My Hornby-Dublo layouts

These happened quite by accident. Hornby 0 and then Hornby-Dublo three-rail is what I had as a teenager growing up in Yorkshire, England. (See About my Railway Interest.) The fortuity is that just a few years ago, the son of a former model railroading buddy from back in the '70s offered to donate his father's boxed, brand-new Hornby-Dublo ELG17 goods set "to a good home". How could one refuse? Well, I set up the simple oval on the dining room table, and the memories started to come flooding back. My introduction to Hornby-Dublo came when I was about 14 and I was at a cousin's home for the summer - he had a GWR goods set (the engine I remember had the gold-leaf "button" GWR emblem - so it must have been pre-war) - he had a simple double track layout with a crossover pair of points and that was it - just on a green plywood-type board - no scenery - nothing else - but that was total fun for a whole summer - amazing isn't it? In those days, teen happiness was a bicycle, a cricket bat, a soccer ball and an electric train. (The first three were relatively affordable, but an electric train often remained a dream, especially in the years just before and after WWII.) My, how the world has changed.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I decided on a "memory lane" 3-rail 00 expanded venture - tinplate rollingstock, metal wheels and couplings are "de rigueur", but with a concession to mostly Superquick for some additional buildings.

Scroll down for copies of H-D instruction leaflets, advice and tips.

Courtesy the Hornby-Dublo Emporium

Courtesy the Hornby-Dublo Emporium

Upper Enright panorama

Upper Enright panorama

Nether Scrimshaw panorama

Nether Scrimshaw panorama

UPPER ENRIGHT
An immediate venue was some unused space at our condo loft balcony. I designed this layout originally as single-tracked, only to come to the realization that the quintessential ingredient of a traditional European-prototype toy train layout is that it has to be double-tracked.  So I squeezed out another 8 inches from the original plan and proceeded to reconfigure all of the track, retaining only the far "straight" to become the "outer" in its original position. Rail height is 32 1/2 inches off the floor. Major considerations were to keep the height below the top of the balcony ballustrade, and since I do not have the luxury of being able to walk all the way round the layout, the ability to reach to the far side without resorting to a step stool. The main section is 13 ft 4 inches long, and at the control panel, 44 1/2 inches wide. Its length provides for a turntable motive power depot installation, a branch line, a TPO pick up, and generous passing loops for both "up" and "down" trains. the points on the far side are, for obvious reasons, electrically operated, but point work elsewhere is manually operated to take maximum advantage of the isolating points option. Plans are for a tunnel at each end, and for some basic scenery including roadways, and some more buildings (mostly signal boxes).

A static tour of Upper Enright during construction, long before the inclusion of any scenery. 2015.

With the major scenery completed, A4s 7 Sir Nigel Gresley and 10 Dominion of Canada hard at work. Views of Lincoln Enright mainline station, the village of Longley-Sutcliffe and Charnock Halt.

The very beginning of tracklaying with the initial single track design - the island platform and the control panel to the right will require an extension - but then a decision was made to double-track the layout in the fine toy train European tradition

The very beginning of tracklaying with the initial single track design - the island platform and the control panel to the right will require an extension - but then a decision was made to double-track the layout in the fine toy train European tradition

A panorama view, double-tracked,  with the major scenery complete. On conversion to double-tracking, the whole left side of the layout had to be stripped out, and an addition to the baseboard made.

A panorama view, double-tracked, with the major scenery complete. On conversion to double-tracking, the whole left side of the layout had to be stripped out, and an addition to the baseboard made.

The village of Longley Sutcliffe.

The village of Longley Sutcliffe.

The main passenger and goods yard.  It started with three tracks, but was eventually converted to five to solve a familiar rollingstock accommodation problem.

The main passenger and goods yard. It started with three tracks, but was eventually converted to five to solve a familiar rollingstock accommodation problem.

The Suburban awaits departure at Lincoln Enright Platform 1.

The Suburban awaits departure at Lincoln Enright Platform 1.

The goods yard at Lincoln Enright, the mainline station. In the background, painted balsa wood and recycled furnace filter sprayed green provide separations between the scenes, i.e., the yard, the branchline and the other side of the mainline.

The goods yard at Lincoln Enright, the mainline station. In the background, painted balsa wood and recycled furnace filter sprayed green provide separations between the scenes, i.e., the yard, the branchline and the other side of the mainline.

The motive power depot area, with the workers' cottages, and a distant silhouette  "Castle Hill" on some tunnel moorland that is a reminiscence and  designed to provide a symbolic break between the front and the back of the layout.

The motive power depot area, with the workers' cottages, and a distant silhouette "Castle Hill" on some tunnel moorland that is a reminiscence and designed to provide a symbolic break between the front and the back of the layout.

A long GWR goods train is on its way out of Lincoln Enright station.

A long GWR goods train is on its way out of Lincoln Enright station.

The long passing loops on the far side of the layout that provide flexibility in operations.

