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Table Railway – Continued

It's been green for a while.. but I thought I might as well provide a long-overdue update. The table layout has received a fresh coating of grass and it's in quite a reasonable state after moving house. It coped with being held upright through doorways and thrown around in the back of a car... so it seems my process of painting, gluing and spraying ballast and foliage worked well.

Painting the base scenery

The last thing one needs is white plaster showing through the scenery base. It really does ruin all of your hard work very quickly. To prevent this I coated the entire base with an appropriately-coloured paint. Japan's scenery is ultra-lush, so a dark green here will work well.

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Adding the grass

Adding grass to the green paint brings it to life. Texture is the key here and un-even-ness is to be achieved. Don't be scared to glue layer upon layer upon layer. I've used a glue/water ratio of around 3-10 to make sure everything sticks. It's a little thicker than you'll need for a layout that won't be thrown around as much as this one will.

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Sinking and Ballasting the track

I'd done this before on my previous railway and the effect is much more realistic. Although the plastic ballast that comes with Unitrack isn't ugly, it easily removes from the realism of a layout. To get around this I've cut a trench for the track and glued ballast down the sides. Be careful not to completely cover the track with glue...

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The best part? My 300 Series Shinkansen bolted round the loops at full-tilt... I really wasn't expecting it to cope. It's about time to add a city.


Yet another layout…

It was about time to fill the table I'd bought from an op-shop a long time ago. I'd attempted a layout for this prior using the Arduino and CAN Bus to control it... but I somehow lost interest and demolished it. Hence we begin with the 810mm(Squared) Table Layout Version 2.0.

The space was relatively small and, thanks to my previous attempt, I knew there wasn't going to be much more than a loop-the-loop. The whole reason for building this was to run my 300 Series Shinkasen and that meant wide curves and wide clearances. For some reason I then decided that a loop-the-loop was boring and that I could fit a loop-the-loop-the-loop in.

I set to work on Anyrail.Net and found that a triple-loop was going to be tight. Unitrack had enough different radii curves to get the loops in, but I'd have to be using the tightest available... not too good for a 7-car Shinkansen. So... I started breaking the mould and making everything not-quite-fit together in the layout software. This meant slightly wider curves but potentially dangerous track joins where I would be 'stretching' the limits of unitrack to fit. Fortunately it turns out to be pretty forgiving.

I went to a not-so-local hobby store and found they had a HUGE selection of Japanese stock. I had my list printed from Anyrail and went about collecting. I also got some Walthers gradient foam for my crazy layout.

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After a little fiddling the track was laid out and temporarily elevated into place. It all worked... but was a squeeze. With nothing stuck down you'd attempt to get track to connect in one spot and it'd fall out of alignment in another... I don't really recommend jamming Unitrack together in odd formations!

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The result was a successful session of test running with all of the stock I could find!


Kato Unitrack vs. Moisture/Humidity from setting plaster

It probably should've been obvious, but I've just found out the hard way of the effects of drying plaster (Woodland Scenics Plaster Cloth) and Kato Unitrack when kept in a small enclosed space.


I've been building a new layout recently in a coffee table I acquired from a secondhand store. It's around 80x80cm and fits a nice loop-the-loop-the-loop layout.

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After planning and purchasing the track, I started to build up the scenery. Once the foam was down, the plaster was laid. Due to wanting to be neat, I returned the setting/drying scenery back into the table each night to dry. I noticed on the second day that the plaster hadn't really dried that much, so I chose not to run any locos (there had been a C50 steamer sitting in the table overnight too!.)
The next day I then noticed that the track had a strange tinge to it. I attempted to run the steamer, but the performance was terrible (although this was second hand and hadn't run 100% in the first place.) Another locomotive didn't do much better.

The cause was obvious on closer inspection...
(First image: notice that left track is shiny and right is dull. Second image: see mould.)

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After 'phoning a friend' on the JNS Forums, a few possible options came up... the most probably one being the chemicals used in the plaster cloth. These could well have hung around inside the glass table whilst the plaster was drying and adversely affected the track.

I'm still in the process of cleaning it all up (a quick once-over with a cleaning block worked fine)... the sides of the rails are still tarnished. Currently alcohol-wipes are doing the best job of cleaning this mess up!


