A new bench lamp (or two)

Mag light - close-up through lens

I hate getting old. I used to have terrific eyesight. These days, not so much.

But rather than try to ignore the inevitable, I’ve decided to throw money at it instead. A few years ago, I bought awesome reading glasses, which also get a regular workout at the hobby bench. (They’re even slim enough to fit inside safety glasses.)

Yesterday, I took another step, and purchased a magnifying bench lamp. There are many of these on the market, but I picked a nice one offered by Canadian-based tool specialist Lee Valley because I trust the company to source quality products that are designed for people who build things – whether it’s furniture or F-units, carving or cabooses.

Bench lamp - overview

The lamp does not have a brand name – but given that the box is clearly printed with the Lee Valley catalogue number I suspect they’ve sourced this directly from a manufacturer.

The lamp is catalogue number 17J30.30 – and here’s what Lee Valley has to say about it:

This is an excellent magnifying lamp. Its array has 56 LEDs with a color temperature akin to daylight (6500 kelvin), making it well suited for task lighting.
The 5″ 3-diopter optical-grade glass lens focuses at a comfortable distance (3″ to 9″) for detailed work. Its spring balance mechanisms are fully enclosed and the lamp has a maximum overall extension of 47″.

The lamp head is adjustable for viewing angle, has an integral flip-up lens dust cover and comes with a 2-1/2″ capacity table-mounting clamp. The LEDs are rated to last 50,000 hours, equivalent to 5 hours per day for 27 years. UL/CUL certified.

To let you mount the lamp in a dog hole, stainless-steel bushings with a 3/4″ or 20mm outside diameter are available separately.

I also purchased the 3/4″ bushing and installed the lamp in a dog hole on my work bench.

The 3-diopter really makes a difference. In the following photo, you can see identical bottles of Vallejo wash both inside the lens, and outside to the left:

Mag light - inside and outside the lens

I’m really pleased with this purchase. While I hope I don’t have to use it all the time, it will certainly help with those fiddly operations, such as reading mouse print on decals or painting figures. In fact, I actually bought two of these lamps and installed the second one on my desk in my home office, where I frequently paint war-game miniatures while waiting for clients to call me back.

Mag light - upstairs

I’m not yet ready for an optivisor – and maybe with these lights, I can put that off for a few more years. If you have a Lee Valley in your area, check out this lamp: They’ll have one on display, and I bet you’ll add one to your “must have” list.

Nighttime… Daytime!


I now get to play “Nighttime… Daytime!” in my layout room, thanks to a cool little device that arrived last night.

I’m really pleased with my layout lighting – but one thing that has always bugged me is that because I located the transformer about halfway along the layout, under the Lynn Valley, it’s at the far end of the layout room. That means I have to walk to the far end to turn on the layout lights.

View up the Port Rowan peninsula
(The layout lights provide plenty of illumination for an operating session without turning on the room lights – but walking to the far end of the layout room in the dark in order to turn them on is not the best introduction to the layout for first-time guests)

This isn’t a huge deal, except that when I host operating sessions I like to leave the general room lights off, so that the only illumination is coming from the layout lighting itself. It focusses more attention on the trains. What I needed was a switched socket on the far wall, with the switch located at the front of the room.

Well, doing that used to involve opening walls and running a lot of wire – but now, thanks to smart power initiatives it’s easy and inexpensive to add remotely-controlled switched outlets. I ordered a pack of Aukey remote control outlets from Amazon this week:

Aukey Remotes - Box

Aukey Remotes - Samples

These are easy to set up – the instructions are straght-forward – and the outlets are rated at 15 amps so they’re robust enough to manage the power for my halogen layout lighting system. As a bonus, I can use the other outlets in the package for things like my DCC system, the layout ambient audio system, and other systems in the room. The remotes live at the entrance to the room, and the wireless range – while much less than the 100 feet promised through open space – is more than sufficient for my needs.