The long passing loops on the far side of the layout that provide flexibility in operations.

The east side of the layout.

The east side of the layout.

The west side of the layout.

The west side of the layout.

Traffic at Lincoln Enright, but the next project is to work on a few "little people".

Traffic at Lincoln Enright, but the next project is to work on a few "little people".

NETHER SCRIMSHAW
Basically, Nether Scrimshaw became a second venue, or - candidly - an afterthought. All modellers will be aware of the dilemma of too much rollingstock and not enough sidings. Also, it seemed desirable to combine some kind of a toy train layout in the immediate vicinity of my Toy Train Track Museum. So that is how the downstairs basement layout came about. Conveniently, Upper Enright became the home of the "Big Four" era, and Nether Scrimshaw that of "British Railways". The original plan was to have the Nether Scrimshaw points entirely manually-operated with total reliance on isolating points to create the necessary block sections, but the notion of having to walk around the layout in order to switch the outer-track trains into a passing loop soon wore thin. With the subsequent addition of an inner circuit passing loop, remote-controlled points became de rigueur. Unfortunately, as already noted, remote-controlled points don't come in an "isolating" version,  so some additional wiring became necessary, which is always a good work-out because the layout is only 24" off the floor for convenient operation while sitting on the adjacent sofa.  The overall dimensions are 9ft 9 inches long and 44 inches wide, with a partial 50 inch width at one end for an outer goods train loop. A 38" width is the minimum for double track operation, but the extra six inches allow for two sidings off the outside (UP) circuit, one for an alternate 3-coach passenger train at the island platform bay, and the other designed for a one-stall engine shed.

Tabula rasa. Half-inch plywood (homasote no longer readily available where I live) on a stained 3X1 pine frame. Again "de rigueur" green-painted surface.

Tabula rasa. Half-inch plywood (homasote no longer readily available where I live) on a stained 3X1 pine frame. Again "de rigueur" green-painted surface.

Some way to go yet, but some equipment and buildings start to appear. Also note the two sidings on the outer circuit - always a challenge because Hornby-Dublo never got around to points for its large radius curves.

Some way to go yet, but some equipment and buildings start to appear. Also note the two sidings on the outer circuit - always a challenge because Hornby-Dublo never got around to points for its large radius curves.

Nether Scrimshaw completed as far as track layout and major scenery goes. Some buildings still to come, together with some little people.

Nether Scrimshaw completed as far as track layout and major scenery goes. Some buildings still to come, together with some little people.

An express passes through Nether Scrimshaw Outer, while a local waits for its turn out to the west country. The island platform is 3" sectional lumber with applied Superquick paving. At perfect platform height.

An express passes through Nether Scrimshaw Outer, while a local waits for its turn out to the west country. The island platform is 3" sectional lumber with applied Superquick paving. At perfect platform height.

After the N2 passes with its local goods, the 8F will move out with an express goods from the main goods platform track.

After the N2 passes with its local goods, the 8F will move out with an express goods from the main goods platform track.

Looking across Nether Scrimshaw from the Inner to the Outer station.

Looking across Nether Scrimshaw from the Inner to the Outer station.

A view across the town from the Outer station.

A view across the town from the Outer station.

The Outer station goods sidings.

The Outer station goods sidings.

A Down suburban calls at the Inner station while an express pounds through on the Up line.

A Down suburban calls at the Inner station while an express pounds through on the Up line.

A view across the town.

A view across the town.

Looking over to the engine shed, and the outer goods loop in the distance. The infants' school is close to the engine shed to give the kiddies early exposure to Hornby-Dublo. I wish.

Looking over to the engine shed, and the outer goods loop in the distance. The infants' school is close to the engine shed to give the kiddies early exposure to Hornby-Dublo. I wish.

The control panel with an H&M Duette and the "signal box".

The control panel with an H&M Duette and the "signal box".

ADVICE, TIPS and copies of H-D instruction leaflets

First of all, here are the standard instructions that came with all Hornby-Dublo train sets, and those are still a good starting point for basic advice on assembly and maintenance: Instructions for Running Hornby-Dublo Electric Trains 1951

Other instruction leaflets:
Layout design suggestions 
Power control Unit A3
Controller
C3 Controller
Electrically-operated points and signals
Colour Aspect signals
Isolating points 
Isolating Rails
Electrically-operated uncoupling rail
Manually-operated uncoupling rail
TPO van 
Grouping Rods for D1, D2 and G3 switches

(All Instruction leaflets courtesy the Hornby-Dublo Emporium)

INDEX
AIM
POWER SUPPLY
LAYOUT TRACK DESIGN
SETTING UP
TROUBLE SHOOTING
MAINTENANCE
COUPLINGS
SIGNALS
SCENERY
REFLECTIONS
CREDIT LINE

AIM
The aim is not to create a model railway, but a toy train set-up. A toy train can take liberties with scale and "vraisemblance" (looking like the real thing), that a model railway is not supposed to. Toy trains were designed for children, and their imaginations could be fired with just a hint of what was actually represented on the floor or the dining-room table.  That was their charm. But as toy trains went, Hornby-Dublo (and other H0/00 railways of its era) was also at the cutting edge of the metamorphosis from toy trains to model railways - and from that perspective is therefore of inordinate value in its place in the evolution of model trains as we know them today. 