Lighting a Japanese Temple

Actual Temple Kit

I'd decided it was time to light the temple after building the Torii for the entrance. This temple was the Tomytec Japanese Temple A (Main Building) and is still available for purchase from most Japanese online hobby retailers.

I've slapped LEDs in buildings before, but this time I also wanted to add lanterns to the front of the shop. I'd made the lanterns before, as in my previous attempts of creating the Torii, but I was to make a few changes this time as I wasn't totally impressed with the previous outcome.

Creating the lanterns

There was a slight change this time to creating the lanterns... instead of cutting them and sliding them over the LEDs, I shaved them down to fit and inserted them into the center of the tubing. This all worked well, but you must be careful when shaving down the LEDs as you can destroy them quite easily. To shave the LEDs, I held them in pliers in one hand and filed away with my pocket knife. It was pretty obvious to feel when you were no longer filing away at plastic and, unfortunately, this was usually the demise of the LED.

Shaving down LEDs LED inside plastic tubing

Mounting the lanterns

I used the same copper winding wire that I always do and bent it into a rectangular shape to fit the roof of the temple. I then started soldering the lanterns in place.

Lantern on wire Using wire to frame lanterns in place

I then pulled out the trusty Selleys Aquadere and, using random aligator clips found on the bench, glued the lanterns in place.

Gluing down lanterns in place Aligator clips do wonders

I also put two standard 3mm white LEDs in the center of the ceiling for building lights.

Central building lights

The finished product

After the glue had dried, I tested all the LEDs and found that I'd broken the front-left lantern. This was 24hours after starting the project and frustrating. I quickly removed it from the temple and filed another LED down. I left it dry again, overnight, after testing, gluing and testing again.

Finally, yesterday, I was able to hook it up to my Arduino LED Controller. It worked perfectly and I took the opportunity to test my night-time photography skills.

Finished job View past the city And the Torii
A different view Night time Top Platform

Now to settle the landscape around it.


Creating a Shrine Torii Entrance

After checking out more of the work by tanaka_ace on the Tounosawa Blog, I've decided to add a Japanese Shrine to my layout. I've extended the upper level to allow room for a kit I bought in Japan last September and have created a path back to the main town area.

As with any Shrine in Japan, the grounds are seen as sacred and insulated from the surrounding area; usually by either high walls or thick vegetation with a Torii gate for the entrance. I'll be adding the walls in soon enough, but prior to doing so I wanted to make sure I had all of the buildings and scenery effects in place.

The first thing to create was the Torii gate entrance. Tanaka_ace on his Tounosawa Blog had created a very nice gate with LED lanterns added. This is all based off a real-life location at the Tounosawa Station on the Hakone Tozan Railway. He had also created a blog post showing what he based the model off.

My version

I've used the same gauge winding wire I'd used for my level crossing lights, streetlights and building lighting. With this I've also used 1/16" brass pole for the main frame of the gate because I wanted to emulate wood rather than a cylindrical concrete post this time. This also provided a little more room to squeeze the wires through. Each length needed to be cut down to size and then filed back. I used standard snips to cut the brass, a smaller saw would've been a better idea.

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I based the size on the path that I had already created on the layout. I didn't really have a real-life prototype to work off and made a lot of it up as I went. The final size was around 50mm wide and I could fit 5 lanterns in. Below you can see the framing taking place.

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I then started cutting out the holes to feed the wire through. I used my trusty pocket-knife as the brass was quite soft. I also used a wire cut off a resistor to clean out the tubes of any metal shavings. The entrances created for the wires would have sharp edges and could scrape off the insulation on the wires, so I made the holes as big as possible.

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Once the holes were cut, I fed the wires through as a test. I then constructed the frame with solder. At this point I accidently overheated the wires on the left side. This caused one to ground and I then couldn't successfully light 1 of the 5 LEDs. I took more care the second time around when soldering the frame back together.

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I added a quick roof to the frame as tanaka_ace had done with his second version.

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Now that the frame and LEDs were in place, I could go about turning them into lanterns. This would be done by putting plastic piping around them. I had already done this with a fixed lantern on a TomyTec Japanese Shop, but this time I had no existing lanterns to work with. I therefore used the same concept as tanaka_ace.

