutment of the Pelton Lane bridge will reveal a meat skewer.
The next photo shows what re[placed it a few months later.
In it's hey-day this cantilever bracket must surely have been home to more signal dolls but sources fail to identify any.
The whole junction area, about half a mile long, was illuminated by gas lamps, the remains of one of which is in the foreground (a bit out of focus). Over the bridge you might just see the forest of signals awaiting the drivers concentration.
The driver has got the road (but I don't know where he is!).
The layout is about to go out on the exhibition circuit, but these two bracket signals have been all over already as part of demos for MERG and the EMGS.
The anonymous Q7 has now been numbered but the frames and motion are still to paint now that it has run in.
The junction nerve centre with its 85 levers is this modest building.
Talking of buildings, this row of railway cottages is nearing completion. The 'snow' on the roof may seem appropriate but it is just Plastkard, put in place for the purposes of this photo.
Can you imagine, being a signalman at South Pelaw, being able to see the mechanical parts of your job out of your front bedroom window?
As I say, not yet finished, there's the roof, drain pipes etc to add but look at the detail. Those doors and windows are not etches, they are painstakingly made from plastic strip and sheet. And the lace curtains -----!
Since the theme of this post is about signals, I have included this rather poor and old shot of the signal box panel. I know it should be levers rather than knobs and switches but you can take realism only so far.
Today's panel is a little simpler since we abandoned DC and the cab control method for DCC. (I can hear Jeers and cheers in equal proportions).
The turnouts and signals are operated by servos communicated via MERG's CBUS system.
Traditional control out on the front of the layout but the fiddle yard is controlled by a touch-screen with two panels . The fiddle yard, again, uses servos for turnout operation and CBUS as the communication means. However the touch screen is a JMRI PanelPro version.
These are not the most up-to-date pictures. The loco spur is no longer there on the blue panel (a long story) and the pink panel now has the touch icons for the signals on the Stella Gill Flatts gantry.
Once the panel is live, the question marks change to proper icons. To select a route the signalman presses the point of entry and the point of exit. and all the intermediate point-work changes to set up the route. There are precautions to prevent conflicting routes.
The system was not without it's teething problems, mainly caused by a lack of understanding of several aspects of setting the system up. It is workable but still something of a work in progress.
Well we need lots of operating practice and then the layout is invited to this year's Railex NE at North Shields on July28th & 29th for its maiden voyage. Following that to the Newcastle and District Exhibition on November 10th & 11th.
Thanks to the generosity of a property company in Middlesbrough, we have been able to erect the layout in a large office space for the last few months. This has enabled us to do a lot of snagging work as well as installing signals, working on the control systems, buildings, scenery etc. We have made good progress although there is plenty still to do (when isn't there?). A couple of weeks ago we held an open day and one of the guests was Tony Wright. He took some photos of the layout and has kindly agreed to let us share them online.
A suspiciously clean Q6 pulls a short freight up the hill towards Consett. Note the ex NER snowploughs in the siding - scratchbuilt by Pete with some inspiration from Worsdell Forever on RMweb.
An O1 waits on the Down Washington for another banking duty. This picture shows some of the progress in this area with 'Pete's bridge' bedded into the scenery and the NCB spoil tip created.
A 9F prepares to tackle the severe gradients on the Up Consett with a loaded iron ore train. Some newly installed signals are shown to advantage, with Martin's No 62/67 bracket signal on the left, controlling movements from the Down Consett towards Ouston Jn (left) or right towards Washington. No 62 (the left arm) is an ex NER slotted post lower quadrant, while no 67 (right) is an upper quadrant mounted on a wooden doll - I'm sure this kind of combination wouldn't be allowed nowadays. On the right we have Richard's superb lattice cantilever bracket with signals 85, 84, 79 and 78 controlling movements from Stella Gill roads No2 Outgoing, No 3 Outgoing and No 3 Incoming.
A busy scene at South Pelaw with a pair of 9Fs starting the hard work up the hill to South Medomsley Junction (where the bankers uncoupled, next to Eden Colliery) while an O1 hauls a set of empty iron ore hoppers en route to Tyne Dock. In Stella Gill No 1 Outgoing road, a Wilson Worsdell N9 shunts a loaded rake of mineral hoppers.
Another view of the O1, taken from the guards van of the train it is about to bank. The diminutive NER slotted post is No 9 signal, the outer home from the Washington direction. The arm is raised slightly into the upper quadrant - this is intentional (honest), as many lower quadrant signals suffered this complaint due to worn components.