POWER SUPPLY
The purists will insist on the Meccano Ltd.-made transformer and controller. For those who will be satisfied with a good power pack, those made by Hammant & Morgan are an excellent choice, especially the "Powermaster" and the "Duette". Hornby-Dublo locomotives draw a good amp, and the H&M powerpacks work well. The six block sections that come with the "Powermaster" are a bonus. It should be noted that Hammant & Morgans are no longer made, but there are plenty of them on the after-market for somewhere around $20-$60. Just be sure you get a unit that hasn't had any amateur alterations and is otherwise in good working condition. If you buy one on-line in North America, be sure that you are getting the 120V export model. (H&M is a very durable product - I bought two "Safety Minor" packs new back in the 1960s, and they are still going strong.) One other tip: for those power packs that have the "wave" feature, run on "full wave"; and for those that also have the "resistance" feature, run on "low resistance". Half wave and high resistance create extra heat that is not good for the locomotive armatures. To prevent accidental use, cut out some small stout pieces of cardboard and push them into the open slide space.     

LAYOUT TRACK DESIGN
All toy trains came with what we describe today as "sectional track" - prescribed geometric pieces that (aside from end-to-end) will only allow for a defined configuration, such as a circle, "square" or "rectangle" oval, or figure-8 - or a combination thereof. The most usual was/is arguably the "rectangle" oval, and in Europe in particular with a double-track option, with sidings on the inside. Some makes came to offer elevated sections that could be configured into the "rectangular" oval set-up as an alternate running loop, and all manufacturers offered a variety of accessories that varied as to their "play-value" and their design with the age in which they were marketed. For instance, Bing and Märklin offered operating level (grade) crossings and train indicators, while Hornby 0 offered a system of mechanical signal operation, Trix-Twin a mechanical coal-loader and Hornby-Dublo a travelling post office mail bag pick-up and drop-off. In the toy train age, the emphasis was on running trains and incidental play value from the offered line of accessories, rather than on elaborate shunting (switching) or mock-timetable operation prevalent in the model railway era. 

Pointers:

  1. If at possible, go for a double-track design. Very definitely the signature of a European-prototype toy train set up. And it will simplify the eventual placement and operation of signals - see below.
  2. Think very carefully about the siding space that you will require for both your inner and outer circuits, and plan accordingly. Remember that all siding space for the outer circuit has to come off "the straight", as H-D never made points for the larger radius. This means additional space on the outside of the outer circuit, and/or crossing over to or across the inside circuit for one or more inside sidings or loops (sidings with points at both ends).
  3. Plan the number of "blocks" (on-off dead sections where you can hold a train or a locomotive), in the case of Hornby-Dublo, making the best use of the isolating points that switch the power in the direction of the set road. Remember though that isolating points have to have a power feed towards the toe of the point (the throw lever end of the point). Remember also that the electrically-operated points did not come with an isolating track version, so that one has to plan for any necessary "blocks" or isolating sections (see blow under "Electrical feeds to the Track").
  4. Always have some extra track pieces to hand, so that when changes become desirable, you don't have to go back to your supply source before you can make the changes.

SETTING UP
Electrical feeds to the track

Hornby-Dublo provides straight and curved "terminal rails" that have posts for connecting the electrical feed wires. Inspect the posts carefully, especially the feed to the centre rail to ensure that the insulation is in good condition and has not become dislodged to make contact with the metal roadbed. H-D provides multi-strand wire, but for the short distances of most toy train layouts, solid-strand telephone-type SWG 22-24 wire will work fine. While terminal rails are always preferable, it is also possible to provide a centre-rail feed by tightly wrapping solid-strand SWG 22-24 wire around the centre rail "tongue" at the track connection, taking care that it is not too bulky, and that you insert an insulating tab above the tongue so that there is no possibility of contact with the metal surface of the roadbed.
   