And if you have read this far, and have not yet encountered “Nighttime… Daytime!”… it’s a very silly clip from a BBC show called Walk on the Wild Side. Here are a couple of examples – enjoy if you watch:

(You may also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

(You may also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

The other side of the tracks

 photo PtR-1560-Throat-Reverse-01_zps8a98cf74.jpg
(CNR 4-6-0 1560 in the yard throat at Port Rowan. It’s rare for me to see the layout from this vantage point)

No – not the bad side: Just the side that’s rarely seen.

When Matt Goodman visited earlier this week, he and I discussed my use of a fabric backdrop. One of the reasons I went with fabric was for easy access to the 42″ deep Port Rowan scene from both sides of the peninsula – an important consideration for construction and maintenance.

While thinking about it later, it also occurred to me that the fabric backdrop makes it possible – easy, even – to shoot photos of Port Rowan from the back. This is a vantage point from which most visitors would never see the layout.

Today, I decided to experiment – to determine whether it was possible to get decent shots of the layout from the other side of the tracks. I was able to capture some viewpoints that remind me of prototype photos, which were often taken from this side of the tracks.

 photo PtR-1560-Throat-Reverse-02_zps8155ee86.jpg

I’m pleased that the layout presents well, even when viewed from the “wrong” side. It confirms that I was right to not take shortcuts on details that are never seen during normal operating sessions.

With layout lighting producing more back-lit compositions, I also captured images with a different feel to them.

 photo PtR-1560-Throat-Reverse-03_zps7fe7ae8b.jpg

It was a fun experiment. I’ll need to do more of this.

The Galvanick Lucipher

 photo Sergent-Reactor_zps752650a3.jpg

Now that’s an uncoupling tool!

As I mentioned in a previous post, while testing my first batch of EC64 S scale couplers from Sergent Engineering I quickly realized I needed a lit uncoupling tool. I had purchased a couple of penlights at the local hardware store, and taped a Sergent model MS tool to the barrel of one of them.

It worked, but I wasn’t perfectly satisfied.

First, the light was a bit peely-wally – emitting as it did from a single LED. Second, I was having trouble figuring out how I would secure the tool to the penlight with something nicer than packing tape. And I didn’t like the on-off button on the end of the pen, which was sometimes fussy to activate.

So today I built the beast pictured above.

I already had some other small LED flashlights around the workshop, including this REACTOR light. It’s in an all-metal housing with a machined-in diamond pattern in two bands for a sure grip. It has a nice big power button on the end. And it has an array of nine LEDs so it issues plenty of light: Compared to yesterday’s first attempt at a tool, this one is The Galvanick Lucipher.

It’s also, actually, a cheaper flashlight than the penlight – which was already pretty cheap. And I think it looks neat.

As the photo suggests, I wrapped two bands of flat brass bar (0.015″ x 0.042″ – Details Associates) around the barrel to either side of the knurled grip just behind the lens. I cut them to length, soldered their ends together, and then soldered the Sergent uncoupling tool across the two bands. (If the solder joints hold, then great: If not, I’ll figure out how to add a mechanical connection between the bands and the tool.)

It works much better: It’s very comfortable in the hand when opening knuckles for coupling or uncoupling, or for lining up couplers. And it’s unlikely to wander off in someone’s pocket after an operating session.

First Sergent ops session

 photo Sergent-1stRun-01_zps6d2867f9.jpg
(The first operating session using equipment fitted with Sergent S scale couplers)

Having installed Sergent Engineering S scale couplers on several pieces of equipment this week, today I set aside some time to run my first operating session with them.

Overall, things went very well. Not perfect – but it was a great start.

My Sergent-equipped roster includes a 10-wheeler, a full-length (90-foot) combine, and several freight cars of various types, lengths and weights. I ran a mixed train with a locomotive, a boxcar for St. Williams, a hopper car for the ramp track in Port Rowan, a boxcar in LCL service, and the combine. I placed a refrigerator car in the team track at St. Williams and a boxcar at the head end of the team track in Port Rowan – both to pick up.

This selection would require me to run through all turnouts and do a fair bit of shuffling of cars into the proper order, so it would be a good workout for the couplers.

First, the great news: uncoupling is flawless – better than with the Kadee 808s. I simply held the uncoupling tool over the couplers and they parted like magic. I could do this by inserting the tool straight down between the cars, or in from the side.

