Fitting Brass Numbers on Locos

I have fitted many brass numbers to HO steam locos, but it was so long ago I had to remind myself how to do it.

Frets of brass and nickel silver loco numbers are available at hobby stores like Casula Hobbies. The latter have sets like “AM-1 HO Numbers Brass Etch Sheet” & “AMO-4 HO Contractors Locos”

This is one way to do it – on a DJH white metal kit of loco 3214

The first problem is positioning the numbers on the cab side. With this 32 Class (3214), the rivets provide a good guide. Prototype photos also indicate the correct position for numbers. Always start with the middle number or the space between 2 middle numbers and work outwards. The number “1” requires a little more space either side.
Numbers need to be cut from the fret on a hard surface with a very sharp blade – scalpel in this case.
With care they can then be held in flat jaw pliers to remove any waste with a fine jewellers file.
I use a tiny dot of Blu Tack on the tip of a toothpick to hold and position the numbers.
In my opinion super glue is NOT the answer to attach the numbers.
Use a speck of dilute PVA or Canopy Glue applied with a toothpick to the back of the numbers. Canopy glue seems to dry a little faster than PVA but is also water soluble for cleaning up a disaster. It is great for attaching windows in models as it dries very clear.
Canopy Glue or PVA also allows a little degree of movement to shove the number around a bit.
Glue is on the back and I’m ready to position it by eye.
Small adjustments can be done with a scalpel or toothpick.
The end result showing the increased spacing either side of “1”.

I find it easier to apply brass numbers than decals.


  1. Another method I have used in the past is to use a strip of clear sticky tape after severely “de-sticking” it by repeatedly attaching it to a clean smooth surface then peeling it off. The tape needs to be super low stick so that you don’t peel off paint at the end of the process or that the numbers are pulled off when the tape is removed.The numbers can then be lightly attached to the reverse of the tape by the blue tack method or by picking them up with a super sharp scalpel point. The advantage is that the whole number set is done in one hit and the numbers can be adjusted and moved around before gluing. The disadvantage is that you are setting out the numbers back to front.Coat the back of the stuck-on numbers with dilute PVA or Canopy Glue and apply the strip with care. Once positioning is OK leave the PVA to dry for a day or so.
  2. It is also possible to lay all the numbers out on a clean surface using specs of blu tack , then pick the lot up in one go with the tape.

Manual Points by WIT

This section covers the construction and installation of mechanical lever frames which are not prototypical in appearance but do move in a manner not dissimilar to the prototype. Also covered is the associated “Wire in Tube” (WIT) operation and installation. The photo below shows some lever frames in position near the proposed Carriage Works in the early stages of my layout. Four of these control single points and two control facing points (crossovers).
In this post:-  “Point” = “Turnout”            “Sleeper” = “Tie”The lever frames are two assemblies – the frame mechanism itself and the housing.


The housing was fabricated from 2mm ply and a small block of wood.


The frame is based on a standard aluminium section plus some metric nuts, bolts and screws, an electrical connector, and a PVC and brass welding wire handle. I have some sketches – if there is any interest.
This frame is for a single point
This frame is for a crossover with one wire pushing and the other pulling. Component “A” is one of the brass terminals from a piece of Terminal Strip shown on the right. That makes it a very economical solution. The visible screw allows adjustment of the position of the point. The second screw in the same brass terminal piece allows it to be screwed to the handle with a small countersunk screw.
The aluminium mount is held to the fascia by a single screw through the bottom hole. The top hole receives the WIT.
This is the tube I used. It is the outer part of a Bowden cable used for the gear shift on a bicycle. A bike shop should be able to sell you a metre or two.
Test assembly – then glued with PVA
A single lever frame with the operating wire bent at right angles.
I use 1.25mm dia piano wire which needs a powerful hardened cutter as shown at the bottom of the photo above. In this install the WIT was fitted through a hole drilled straight to the nearby point.

For this crossover (above and below) near the front fascia of the layout, there was no room to fit a WIT the normal way. The frame directly controls the rearmost point by the bottom wire on the frame and this wire runs directly under the plywood mounting for the bellcrank (white above) and come up through the throwbar as can be seen below.
There is a very short piece of tube to hold the wire in place near the point. I glue these in with PVA.
In order to throw the second point in the crossover, the top wire from the frame operates a bellcrank which changes the direction of the pull (so that it is parallel with the fascia) and operates a second bellcrank for the front point.