Track connections
Before applying any track pieces to forming a layout:

  1. inspect each piece to check that the centre rail does not touch the roadbed anywhere (slide a thin piece of card under the centre rail) and if found to be touching, raise gently with a small flat-head screwdriver.
  2. check that the rails are not bent out of shape. If so, very gently bend back with both hands to as level a profile as the eye or placement on a flat surface will confirm.
  3. check that the centre rail tongues are stable and the track joiners are tight to the rail. Over the years track joiners have taken a fair amount of abuse with the constant assembly and disassembly of track. A loose track joiner may result in poor or intermittent electrical contact. At points and crossings, tighten the joiner by pinching the sides with a medium-sized pair of needle-nosed pliers, but on ordinary rail lengths, preferably solder the offending track joiner to the rail. In either case, test the repaired joiner electrically before using. Alternatively, remove the loose track joiner altogether and substitute with a new track joiner typically available at hobby stores for H0 flexible track. 
  4. be sure to check that the centre rail tongues and the rail ends are clean and well-burnished for electrical conductivity. Tarnished tongues and rail ends can impede current flow or cause arcing. Burnish gently with very fine emery paper. If there is unexplained voltage drop that has no other apparent explanation, chances are this is the cause, and the only way to trace it is to isolate the section of track concerned piece by piece until the poor contact is found. The testing can mostly conveniently be done with a well-running 0-6-2 tank engine, running light. 

Tracklaying
This is not intended to be a treatise on layout design, but these tips do assume that the layout is on a permanent base, there is a track plan, that electrical dead (block) sections have been decided on, and that thoughtful use is being made of the available track formations.
With these as "givens", here are some tips for good tracklaying:

  1. the base must be as level as it is possible to get it
  2. fasten the track at intervals with #2 slotted roundhead screws or #4 flathead or oval head Robertson screws
  3. take good care that that the screw heads do not touch the centre rail (which will result in an immediate electrical short circuit)
  4. do not tighten the screws so tight that they distort the metal roadbed at the screw hole, or distort the track piece altogether.
  5. place screws at intervals just sufficient to keep the track in (straight) alignment
  6. test the track being assembled electrically "as you go" to ensure that there is not an electrical short anywhere - do not leave it to the end of assembly to conduct your first test, as there is almost bound to be a "short" somewhere and you won't have the faintest idea where it is - meaning that you will likely have to disassemble everything that you have put together in order to find it.
  7. ensure that each track unit is joined tightly to the next one.
  8. make quite sure that each rail joiner has slid correctly into the adjoining rail so that there is no "bump" in the rail height, check each connection as it is made by running a finger across the top of the rails at the joint. 
  9. correct track "doglegs" - not only are they unsightly, but they may cause poor running and derailments
  10. if the track plan is an oval double track, ensure that the track joints where the curved sections begin are exactly in alignment opposite each other, as otherwise this will create alignment problems if crossings or crossovers are subsequently inserted. 

TROUBLE-SHOOTING

DERAILMENTS
If a locomotive or piece of rollingstock continuously derails at the same point - inspect the location carefully.
Possible causes in addition to under Tracklaying above:

  • (a) the track is not level there (insert a screw to level the track and/or place cardboard shimmy under track);
  • (b) for whatever reason the track is out of gauge (replace track piece);
  • (c) the track is not connected up properly at the rail joiners (reconnect the two pieces of track, ensuring that the rail joiners are in their correct locations),
  • (d) at the points or at a crossing, a guard rail may be out of position (gently correct with needle-nose pliers); 
  • (e) the fault may be with the coupling or the wheel set (inspect equipment to ensure that couplings and wheel set are moving freely);
  • (f) the rails are out of alignment at the track joint (gently correct with needle-nose pliers - or file the two rail ends with a small Dremel-type hand file [taking care not to scrape the lithograph] until the inside rail ends are smoothly continuous);
  • (g) if it is a locomotive with the plunger-style pick-up in the tender (chances are there is not a smooth transition from one centre rail to the next - check the adjoining heights of the centre rail and adjust the one that is lower than the other by raising it gently with a small screwdriver blade while keeping your thumb firmly over the nearest fastening of the centre rail to the roadbed.)

SHORT CIRCUITS
If a locomotive refuses to move (not a stall on points or a crossing), or suddenly only moves very slowly, chances are that a short circuit has occurred. If you have a circuit tester, you can confirm it with that - the light bulb will only glow faintly, if at all.    

The first step is to shut off the power to all other track sections, one at a time.
If during that process the locomotive starts up and moves at proper speed, the problem is on the track section that you have just shut off.
Either way, once you have located the offending track section, check that

  • all electrical connections are tight
  • there is no metal, such as a derailed car, or a tool or other metallic object straddling the track
  • on a layout powered by more than one power pack, there is no conflicting polarity because of lack of insulation, or because a locomotive is straddling the crossing point and is stalled because of opposing polarities.

If that does not resolve the problem, place an 0-6-2 tank engine on the track, turn on the power to the slowest speed at which the locomotive would normally move and remove the fastening screws one by one, until the locomotive starts up; or if you are using a track tester, the light bulb starts to burn brightly.

Chances are that will resolve the problem. If it does not, start dismantling the track piece by piece working your way from the track piece furthest from the track section power feed towards the track where the feed is, with the locomotive occupying the track piece where the feed is. Once the offending track piece has been identified (see above under "Track Connections"), inspect it, make any necessary repair or adjustment, or replace the piece.

