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Basic technical know-how to begin OO exterior railway


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I have been advised by hobby shops that this is impossible or at best unadvisable so, naturally, I am pressing on. I would appreciate any solid, basic input on the pitfalls. I grasp that I can't run this thing in the wet but then I don't intend to, so what else do I need to know. I've got about 250 feet to play with, am planning a single track, and just need to grasp the key issues before going ahead. 

Thanks for your help,

SeaBeast

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Welcome to the forum!

9 hours ago, SeaBeast said:

I have been advised by hobby shops that this is impossible or at best unadvisable....

Well I hope that the few outdoor layouts featured on the forum here show that it's not impossible and that you can share the enjoyment of a model layout outdoors equally as much as you can indoors. I'm fortunate to have both an indoor and an outdoor layout and what I will say is that the outdoor layout gives me much more enjoyment than the indoor one.

Much like the full size railways, an outdoor model railway needs a good solid foundation to begin with and regular maintenance to keep it operating to its full potential. 

The base for your track is the most important factor and this needs to be solid and well supported. At ground level I would certainly advise steering clear of timber products as, even if treated with preservatives, they don't last long. With an elevated track then timber is certainly possible providing it's treated and protected against the elements and against moisture. A covering of roofing felt provides added protection and gives a realistic looking base for track laying. You need to be aware of the potential for timber products, as well as those containing plastic, to twist and warp so it needs supporting well all round. In addition, plastic expands and contracts with changes in temperature creating additional problems.

At ground level I personally would suggest something solid and totally weatherproof. I've used a concrete footing with sections of aerated building block on top after my initial plywood base rotted away. Lightweight building blocks are something to consider as they are easy to cut and work with and they are suitable for below ground use. Bases constructed using rubber/cork granules are also possible though I have no experience of working with those materials. Whatever you use needs to be as perfectly flat and level as possible - both along its length and across the width - I can't stress that enough. Getting this right will save you so much hassle and frustration later. 

With a suitable base then I suggest using Peco Streamline code 100 track and here, each section of track needs to be electrically bonded to the next. You can run a power bus round the layout and solder droppers across to each section or simply solder a short length of bonding wire across each rail joint if you prefer. Electrical continuity is vital to your success!

So in brief that's about all that's required other than a decent spell of weather!

Is there anything specific that you would like further advice of?

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Welcome to the forum Seabeast.

Wow that's a big garden!

How flat is your garden or area to use? Even a flat garden probably isn't completely flat. You could be raised a lot at one point and having to tunnel at another. Inclines are possible but undesirable, try to keep them as gentle as possible. Mick covered quite a lot there.
At ground level is good: natural scenery, integrates with the garden more easily; but, you have to do everything on the ground, its harder to keep free of detritus like soil and leaves.
Raised up gives you a decent working height but it is kind of more like an indoor railway outdoors to me. Also probably a lot more materials needed.
I've gone for a ground plus approach. Using Mick's aerated block contruction but keeping the railway about 20-25cm (8-10inches) above the ground so it still uses plants as scenery.

So apart from route around the garden, you will want your controller and power supply to be inside somewhere, whether in the house, a garage or shed. You can go all outside with the track like I am doing but it has disadvantages.
1. Nowhere to leave stock, I'll be taking a couple of boards and all of my stock inside when out of use but that means it will take longer to set up and take down every time.
2. Nowhere to quickly bring stock into when the weather suddenly turns too.
3. The controller isn't permanent. I'll have to set up the controller and put it away. Though in my defence on this point, I'll be using a laptop indoors with just the two power wires coming outside then the trains controlled by throttle apps on smartphones.
4. No "off-scene" staging area.

So, the general recommendation is to have some sort of indoor space where trains can run to. Some people have done this into their homes by creating a tunnel through the brickwork. I wouldn't do that because I could see it being an entrance for not just trains but cold winds and wildlife too. I guess people have ways of mitigating that though.
A garage or shed works well if you have power out there. Be aware of security with outbuildings though, a wooden shed might be broken into with a claw hammer and then that it potentially hundreds or even thousands of pounds worth of stock gone in seconds. That is one reason why I didn't worry much about having an outbuilding, I'd be removing all of the stock at night anyway!

In regards to single or double line, there are advantages to both. I'm quite a fan of the single line. Whether it is right for you could depend on how much action you want to have going on and the shape of your garden. 250ft is 3.6 scale miles in OO.
 

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Wow - quick work! Thanks so much for the input. The 'garden' is all round the house but my plan is to run from the backyard deck along 'viaducts' attached to the outside walls of the house then join various decks and verandas as I go. Plan A includes a bridge across the garage door that raises with the door (nuts, I know, but I'll give it a shot!) My real concerns are how many feet can I go without adding power to the track? 2o? Is there  a preferred controller? Is there a loco (I'm a steamer) most suited to the more rugged outside task? I'll start with one and work on from there.

Really delighted to get some input. It's been many years since I did this so I'm as green as brass track in winter.

SeaBeast

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I'd say the more modern locos (of any type) are better outdoors. Heavier cast chassis and electrical pickups on more wheels than the older models give you more of a chance.
For controller, I'm guessing you are doing traditional analogue control rather than the Digital Command and Control (DCC). I like Gaugemaster controllers, the Combi would be a good bet for starting off. As with all controllers, this is better off kept inside if you can.

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Thanks.  Is DCC a good idea - and am I able to have basic sound without it? Since the layout is experimental (hanging off the side of buildings) I expect simplicity is the first step so analogue is probably right. However, it would be nice to have sound. What would you advise?