To get some necessary adjustment between the 2 bellcranks, fit one of the brass electrical connectors (descibed in the picture 5th down from the top of this post). The interconnecting wire then needs to be 2 pieces – one long one and a shorter one near one of the bellcranks – as above.

The photo below shows the setup for the other point. I had to drill a hole right through the fascia to get the short piece of WIT to the throwbar. Again, the bellcrank is mounted to a thin plywood plate which will sit above the throwbar wire. You can buy these bellcranks from Model Aircraft shops.
The normal method of installing facing points with WIT is shown below. In this example originally there was only a single point and the trench for the WIT is still visible to the left. In changing it to facing points the frame was relocated; swapped to a double wire type; and new trenches laid for the WIT.

This jig is used to make sure the WIT hole(s) and the mounting screw pilot hole is in the correct position.
Here is an earlier version in use.
To cut the trenches, pin the tube in place over the best and smoothest path. Run a fine marking pen along each side of the tube.
Hand held Dremel and vacuum cleaner in use the cut between the lines.
This cutter does the job well. The vacuum is very necessary especially in the expanded foam unless you want to generate a snow storm!
This template locates the cut-out needed to accept the microswitch under the point.
The red lines are used to align it to the rails as the microswitch is installed off centre. That is explained in my post on MODIFYING PECO POINTS FOR DCC.

In some ways I preferred the manual point operation as it is more appropriate for my 1960s layout where the train crew or shunters did much of the groundwork. However the change to servo control does allow simpler use of area conrol panels and some likeness to a signal box diagram.

Strain Relief

How to ease the problem of working under a fixed layout.

With advancing age it becomes increasingly difficult to work under the layout. There are some alternatives such as tilting or fold-up layouts but they have disadvantages. I didn’t want a portable layout so my layout is screwed to the walls and supports. The layout height is 1020mm (3’4″) with a floor to head clearance of 840mm (2’9″) under the layout. Having the seat close to the floor was mandatory.

So I had to figure out a way to work with at least some comfort under the layout. I tried a very low stool on rollers but on my lino floor it was just too prone to sliding around (rocketing around might be a better explanation) and had no back support. The back support is what I need along with a stable base.


This is the prototype (and final product) to allow me to drag it around the floor. Made from workshop offcuts (pineboard and MDF) and some old fabric padding.
The other bit of padding on the floor looks like an offcut and it is – but I use it to kneel on while I roll (collapse) into the seat.
I just experimented with the back angle, hence the hinges plus they were also laying around the workshop. The other gadget visible in this photo is a locking clamp to which I have attached a roll of solder.
This is clamped up under the layout on some appropriate part of the frame and provides solder at a level close to the work.
When soldering under a layout DON’T have any part of your body UNDER THE SOLDERING AREA for obvious reasons.

Lifting Entry Flap/ Section

Easy Access without Crawling Under

A light weight lifting flap (entry panel) to make getting into and out of the Layout Room  easier than ducking under. Especially for an around-the-wall layout and useful for geriatrics!
The panel has an electrical interlock which cuts all power some distance
either side of the panel when it is raised a few millimetres. That still doesn’t cater for person who attempts an “underpass” but rises a little early, distributing locos etc. onto the floor.  I think a mechanical interlock is the next project!

This is a view of the completed lifting section before scenery. The hinges will be covered by a scenic “feature” (!)
The non opened clearance under is 950mm (3′ 1.5″) for tiny people and flexible adults. This has been in use for 4 years with no problems but normally opened to enter. My mechanical wire-in-tube manual point control is visible. Works well but I have been seduced by the magic of MERG (worth looking at even if you only download the EXCELLENT free “Electronics for Model Railways” book) and using electronics, DCC and computers is my thing, so all are in the process of conversion to servo control, the fitting of which is the subject of this post.
Preparation of the bench work either side is critical, as is assuring that the whole thing is level fore and aft.
This shows the basic construction using quality light timber (in this case hoop pine – Araucaria cunninghamii). The joints are all epoxied together and reinforced by using biscuit joiners.
The CRITICAL consideration is that timber shrinks and swells ACROSS THE GRAIN and there is very, very little shrinkage along the grain.
So as much longitudinal timber as possible must be used across the opening so that damp/dry weather changes have minimal effect. The next photos show other additions to further reinforce that in the other direction.
The underside showing additional cross bracing, both to support the 1″ (25mm) foam and to restrict any shrinkage or expansion at right angles to the track so that the latter remains aligned where it crosses the joins. There has been no problem with track alignment or binding of the lifting panel since July 2014 even through flooding rain periods and temperatures in the room between less than 10°C and over 32°C.
The section alongside the lift up section has been prepared to accept the 2″ foam. This photo shows a hinge rebated into the support.
The hinged side. Quality heavy duty brass hinges (3″ 75mm) were rebated into the frame and panel and the foam is being bonded to the top of the layout with PVA & weights (no, this is not a Valvoline advert!)
The “landing” side carefully fitted so the top surface aligns when shut.
A later photo showing the H/Duty micro switch interrupting the DCC feed to the section behind.  The inset shows the one on the under side.
Underneath with the wiring necessary for the track on the lifting panel.
The track feed to the lifting panel has two terminal blocks near the hinge line and a short section of flexible cable which can be replaced if necessary.