Now reverse the process in reassembling the track and replacing the fastening screws. Test the track with the locomotive as each piece of track and each fastening screw is put back.

Important note:  Do not leave a locomotive on a short-circuited track for any length of time with the power on. Even at a low speed setting, a short circuit generates heat that can eventually damage the locomotive armature and/or the power pack (if it is not equipped with a short circuit cut-out).

NO POWER OR LOCO DOES NOT MOVE (but no short circuit - see above)

  • Confirm that there is power at the track terminals at the section of track in question with a circuit tester
  • Check that the problem is not with the locomotive by checking to see that it runs on another section, or with feed wires to the wheels and pick-up from the track terminals
  • If there is power at the track terminals, test each section of track between the track terminals and the power outage
  • When the dead track section has been located, tighten or loosen the screws that pin the track to the base - chances are that heat or cold may have caused expansion or contraction that has dislocated the power feed
  • If that does not work, remove and inspect the dead track section for tight and clean track connectors, that the centre rail tongue is clean and properly aligned and tight, and that the connecting rails are clean at the webs. Also see under Track Connections and  Tracklaying above. If in doubt or if adjustment fails, exchange the track piece.

MAINTENANCE
Unless one has had the good fortune to acquire equipment and track that has been mint in a box for 60 years or more, one will be dealing with items that have been in use for that length of time, and will be showing the scars of having been well played with. Fortunately, Meccano Ltd. built "sturdy", and whatever has survived in working order until now, will likely continue to give remarkable service, if even moderately well looked after.

Cleaning
The enemies of all toy and model trains are dirt, dust and damp. Dust and damp can be avoided or at least minimized by choosing the right layout environment in the first place; but, yea verily, dirt shall be with you wherever you are.
One basic rule for dirt removal anywhere - do not use sandpaper-grade abrasives or strong solvents of any kind.

Dirt on wheels
Essentially dirt on wheels is the result of compacted dust, accelerated by humid air and any excesses of oilings that have found their way onto the running rails.
Dirt on locomotive driving wheels will cause stalling at the slightest provocation, usually over points and crossings.
For locomotives, consider a "Speedi" Driver Cleaner model 236 by Kadee (TM). Connected to a 12V  DC power source, the wire brushes will rotate the drivers while cleaning off the gunk.
Dirt on any wheels, especially on leading or bogie truck wheels, will cause derailments or uneven running with unwanted uncouplings.
For other than locomotive driving wheels, rotate by hand while gently removing the black gunk with a small Dremel-style screwdriver with the blade aligned flat to the wheel tread surface, being careful not to scar it. Also ensure that there is no remaining dirt at the edge of the wheel tread and the flange.

Dirt on locomotive pickups
This is usually remedied by a gentle wipe with a soft cloth. Stubborn gum can be removed with a drop of gentle solvent, such as Googone (TM), but be sure to wipe completely dry afterwards.

Dirt on locomotive commutators
The commutator is located on the worm gear drive shaft (the armature). It is usually kept polished by the carbon brushes against which it rotates, but if gum has accumulated, brush it off gently with a Q-tip. There are however 3 vertical slits in the commutator (on a 3-pole motor) that are inclined to plug up with a carbon deposit. Clean out the slits with a hair pin, but be very careful not to scratch the commutator surface. 

Dirt on track surfaces
Newly-acquired used track can be gently scrubbed in nothing more than warm soapy water, and then rinsed and left to dry. This will not however likely remove corrosion and dirt on the rail surfaces themselves. There are any number of track cleaners on the market, but for Hornby-Dublo 3-rail I would recommend the CRATEX Abrasive Block XF distributed by Walthers, item 949-522. It's a little more expensive than the average cleaner, but does a great job of burnishing without leaving any grit at railside. Gentle on rail surfaces, but tough on dirt. When cleaning the centre rail, be careful not to exert too much pressure as this may distort that rail's alignment and/or even cause an electrical short if the supporting insulation bracket and tab are dislodged. 

Oiling
These are the rules:
1. Follow the manufacturer's instructions in disassembling, oiling and reassembling the locomotive.
2. Do not over-oil. A little drop will do ya. Some seem to believe that if a loco isn't running too well, the answer is to add more oil. NO! The problem will be elsewhere. If you don't know what you're looking for, take or ship the loco to a qualified repair service.
3. Gently wipe off any excess oil.
4. Do not let oil get anywhere near the armature winding of a locomotive, or the solenoid windings of the electrically-operated points, signals and uncoupling rails.
5. Use a good quality sewing machine oil. (Use a hair pin to apply no more than a drop at a time.) Many modellers use Labelle 107 (medium) or 108 (light) with its convenient needle-tip dispenser. 

To avoid damage to the body, a foam cradle, such as the one made by the Bowser Manufacturing Co., and available in all good hobby stores, is a good investment. Officially described as #22 H0 Scale Foam Loco Cradle.