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I'm not sure about sound without going to DCC. The good thing is though that if you buy "DCC Ready" locomotives then they can be converted easily, you just replace the blanking plug with the DCC decoder. Even if you buy "DCC fitted" then the decoder will recognise an analogue current and run anyway. Sound decoders are a big extra cost, I don't have them so others are more expert than I am.
Older locomotives are a bit more difficult to convert as you need to hard-wire a decoder in by soldering.

DCC has a couple of advantages, track is at full voltage all of the time, track wiring is simpler, more options for lights and sound. On the downside is cost, complexity of operation and the need to keep track and wheels even cleaner. DCC keeps the track voltage at full all of the time and controls each locomotive by sending it a signal through the track, if the track wheels and pickups aren't clean then that signal can be slow to get through.

Having an analogue controller for fault finding and running in is always a good idea, so going with a decent but basic analogue controller like the Gaugemaster Combi to begin isn't going to be a waste of money even if you decide to go DCC later on. So it sounds as though you would be better going with analogue to start with and then decide if you want to go to digital later on.

The only thing that will really be harder with analogue is if you have a passing loop in the line and want to control two locomotives separately. You would need two controllers or a dual controller (like the Gaugemaster model D for instance) and then you would need to have a system to chose which controller provides power to which line through the loop. I'd suggest sticking to a single line to begin until you are happy with the way it runs but build with the capacity to add a loop or second line later if you wish.

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16 hours ago, SeaBeast said:

Thanks.  Is DCC a good idea - and am I able to have basic sound without it?....

I believe some decoders allow a limited use of the soundfile under DC control but if you're really thinking of getting into sound fitted locos then I'd suggest starting out with DCC in the first place because once you've heard one 'decent' sound fitted loco you wouldn't want to go back. Even without sound you'll only require a basic decoder in each loco to reap the rewards of finer DCC control which is superior to analogue control and you can then add sound as and when you please. 

The garage door lifting section sounds interesting but should be possible - just don't forget and raise the door while the trains are operating!

21 hours ago, SeaBeast said:

...My real concerns are how many feet can I go without adding power to the track? 2o? ....

That all depends on how lucky you are!

The best advice is to power each individual section of track as the metal rail joiners (fishplates) cannot be relied upon to conduct power, especially outdoors but this also applies indoors. If you're lucky it's possible you could get away with just one single power feed but eventually you'll find a rail joiner fails and you'll need another and so on until you grow frustrated with the constant interruptions and decide it's best to feed each section of track. You can start with one but should plan for them all.

21 hours ago, SeaBeast said:

... Is there a loco (I'm a steamer) most suited to the more rugged outside task? I'll start with one and work on from there.

Most loco's will perform outdoors equally as well as they do inside providing the track is clean and clear of debris. Steam loco's do tend to be lighter in weight than modern diesels so haulage capacity is reduced but you can often fit in some additional weight to alleviate any possible problems. Even the addition of 5g can make the difference between 5 coaches and 7 for instance but do keep an eye on any gradients and try to maintain a level track all round. My Black 5's have no problems with 8 coaches outdoors and they would probably take more but that's as much as I require of them.

The main problem is that the latest models tend to be very finely detailed and although they look really nice, such attention to detail is not always what we need. They do tend to be extremely delicate and outdoors you'll end up with insects, vegetation and more especially I find, bird droppings, around the layout that can cause a bit of a mess if unnoticed.

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If you have concerns about steam loco haulage capacity - and I fully agree with Mick that modern steam locos are a bit too light - you could always fit dcc concepts powerbase - this will increase the traction capability of locos markedly. A very simple solution especially when starting from scratch.

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Thanks again. Just one more key question: how many feet of track can I go before needing to refeed it as I understand the power strength diminishes the further I go out. I'll be about 250 feet of single track when complete. Other extensions will doubtless follow!

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21 hours ago, SeaBeast said:

OK, just caught up with your thoughtful replies on this. By 'section' does that refer to a single 36" rail length - or is it a composite of several?

Yes, a single piece of track.

Outdoors you might not be painting or ballasting the track but the climate and wildlife will conspire to get dirt between the fishplates (joiners - Peco SL-10 if you need the part code) and rails of the track and the metal will oxidise over time. That is why it is recommended to feed each piece of track.
It isn't a must though, indoors or out; it is a best practise or recommendation. That said, there is a reason it is recommended.

If you don't feed every piece and it stops working later on, how much of a pain will it be to go back and add the extra feeds? If you can still get to or take the track up to solder it if it stops working later then it isn't the end of the world but if you have to take track up and relay it then it might be easier just to do it up-front.

We don't know what your technical knowledge is like, how competent you are with soldering etc. I'm guessing you've got some experience to take on building a structure of viaducts around the wall of the house but just not specific model railway experience?

 

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All off the above really + don't  build it under trees,  leaves on the line take on a new meaning in 00 gauge ! If your line is liable to suffer from garden debris can l suggest a small battery powered leaf blower, a lot easier than using a soft brush. DC or DCC the great debate. Go with what you've got the most of. The biggest problem l found was the choice of controller.  I started off with a Dynamis system because it allowed me to walkabout rather than be tethered to a power supply. Bad move, it uses an infrared signal , useless in the sun, three years of frustration and l now have a Gaugemastet system instead. Another option is radio controlled battery powered locos. I am having good success with this, just walk out, plonk a train on the track and your away.

Edited by jimbob
Missed words
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