Next, the good news: for the most part, coupling was flawless too. A couple of times, I did not have the couplers lined up correctly. And a couple of times, I had them close – close enough that the faces met, but not close enough that the knuckles actually closed.

That said, I realized the biggest challenge to lining up couplers correctly was insufficient light between the cars:
 photo Sergent-1stRun-02_zps503b6044.jpg

The 12v halogen landscape lighting system I use to illuminate the layout casts strong shadows – which is great for setting the mood, but poses problems for seeing couplers. The eyes aren’t any younger, either.

Mine is not the only layout that faces this challenge and for a potential solution I’m borrowing a tool that works – brilliantly – on many layouts on which I’ve operated: I’ve strapped the uncoupling tool to a pen-light:
 photo Sergent-Uncoupler-Light_zpsd0f583bf.jpg

I’m not sure I like this particular pen-light but my local hardware store has several styles and they’re all fairly inexpensive so I’m sure that if I don’t like this one, I’ll find one that works. Once I’m happy with my lighting choice, I’ll do something about that awful packing tape. I’m sure I can come up with a tool that’s more professional looking and nicer to the touch.

Regardless, I can’t argue with the difference such a tool makes:
 photo Sergent-1stRun-03_zps3a60072d.jpg

I’ll continue to experiment with the Sergent couplers in future operating sessions, but in the meantime that’s the first in the books – and as first sessions go, it went just fine. I’ll look for improvements in my use of these couplers in future sessions – and report my findings on this blog.
 photo Sergent-1stRun-04_zps58add78d.jpg

The Oliver Ouchless

Valence First Impression photo Valence-06_zps3e196d0e.jpg

It sounds like the name of an ergonomic screwdriver or newfangled bicycle seat – but as the picture above shows, I’ve been installing the fabric valance over the layout. Named after my friend Pierre Oliver (who suggested I take a theatrical approach to framing the scene), The Oliver Ouchless won’t bash my skull when I lean in to work on the layout.

All photos in this post were shot at my eye-level, so they show the layout as a typical operator would view it.

The photo above shows St. Williams to the left and ahead, and Port Rowan to the right. Putting the operating aisle in shadow like this really throws the attention on the layout. I’m very pleased with the effect, which will be even better when I paint the fascia black to match the valance.

My wife and I are sewing the valance in sections to fit around various ceiling fixtures such as pipes and ducts. We have most of the major sections done, which have a 16.5″ drop from the ceiling. There are a few smaller pieces to do between these large sections.

Sections are attached to the previously-installed valance supports using Velcro. I’m also putting short strips of Velcro at section ends to link the sections together: This keeps light from leaking between them.

And since the valance is sewn from a doubled-over piece of fabric to ensure that the layout lighting does not bleed through it, it’s also easy to insert a length of chain into each section to weight the valance. This helps the valance to hang straight. I bought some chain to test this and I’m happy with the result. Some of the valance sections are so-weighted: Others will get chain tomorrow, when I pick up more at the local hardware store.

More photos below. Thanks for the idea, Pierre – The Oliver Ouchless is perfect!

Looking east at St. Williams
Valence - St. Williams photo Valence-08_zpsc35e47a4.jpg

East end of the Lynn River scene
Valence - Lynn Valley photo Valence-10_zps0a1377a5.jpg
(This area will benefit from a lot more trees)

West end of the Lynn River scene, and the water tank
Valence - Water Tank photo Valence-09_zps4bd537bf.jpg
(Note how little of the backdrop is visible when valence and trees are in place)

Port Rowan
Valence - Port Rowan photo Valence-11_zps96542a30.jpg

Setting the stage (valance fabric)

Valence-BlackTest-Train photo Valence-05_zps23764078.jpg

Valence-Black Test photo Valence-03_zps261b05d5.jpg

There’s a good reason theatre stages and museum displays are typically draped with black cloth. It focuses the eye of the audience on the intended subject. In the theatre, that would be the actors and the setting. In a museum display, it’s the artifacts and antiquities.

On a model railway, it’s been said, our scenery and structures are the setting while our trains take on the role of actors. To tell the story effectively – to focus a visitor or an operator on the play, as it were – it’s important to make the distractions disappear.