It is a good idea to maintain a log of when the locos were oiled. How frequently that has to be done depends on the frequency of operation and the room temperature. If on inspection, the worm gear appears bone-dry, it's likely time for another drop of oil.

The rollingstock also needs occasional oiling attention at the wheels and the couplings. Carefully insert the needle-tip between the wheel and the body-frame to reach the axle bearing, with no more than one of drop of oil. Spin the wheels freely. Any bandy axles should be replaced. Likewise place one drop of oil at each coupling rivet, then wiggle to and fro until the coupling moves freely.

COUPLINGS
SPONTANEOUS UNCOUPLING

Over a long period of time, couplings take the toughest beating of all. With that said, outright breakage is rare, but adjustments must be made gently, with a good pair of small needle-nose pliers. Basically, three kinds of problems arise from maladjusted couplings:
1. The coupling is no longer level. This will cause it to disengage from its partner at the slightest jolt or track unevenness. Holding the car in one hand, grasp the coupling with thumb and forefinger and very gently push slightly up or down as required. Note, however, that sometimes it is only the coupling claw that is no longer level. In that case, just bend the claw back level to the coupling shank.
2. The coupling claw has become bent out of shape, causing it to be too wide open or too closed in. If the former, it again will uncouple at the slightest provocation; if the latter, the coupling will not engage automatically.
3. The coupling "tail" is no longer perpendicular or not at 90 degrees to the horizontal surface of the coupling. The result is that the coupling will not respond to a raised uncoupling rail ramp. Again, grasping the coupling very gently between thumb and forefinger, bend the tail straight with a good pair of small needle-nose pliers.
OTHER SPONTANEOUS UNCOUPLING CAUSES:
4. Dirt on the wheel treads that cause uneven running and hence spontaneous uncoupling. See Dirt on Wheels above for the remedy).
5. Track that is not level or without smooth and unobstructed rail continuity - see Track Connections and Track Laying and Troubleshooting Derailments above.  One clue to identifying this problem is when different cars uncouple at the same point in the track. 
6. The movable ramp of an uncoupling rail no longer "lies flat" in the off position, with the result that "the tail" of the coupling catches it anyway and causes the car to disengage from the train.

CONTROLLED UNCOUPLING - Uncoupling Rails and an alternative option
Hornby-Dublo offered manual and electrically-operated uncoupling rails. I have incorporated a number of manual uncoupling rails at strategic places in sidings and platform tracks, but given the age of the couplings and the challenge of getting/keeping them in alignment, I have found that these uncoupling rails are not always reliable. (For that reason, I have stayed away from remotely-operated uncoupling rails altogether.) To meet uncoupling needs, I have mass-produced pairs of hand-held uncouplers to tease the couplings apart. They are fashioned simply from a pair of wine corks (getting tougher to get nowadays ☺) with an inserted length of wire obtainable from any hobby store. The exact SWG (standard wire gauge) does not matter as long as it is not floppy, and the exact length from cork-end to tip does not matter either, but is ideally between 2 to 3 inches. When not in use, they can be conveniently inserted vertically on top of, or horizontally into the frame of the layout. Depending on the angle of the tip, a 1/4 or 5/16" hole should suffice.

H-D coupling - correct shape.

H-D coupling - correct shape.

Img 0399 manual uncouplers
Img 0401 manual uncouplers inserted

SIGNALS
On a toy train layout, signals are an accessory. Admittedly, without any signals, something appears to be missing, even for a toy train set-up. When setting up the signal positions, these should follow the prototype as best as possible, but Hornby-Dublo offered a rather limited range of signals, so approximation is good.

Electrically-operated semaphore signals:
These operate on 12V DC with a separate power source than that used to operate the trains.  If you can't find the matching (maroon, officially "red") Hornby-Dublo D1 switches to operate them, comparable (passing contact or push-button) switches will work just as well. As with the points, the centre post is the common or return feed.

Colour Aspect signals:
If you can't find the matching (green) Hornby-Dublo G3 switches to operate them, comparable (single-pole centre-off) switches will work just as well. As with the points, the centre post is the common or return feed. Colour light signals will operate on either DC or AC 12V, but to prolong the life of the miniature bulbs which are now almost impossible to replace, reduce the voltage by using a 6V power source instead, and preferably use a dedicated power source, i.e., not connected to other lighting.

Electrically-operated semaphore signals in tandem with points:
With a double-track layout in particular, one may be tempted to link some electrically-operated signals to similarly-operated movement of the points. In prime condition and with Hornby-Dublo or its equivalent multi-strand wiring, the maximum simultaneous operation is four solenoids, e.g., a pair of points and a junction signal. As a generality, with used equipment and single-strand telephone-type wiring, one can usually obtain reliable simultaneous operation from two solenoids, e.g., a pair of points working as a crossover, or a double-arm signal, or a single-arm signal linked to one set of points. Anything more than that is a bonus, depending on power supply, SWG thickness of the wire being used, distance from the power source, and condition of the solenoid motor and linkage.  By all means encourage the signal linkage with a drop of oil at the frictional points, but avoid oiling the solenoid housing as this may damage the motor windings.