A 9F stands outside South Pelaw box awaiting further instructions. Mark's labour of love on the signalbox continues, with the interior work complete he has turned his attention to completing the exterior. The ornate cast-iron brackets which supported the balcony are gradually being added - the product of a detailed drawing by Mark and laser cutting by York Modelmaking.
Just to show we do allow the odd diesel to appear, a Clayton plus brake tender emerges from Pelton Lane bridge with a mixed freight in tow.
Not really but we surveyed, measured and photographed this bridge before it was demolished and here it is reincarnated in model form.
Pete (Stephenson) Hill overlooks his masterpiece.
The Left hand span is bridge no 26 on the line from Tyne Dock. The right hand span is no 1 from Ouston Junction. The centre span has an identity crisis!
The present day cycleway goes now where the line to Tyne Dock went. (Hallowed ground?)
Scenic bedding in work still to complete.
The two buffer stops at the siding ends were like that in the 50s. Presumably the far one was a replacement for the original NER one after some rough treatment. These sidings were well used. Long coal trains were divided into three shorter rakes for Q6s and later K1s to take up the bank to Consett, 7 at a time.
The centre span is 3 inches lower than the right hand (in this view) and the left hand span is 12 inches lower than that. Strange but true. The bridge parapet had an unusual rolled top making it a modelling challenge. Most of the stonework is a faithful copy of the original, with each stone individually carved.
The demolition firm will no doubt have made a tidy packet out of selling all these stone blocks - cheaper than quarrying!
Here's the real thing. Mark is under the No1 span. The cycle way is under the far span.
Another structure underway, close to a bridge, is the former NCB store at Stella Gill Flatts. the shed still exists even if the NCB doesn't. It is now a wreck but here is the side face, on which, Phil is learning his building skills, under Mark's tutelage.
To keep the layout under the 40ft limit (you've got to stop somewhere) this model building is closer to the main line, on the other side of the building, than it was in reality. A decision has yet to be made as to what the other side of it will look like.
The new item here is the NE slotted post signal on the RHS of the picture. What we find puzzling is that the Northern division of the NER seemed to paint some of the ironwork black but some of it, like the balance arms and weights, white. They were repainted thus even when other parts of the national network painted iron work black. This post was substituted in the late 50s but we kept it 'cos we liked it.
Mark's signal box now contains a full lever frame, block instruments - the lot. But not easy to see from here.
We still have a number of signals to build - hence the meat skewers with labels on but here is one on the way. This is one of the brass posts that were milled for us by Vincent Worthinton on a demonstration stand at an Expo EM exhibition a couple of years ago. The only problem with them is they are quite difficult to solder to with their massive heat sink properties. But Phil is coping!
According to the destination blind, the bus is off to Norwich Thorpe Station - under the ownership of Eastern Counties bus co. However The United Omnibus Company operated similar vehicles, maintained in Darlington. That facility, like North Road Works - gone!
Recently I bought the new NERA book on North Eastern Signalling. I found out from that book that the NER didn't refer to these structures as signal gantries but signal bridges instead. So I've included this again under that pretext.
Bobbing back to Pete's bridge, here Phil is making up the scenic approaches on a wet and muddy track.
A lot of the progress with South Pelaw since our last
posting here has been unseen but nonetheless dramatic.
We had a problem with our turnout operating system. We
adopted an Iain Rice method favoured by some P4 modellers of having the point tie-bar
under the baseboard with droppers from the switch blade toes, all made to look
realistic with cosmetic tie bars above the baseboard. This meant making our own
point machines utilising servos. The outcome was disappointingly unreliable so we went back to old
fashioned PCB tie bars. This involved a lot of work in retro fitting the tie
bars and motors, about 40 in all. The servo mounts are MERG 3D printed.
The other major trauma was the decision to abandon the
installation of DC cab control and go for DCC. The ripping out of lots of wire
and relays was quite painless and the rewiring with heavier duty wire has gone
smoothly. Nonetheless it has taken time. Whilst the fiddle yard track plan had
been decided many moons ago we never
had a clear mind about how it would be controlled. This indecision with several
daunting alternatives was partly instrumental in changing to DCC. As a result
the fiddle yard track and pointwork is complete and the wiring is about 50% complete.
The front side of the layout works pretty well but it has
meant that the scenic work has been slowed down whilst baseboards have been
upturned for rewiring. However two of the baseboards are now scenically
complete but are erected with the next one for continuity of treatment in one of our crew’s
garage. Now for the first time in many months we have been able to erect 8 of
the 11 scenic boards as a unit. Another ‘behind the scenes’ activity has
produced the LED lighting system. All this was squeezed into the room we use
for construction. We were rather in each others way.