Thanks to globalisation, I was able to acquire the exact same "Evergreen Scale Models" poly-piping that he used. I happened to purchase 3.2mm pipe instead of the 2.4mm; but this worked out well as the LEDs that I was using were a little bigger. The pipe was cut into appropriate lengths and then the edges rounded down to create the lantern shape. The individual lanterns were then sliced at the back so that I could slide them over the LEDs. I then used stock-standard Shelleys Aquadhere to fill in the ends.

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Once these were holding in place, I painted the frame a nice wood-brown. Torii gates can be made of wood or stone and painted a multitude of colours. You more often than not will see them in brown wood, but bright red, and even out in the ocean, is not uncommon.


And that was it... I still think I need to place some characters on the lanterns, but I need to work out what to write on them. I also should've taken more care to get the lanterns even, but I was happy enough with the outcome and, once in place on the layout, knew it would be good enough.

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Now that the entrance is in place, it's time to get the fences and shrine in. As you can see, the foundations are there already and I'm currently working on adding lanterns and lights to the shrine.


Adding LEDs to a Japanese Shop

Pictures speak louder than words, so below is a quick tutorial on how to get an off-the-shelf TomyTec Japanese Shop Building lit with LED lighting. In total, this building received 6 LEDs; lantern, side-door, top floor (x2), bottom floor (x2).

Interior Lighting + Side Door

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The trickiest part of this installation was the lantern that hangs out the front. I actually sliced it in half and bored out the middle to fit an LED inside. I also trimmed down the LED with a file to get it to fit a little more easily. This was done with my pocket-knife and I stopped when I felt it grinding metal. :)

Note that I borrowed ideas from this blog and I strongly recommend you check out the work the author has done on their layout!

Front Lantern

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And finally, everything is wired up. You can see the huge hole I accidently drilled in the side of the shop... luckily the lantern covers it over pretty well.

Finished Product

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Cheap and easy Streetlights

I'd previously bulk purchased a large amount of LEDs from LED-Switch with the intent to light up my entire model railway. I'd already bought a few of the MAX7219 ICs, which control up to 64 LEDs each, and knew how to control these via the Arduino. My article on the IC and using it was here.

Anyway, streetlights were high on the agenda, as they exist in every town in Japan and, based on a very simple idea, weren't going to be too hard to make. Following are the steps involved with creating the street lights that have been visible in my prior articles.


  • 0.25mm Copper winding wire (or as thin as possible.)
  • 1.6mm LEDs White/Yellow (as available here)
  • Metal tubing for the main pole. (I used '3/64 x .006' brass tubing)
  • Soldering iron
  • Paint

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Firstly, cut the pole to your desired length. I have to admit here that I never once measured any of the poles and just prototyped one against a reference (in this case it was a standard Greenmax building) and then made them all the same size.

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Make sure you take in to account where you will bend the pole and how much extra length will be required. Use a file to smoothen out the ends so that you don't damage the winding wire when fed through.

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Once you have the poles made, simply cut the leads of the LED right down and solder one end to the pole itself. Finally, if you haven't already, feed the wire through the pole and tin one end (melt it with a little bit of solder to strip away the insulation.) Once done, trim away any excess tinned lead and then solder it to the other lead of the LED.

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Note that the final version there was the best I'd made. I'd trimmed the LEDs right down after folding one leg over the top and used a very small amount of solder.

Finished Product

Better night shots of the taller version in action...

Testing of streetlights

More testing

The only thing these really require now is some form of cover/compartment/housing for the bulb to live in. Currently, with a big enough blob of paint, I can get the ends to look round-ish enough to look acceptable and I'm happy with this. But any comments/suggestions for an off-the-shelf product that might have the right shape to cover the ends are welcome!

I'd also bought red, yellow and green LEDs and found that they had fit into the Greenmax Signals. I haven't gotten around to finishing them, but I will post another article once done.

Meanwhile, in my previous post, I also added both a red and blue LED to a Bachmann N-Scale Signal. I actually cut it off its usual pole/base and mounted them as shunting signals. See the pictures. I'll post a more detailed explanation along with the other signals once finished.


Latest on the Model Railway

So, something that was just meant to turn into a test layout has now become one of my greatest creations... It's not much as yet, but the scenery and electronics involved is a lot more complex than I thought I would ever create and I'm really glad as to how it's coming along.