Tips:

  1. Leave the setting up of signals until the track design is pretty much finalized.
  2. Signals should be screwed to the baseboard with no bigger than #4, but preferably #2 wood screws, and leave a little bit of "give".
  3. Try to place them where you are not going to be reaching in all the time to throw manual points.
  4. If an electrically-operated semaphore signal is "sticking", chances are it may be a corroded solenoid slider. Correcting this requires removal of the signal base. It's a simple job but if you're not an expert, take it to a qualified repair service. Do not be tempted to attempt to free a "sticking" signal by injecting oil into the signal base. 
  5. When wiring remote-controlled signals for under-base wiring, you may find it easier to prepare short lengths of wire connected to the signal terminals (do not over-tighten the screws as this may cut the connection), and then connect them up with the feeds underneath the base. (Also applicable to remote-controlled points.) If you make tentative pig-tail connections, that will allow you reverse the wires to conform with the correct position of the throw lever, rather than having to reverse the wires at the throw lever - a fiddly procedure if you are using Hornby-Dublo ones.
  6. If you are using Hornby-Dublo throw levers in particular, note that the base bakelite feet are brittle. Prepare screw holes in the baseboard with a drill, use #2 wood screws, and tighten very gently and not too tightly.
  7. All accessory power circuits should include an on/off switch that will cut the circuit in the event of an emergency or a period of non-use.   

SCENERY
Scenery is personal. No one tells an artist how or what to depict. The main thing to bear in mind here though is that 3-rail Hornby Dublo is a toy train, not a model railway. With that in mind, it would be perfectly OK to view scenery as a youngster might be happy with it. With that in place, traditionally the baseboard colour is usually some shade of green, and one goes from there. Some layouts may have no, or next to no, scenery at all. The baseboard may accommodate all the track that can be squeezed in and the emphasis is on running trains. As a matter of fact, the toy train world is all about running trains, i.e., just having them go round and round and occasionally stop at a/the station.
At the other end of the spectrum is a design to make a 3-rail layout look like a model railway with all of the detailed scenicking that this approach implies.
My own preferred approach is "impressionist" scenery where the buildings, roads, tunnels and so forth are all thresholds to the imagination. Yes, Hornby-Dublo-made buildings and accessories are fine - and they can be readily augmented by a variety of other buildings and structures to fit in with the layout design, such as those by Superquick or Metcalfe.  Improvised home-made tunnels, roads and landscape demarcations such as fences, hedges, trees and shrubbery are fine. Backdrops are good too - they help define the dimension of the layout. As to detail though, it doesn't matter, for instance, if the roads are on the narrow side in some places - but they are still ideal for parking some contemporary vehicles on them. That said, while exact scale does not have to matter either, anything outrageously out of scale or out of place will of course detract rather than enhance. And don't overdo anything - again, keep it simple - the idea is to run a toy train and let the imagination (and the memories) do the rest - that is what these trains were designed for in the first place.

Tips:

  1. Postpone scenery work until you are pretty much satisfied with the layout design.
  2. Think out what you want to do in the way of overall design. Where to place stations, railway-related buildings, other buildings, backdrops. Simple is good, but avoid shoddy.
  3. Allow tunnels to be lifted off in the event of a problem. Tunnels afford a "break" in the scenic appearance, and add interest to the layout.  (Also see below under 9.)
  4. Avoid fastening buildings to the baseboard unless you have to, such as for station platforms, freight and engine sheds where accurate alignment is important for the safe passage of trains. When thus necessary, just "spot glue" with a white glue at either end of the structure to allow for an easy move without inflicting damage to the baseboard or the structure. (Sever when required by sliding a box-cutter style utility knife underneath.) Do not use invisible tape, as you risk peeling off the printed surface in the event of a required change.)
  5. Coloured bristol board (cheaply obtainable at dollar stores) is an excellent medium for "making" roads and pavements (sidewalks), etc. Again, glue lightly along the edges, with a dab in the middle - just sufficiently to prevent buckling.
  6. With respect to buildings and structures, avoid mixing mediums, especially as between cardboard, tin and plastic. However, inclusion of some of the original structures made by Meccano Ltd. for Hornby-Dublo should always be welcome. But be careful about mixing Meccano with Trix or Triang buildings and structures, as the design styles are quite different and will impact adversely on the homogeneous appearance of the layout.
  7. Backdrops (3/16" or 1/4" masonite) with some pre-printed or home-made painted or calendar cut-out scenery will add atmosphere, with a low relief building here and there to add interest.
  8. Make an effort to "separate" landscapes by the inclusion of walls, hedges, fences, bushes, trees and tunnels. An "impressionist" representation is good - again: remember - this is a toy train layout, not a model railway.
  9. How to build your own tunnel in nine easy steps: Required items: Materials: 3/16" masonite, cardboard of varying strengths, tunnel entrances, sectional  lumber 2x2 and 1x3, plaster cloth, tempera green and black paint, paper towelling, white glue. Tools: brushes broad and narrow, set square, tape measure, saw, box cutter, markers, hand bowl for water, scissors.
Step 1: Construct the tunnel walls with masonite or stout (5/16") cardboard.