We have made a number of signals including the Stella Gill
Flatts gantry. We have completed the lengthy painstaking building of one set of
cottages. Two of the three bridges are now complete and fastened in place
whilst the third has taken significant strides forward recently.
We have been running our version of the MICs by passing on
various model making skills within the group. The building of the NCB shed is
part of this process as is the building of signals.
We have also progressed the building, modifying or finishing
off of locos and rolling stock. We have fitted DCC decoders to some. Others to follow.
The following photos show some of the progress.
What it's all about - Iron ore to Consett and coke backing out of Stella Gill ready to follow up the bank - with assistance of course.
Talking of assistance, a Class 40 in the 'shove' mode. This is a Modern Outlines kit built brass loco. It doesn't need a sound decoder - it makes enough noise as it is.
A remarkably clean loco - not unlike 'The Tyne Docker' final steam hauled train.
An interesting oddment of rolling stock in the Stella Gill reception sidings.
A view from across the tracks.
A similar view just a few months later. What the express passenger headcode is about, I don't know!
And another 24 to the rescue!
The box that controlled that gantry. Long gone of course but the bridge remains, filled in underneath and surrounded by trees and undergrowth. We think it survives because it still carries the pipeline (water or gas? We know not).
A bit of truth stretching here. There was a turntable at Stella Gill, two in fact, but we have put this in a location that is not really accurate. The passenger train is reasonably accurate but running late - by a few years!
The first set of cottages has been finished but has yet to be fixed in place in the gardens. The adjacent structure is a balsa wood mock up representing the other terrace of cottages. It needs to be recessed into a lower ground level
These two photos show the cottages before the gardens have taken seed. Close examination of the upper phot shows the two bridge plates - nos 2 and 27. The scenic work in this area is the basic first cover before the detailed treatment.
A closer look at the Pelton Lane bridge with the Class 40 banker just going underneath. As mentioned above, this bridge has two bridge plates. The tracks nearest are passed over by bridge no 2 (from Ouston Junction), whereas the other side is bridge 27 over the branch which comes via Washington. (Part of the original Stanhope & Tyne).
This is where bridge 2 and 26 cross the tracks. It's a bit like this today, no bridge but no tracks either, just a cycle way.
This is still a work in progress. It has taken a long time to work out how to make the wrought iron parapet panels. They have a rolled over top edge. One panel is at the far end.
The same panel moved to the other end for the cameras. It gives us the opportunity to show another signal. A relatively modern replacement for a slotted wooden post which was sited at the other side of this bridge, consequently even taller.
You've seen these signals before but the signal box has a new roof, still being finished. Work on this model was halted to divert effort into the completion of the Pelton Lane bridge which needed to be in place first. The signals have yet to be fixed in place. They have been in and out several times to take them to the MERG stand at exhibitions.
Two more recently completed signals. The real ones were removed in the sixties and replaced by tubular posts. The nearest one became a colour light signal in a different location. It controls the entry to the junction whereas the far one controls the entry to the line towards Tyne Dock.
A view from bridge 1/28. The replacement tiebars in the point work are visible. they need to be painted and disguised.
Another view showing the down branch starter, below it a subsidiary signal for allowing a loco to pass the signal at danger to reverse across to the up line and the distant signal for the next box in the down direction (Biddick Lane, I think). All these are modern replacement upper quadrant arms on the existing, originally slotted. post. On the little bracket is a lower quadrant slotted post shunting signal for locos traversing the crossover in the opposite direction. Not the easiest signals tackled.
A lovely slotted post shunting signal controlling the exit from the Up sidings. The 9F is not a Western region one despite the brass chimney. It's a Bachmann in the process of conversion!
There are two even smaller signals that have been modelled, NER pattern rotating lamp ground signals. Unfortunately they don't show up well on any of our current photos. That will be attended to. They will have a dozen more for company but of the LNER rotating disc type - eventually.
An unashamed look at the gantry at the other end of the layout. By this stage in its life all the arms were shunting ones. The yard beyond had 38 roads in its heyday!
Eight of the 13 arms on the model do work, from servos. We don't have enough roads in our fiddle yard to justify the extra complications. All of the other signals on the layout work (or will do) from servos driven by the MERG CBUS system.
We must apologise for some of the photos showing locos that have passed signals at danger. Once the layout is up and running properly, such offences will be punished. The penalty will be 'drinks all round' for the rest of the crew.