Here's a gallery of the initial track plan I intended on using and then 3 evolutions of it. The final layout is not actually listed there. You can see that it started as a single level basic loop, with options for expansion. As I realised the time required for building just this module, I decided to do away with the extension options (although things can always change) and then added a second level. This was just to be a ridge down the middle of the board, but it now has transformed into 1/4 of the overall surface area. A town has now grown on top and a nice siding for single-car vehicles.

Underneath the board is a birds-nest of wiring for all the tricks I've tried with the Arduino (see all the previous posts...) and I'll show you this in a later post.

For now, just check out the photos and I'll get back with more information as I create it. I'm currently working on street lights for the top town and also automation of the points. I've been through around 5 iterations for the control circuit for the points and damaged quite a few TomyTec FineTrack Points in the process. Not fun.

Here's a link to the whole album.


Top-down Town taking shape Top station

Top station

Bottom station The town The town

Update: The streetlights are painted and in... I still need to work on the light end, they need some sort of cover/compartment.

Night time at the station

Top Platform Night time At night

Meanwhile, I also need to learn nighttime photography :)
More to come as I light up all of the houses; although one is already lit!


Layout obtained, Trains purchased.

So much has happened over the last month that I've had zero time to get to this site... but I'm finally going to report on the latest happenings.

The new Layout

Firstly, I bought a Shinkansen Layout on eBay from Victoria and, over the space of the last three weeks, have managed to transport, reassemble and finally run it.

I hired a flatbed/cage ute and drove it down to Melbourne without dramas. The return trip was a lot harder... I initially had the choice of two seperate utes until I'd realised one was slightly bigger, of which I then fought for. This became even more crucial as when loading the layout we soon found out that the space available was near-on perfect.

Once on the road, it turned out that the tarpaulins I bought were cheap-as-crap and split/shredded/tore very quickly. I got around 250~350ks out of them (out of the ~800k trip) until they failed and flew everywhere... We then had to stop at random intervals in random locations to either purchase new taps on the way and cover portions, or untie broken straps and tidy everything up.

We then proceeded to hit a storm... but ended up chasing it slowly through to Yass. The road in front was wet; but our load stayed safe.

The layout was dumped at the parents house in pieces and then not gotten back to until a week later. Of course, the night I was to reassemble, I'd forgotten the bag of bolts to connect everything and therefore couldn't do a thing. It wasn't until a week after that when I could finally set it all up (last Wednesday.)

The first run was of my Series 0 Doctor Yellow and my newly acquired Hikari RailStar. It ends out that I could not get either of them to complete a full lap. Sure, the layout had been through an ordeal and the tracks/wheels probably had not been cleaned for a while... but this was Japanese stock and I expected at least a full lap on full speed. Time ran out quickly that night and I went home at least accomplishing a fully reconstructed layout.

Finally today (Saturday, Jan 24th 2009) I was able to have a proper day of running. See the photo album here. I started to thoroughly clean the layout and also removed bits and pieces to see how it was all constructed.

I also bought a step-down transformer (as the Kato powerpacks weren't dual voltage) and ran the track on the provided transformers... it turns out that the shinkansen reacted much better than this doing laps at very low speeds and also achieving very high speeds.

The final goal was to attempt to set up a local line, but I'd forgotten the feeder cables to the unitrack I had and also ran out of time.

Japan Auction Center

So, you want something from Japan, but it's on Yahoo Auctions Japan and most of the sellers (if not all) wont ship internationally nor speak English. This is where Japan Auction Center comes to your rescue. For a nominal fee you can use their website to deposit money (must be done before you can bid) and then utilise the owners Auction ID to bid on Japanese Auctions. It's all done real-time and can be a lot of fun bidding against the Nihonjins.

There's an interesting note of difference between Yahoo Auctions Japan and eBay. The process is very much the same (proxy bidding, etc...) but if you happen to bid in the last 5 minutes of an auction then the auction end time will be extended another 5 minutes. This then means that there can be no sniping and that the buyer who truly wants the item will get it.

Anyway, I bought quite a few items and will be back online shortly to finally get my 300 Series Shinkansen.

The loot:

In conclusion...

I'm one happy camper... a new layout and new trains. I want to get the local lines done very soon and then the buildings/rural area/city planned out. I intend on changing the main city area to a Shin-Osaka style station with yards.. but we'll see what the space can provide.