Step 1: Construct the tunnel walls with masonite or stout (5/16") cardboard.

Step 2: Cut out and fix the tunnel entrances in position, and check that the express locomotives and carriages will clear them. Tunnel entrances can be as bought, or printed from scans on 67lb paper, cut out and glued to thin cardboard or balsawood.

Step 2: Cut out and fix the tunnel entrances in position, and check that the express locomotives and carriages will clear them. Tunnel entrances can be as bought, or printed from scans on 67lb paper, cut out and glued to thin cardboard or balsawood.

Step 3: Now complete the tunnel frame with medium thickness cardboard or balsa wood as desired. Recheck the tunnel entrances for clearance.

Step 3: Now complete the tunnel frame with medium thickness cardboard or balsa wood as desired. Recheck the tunnel entrances for clearance.

Step 4: Paint all interior portions of the tunnel that may be visible from outside with black tempera paint, or glue black Bristol paper as preferred. Now brace the tunnel assembly with sectional lumber (instal ledges first with thin balsawood) and allow to set. Recheck tunnel clearances.

Step 4: Paint all interior portions of the tunnel that may be visible from outside with black tempera paint, or glue black Bristol paper as preferred. Now brace the tunnel assembly with sectional lumber (instal ledges first with thin balsawood) and allow to set. Recheck tunnel clearances.

Step 5: Cut to fit the "roof" from light cardboard and glue to the tunnel sides for extra strength. Add sectional lumber support for any intended buildings or accessories, roads, etc.  Also add any footings for the tunnel sides that are to be shaped.

Step 5: Cut to fit the "roof" from light cardboard and glue to the tunnel sides for extra strength. Add sectional lumber support for any intended buildings or accessories, roads, etc. Also add any footings for the tunnel sides that are to be shaped.

Step 6: Remove the tunnel to the workshop and add crumpled paper towelling (preferable to newspaper). Ensure you have added enough for the intended shape of the tunnel, don't stint. In confined and vertical spaces lightly soak the paper towelling, and hold in position with masking tape as necessary.

Step 6: Remove the tunnel to the workshop and add crumpled paper towelling (preferable to newspaper). Ensure you have added enough for the intended shape of the tunnel, don't stint. In confined and vertical spaces lightly soak the paper towelling, and hold in position with masking tape as necessary.

Step 7: With hand bowl, clean water and scissors to hand, cut plaster cloth  one manageable section at a time, and starting on the top, commence to cover. Wrap the plaster cloth about one half inch at the edges and ledges. Plaster cloth dries fairly quickly, so continue until finished, smoothing out the seams with a broad artist paint brush as you go. Allow to dry thoroughly (this may take a day or more).

Step 7: With hand bowl, clean water and scissors to hand, cut plaster cloth one manageable section at a time, and starting on the top, commence to cover. Wrap the plaster cloth about one half inch at the edges and ledges. Plaster cloth dries fairly quickly, so continue until finished, smoothing out the seams with a broad artist paint brush as you go. Allow to dry thoroughly (this may take a day or more).

Step 8: Paint with tempera powder colour to suit. One coat should suffice. Optionally, add turf and/or vegetation and/or rock.

Step 8: Paint with tempera powder colour to suit. One coat should suffice. Optionally, add turf and/or vegetation and/or rock.

Step 9: Check the finished assembly for any necessary touch-ups and add any desired accessories. It's OK for any buildings to be much smaller to convey distance.

Step 9: Check the finished assembly for any necessary touch-ups and add any desired accessories. It's OK for any buildings to be much smaller to convey distance.

REFLECTIONS
Unlike its major European competitor of the same era (Märklin), Hornby-Dublo has not been made for over a half-century now. It bravely entered the 2-rail market around 1960, but the toy train era had already morphed into the model railway world with a new focus and new technologies. In short, it was too late for these magnificent trains of their time. Triang and Trix-Twin trains succumbed to the same vortex, but ironically, the name of Frank Hornby, the post-WWI pioneer of the one-time British household name, lives on with today's successor brand of Hornby Trains. So a pre-1960 Hornby or Hornby-Dublo layout is a museum piece that, equally ironically, still draws a crowd whenever it is on public view - and for those who grew up with them and are still around, are a memory lane of what used to be every boy's dream.   

Credit Line:
None of the above would have been possible without the assistance of, and some good advice from, the Hornby-Dublo Emporium.

Copyright © 2014 Railway Pages and Charles Cooper. All Rights Reserved.