The joins across the lifting hatch require a little bit of care and attention.
Track is laid straight across the join substituting PCB sleepers at the join. Doing 5 sleepers would be better than 3 for more surface contact. The conductive copper is removed between the rails. I used a paper sanding disc in the Dremel before soldering them in place. Clean the copper and the bottom of the rail with a flux. “Tin” the surface of the copper PCB and you will need little if any additional solder to sweat the rail in place.
I always attach the track to the substrata with diluted Carpet Glue (latex adhesive). It is quite thin, very cheap, and only needs application to the foam / wood etc followed by weights to hold it in place until dry. The great advantage of this method is that there is no mechanical connection to the substrata AND … it can be lifted if you have a stuff-up. Just brush some water over the track or point (turnout) you want to lift, leave if for half an hour or so, then carefully slide a thin spatula under it.
After the latex adhesive has set, cut the track with a very fine blade. I had to cut a sleeper as the track was diagonal at this section.

Also see the section on “Laying Track Across the Join” Yet to be added.


Reinforcing Foam Sheet

This section explains the important step of reinforcing (or stressed skinning) the 1″ (25mm) foam sheet to give it tensile strength on the bottom surface. The top is not such a problem as the extruded foam seems to have reasonable compressive strength.
This technique borrows from bridge building and surf board building techniques – remembering that our loading is occurring primarily from the top. You can also use it on 2″ foam to allow increased distance between the supporting battens.

I am assuming that you are not going to be walking around on the top of the layout! Having said that, I have stood on the layout by placing strategic wide pieces of plywood on distributed spacers between the tracks and close to the edges.

The technique is extremely simple – coat the bottom side with a layer of cloth glued to the the surface with PVA. You could use exotics like fibreglass or carbon fibre cloth – but we are not building a spacecraft! Just some cheap muslin cloth is what I use from a fabric shop. A tea towel may do the job. Cut it a bit oversize; coat it with a generous layer of PVA glue and squeegee it into the surface … as below.
Reinforcing using muslin cloth and PVA glue.
Squeegee / roll/ brush the PVA so that it fully impregnates the cloth.

No hi-tech tools here! You may need to thin the PVA with water just a little to help spread it. Re-coat if doubtful.

When it is completely dry, cut around the edges with a sharp knife. The reinforced surface will be the bottom!

Then glue the sheet in place with PVA. (No, this is not an advert for Valvoline!)

The underside showing additional cross bracing, both to support the 1″ (25mm) foam and to restrict any shrinkage or expansion at right angles to the track so that the latter remains aligned where it crosses the joins. There has been no problem with track alignment or binding of the lifting panel since July 2014 even through flooding rain periods and temperatures in the room between less than 10°C and over 32°C.

The reinforced side is down (up in the photo) and and the assembly rests on a flat surface to keep the top true. I then glued the battens and all the support timbers to the bottom of the foam and to the supporting structure so no screws were needed.

Shown below is a  test run I did in 2008 when I lived at Bensville (I tend to live in places with strange names). It was a test track for both DC and DCC which fitted on the bar in our lounge room. It vaguely reflects the track layout (considerably condensed) used at Oberon in the Central West of NSW when I lived nearby at Hazelgrove. The latter was a station on the now closed/ suspended railway from Tarana to Oberon. A model of the mighty Hazelgrove station will feature on Kalrail layout (later to be re-named “Brolgan Road”).

I couldn’t resist adding this photo of Hazelgrove Station posed on a temporary diorama. Yet to be finished and weathered.

The underside of the test track shows that 1″ foam has been coated with muslin and fitted with a light weight frame. The ugly blocks on the right were added to help it fit on the bar which was a bit narrow. It is 2m long, 58cm wide and weighs 4kg. Could be made much lighter with thinner timber and no ugly blocks.

Could be a neat way to take a 2m x 1/2m layout to a display. Carry it in one hand.