As I’ve written in a previous post, my friend Pierre Oliver visited this week and we installed the supports needed to hang a fabric valance. I discussed colour choices with Pierre and he suggested that the valance be a solid, dark colour – and I should paint the layout fascia to match. The result will direct all attention to the layout itself. (I certainly wasn’t intending to use a bright checked pattern, despite taping a tea towel to the valance supports to gauge the effect as shown below.)
Valence: Tea Towel Test photo Valence-02_zpsb404586a.jpg

While installing the valance support I ran out of Velco. So yesterday, while running errands, I picked up more from Designer Fabric Outlet. While there, I also grabbed several yards of a black poly-cotton blend fabric. This came in 110″ width and I’ll be able to get all my valance needs out of my purchase. Today I cut a strip off the end of the roll and pinned it in place over St. Williams to see how it looks. As the photos at the top of this post show, it’s quite effective. (I think it’ll be even better once it’s hemmed to smooth out the jagged bottom edge. I’ll also extend the valance above the sector plate to reduce glare from the window in the distance.)

I had many positive comments about the fabric valance idea. One thing I did want to mention about it is that care must be exercised to mount the fabric so that it won’t come into contact with any lighting. I don’t know if there’s much risk of setting the valance on fire – but why take that risk?

In the photo below, I’ve added a yellow line to show the distance between valance and light fixture. In addition, there’s a wooden support for the lighting system between the valance and the light itself, so there’s no way the fabric can touch the fixture or bulb.

Valence-Lighting relationship photo Valence-04_zpsfdc8bbfe.jpg

As I mount the valance, I will determine whether further measures are needed – such as adding a shield. This can be as simple as screwing a square of masonite to the lighting support so that fabric can’t fold around it and get tangled in a light.

Safety must come first – always!

Valance support installed

My friend Pierre Oliver visited yesterday – and I took advantage of his fabrication skills (and second set of hands) to install the required supports to mount a fabric valance above the layout.

Fabric was Pierre’s idea – picked up from his experience in the theatre. Pierre refers to it as the Ouchless Valance because it won’t leave a scar if you bump your scalp on the bottom edge. I think that’s a great idea.

The support is pretty straightforward. We marked the location of tangent lengths of valance and installed 1″x2″ boards on the ceiling. For curves, we used lengths of thin Masonite panel. These drop about half the height of the finished valence. In the photo below, I have taped a tea towel in place (right side) to illustrate the depth of the finished valance. Note how the bottom edge will be slightly lower than the lighting support brackets on the ceiling.
Layout Valence photo Valence-01_zps9a373e7c.jpg

Also note the black line where the Masonite meets the ceiling. This is Velcro. It runs the entire length of the support, and is how I will attach the fabric valance.

While I haven’t yet acquired my valance fabric, it’ll be something in a solid colour – like the fabric backdrop. It will not be a checked pattern, like the tea towel. But the towel, shown below, does provide a good sense of how the layout will look when the valance is in place. The photo above was taken from low to the ground, looking up at the ceiling, so the top edge of the backdrop can be seen. The photo below was taken from my eye level so it shows how the layout will look during an operating session. Note how the valance hides the top edge of the backdrop – and how little of the backdrop is actually seen once trees and other foreground elements are in place.

Valence: Tea Towel Test photo Valence-02_zpsb404586a.jpg

My roll of Velcro ran out about halfway along the valance support, so I’m off to acquire more from Designer Fabric Outlet and will look at fabrics for the valance while I’m there.

Thanks for the work, Pierre – a great time as always!

Auto headlights (Fun with LEDs)

Here’s a bright idea, courtesy of fellow S scale modeller Peter Vanvliet and his extensive model railroading website.

Like me, Peter has an extensive collection of S Scale vehicles for his layout – many from the fine M2 Auto-thentics die-cast range. In this article he describes adding surface mount LEDs to create working headlights on a 1950 Oldsmobile 88.

Well done, Peter!

While the Port Rowan branch is a daytime-running-only sort of operation, I’d like to be able to take night-time photographs too – and this will really enhance them. So I’m definitely going to tuck this idea into the “to-do” folder…