Oak Crest Asylum Part 1: Baseboard and track laying.

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Before the social revolution that was Deinstitutionalisation, or Care in the Community as it is commonly known, if those with mental health needs or social difficulties weren’t cared for at home, they would be sent to self-contained hospitals called Asylums.  Throughout history, these had been cruel places that treated those housed there as prisoners rather than patients.

In 1790 William Tuke founded the York retreat which did away with the shackles and strait jackets of old madhouses and encouraged work programs and chores to give the patients there a sense of contribution and purpose and he visually made their hospital more like a home to make the patient feel more at ease.

In the 1800s, as the industrial revolution unfolded. The increase in the pace of life meant that families could not care for their unwell relatives and then need for more asylums became apparent.

Tuke’s approach was popular and was seen as successful and so many of the asylums built in the Victorian period were built like majestic manor houses with design emphasis on light and ventilation. May had huge gardens which the patients could tend and work on.

As we know, the therapeutic goals of these new asylums collapsed as the century passed. Many more people than expected could not cope or could not be cared for in this new age, and so the asylums became vastly over populated. Living condition quickly deteriorated, the use of shackles and restraints returned and experimental treatments were often cruel and barbaric.

Because of the size and isolated locations of these asylums, getting supplies and staff to the hospitals would be a mammoth task by road and so many hospitals had private railways built.

These railways would run passenger services for the staff and visitors, normally from a nearby village station. Food and other goods would also be brought in by rail, as would the coal to keep the hospital’s boilers operational.

Oak Crest Asylum Railway will be a fictitious depiction of one of these privately owned railways.

This is the first time I’ve ever built a model railway. I’m blogging the experience to share with you all so you can guide me as I go and so, hopefully, if you are thinking of making a model railway then you won’t make the same mistakes that I do!

Today we will be making a base board and fixing down the track!

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There are many different types of wood that can be used for base boarding but in true Motorsport For Mental Health fashion, I used what I had laying around!

This is an 8 foot by 15 inch (or 244cm x 38cm) kitchen work top that I cut in half for portability.

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I then built pine timber frames onto each board. These are just simple rectangular frames which were glued and then screwed to each board.

They serve two purposes:
1. They add a bit more strength to the board and will hopefully stop it from warping
2. Wiring and other things can be hidden underneath the board.

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As I mentioned above, the frames I’ve built are just simple rectangles. On larger or more permanent layouts though, you may want to add further bracing in the centre.

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The two halves of the board are then held together with bolts. I didn’t realise how bad having one bolt looser than the other until I came to writing this. You get the idea though; when done up, the two bolts hold the boards together tightly.

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(Excuse the stickers. This pine was originally barriers for a small RC drift track I had in my garage. I’m recycling!)

The track I’m using is Hornby set track which was kindly donated by my uncle. I cleaned it up by spraying it with Halfords Electrical Contact onto it and wiping it off with a cloth. Some people use rubbing alcohol or designated track cleaning fluid, but that’s what I had to hand and it seemed to work.

The points did require a little modification. The mechanism had gone a little floppy over time and they weren’t making a good, constant connection. To cure this I ran a tiny little bit of solder along inside of the outer rail where it meets the switch rail. Then I filed it flat so the trains could still go over the points without going bump.

(Thanks railsystem.net for this picture <3)

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To nail the track down I used Hornby track pins. At certain intervals on the track, I drill a 1.2 mm sized hole though the rail sleeper and into the board. I then hammered the pin into the hole I’d made to hold the track in place.

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It’s worth noting that some people like to lay their track on cork to dampen the noise of the locomotives and rolling stock passing over it. I’m not using DCC or any sort of artificial sound though, so I’m not too worried about that.

Make sure the track around the points is nicely pinned and the track at the edges of any joins in the board are nicely pinned. Pin the track on either side of the join and then cut the track so you can separate the boards again.

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Once the rail is cut, take the two halves of the board apart and put them back together. When I did this I noticed that the two cut halves of the rail pressed against each other and made a rather nasty bump. I trimmed the rails back a little and now they sit fine. Rolling stock is able to pass over it with ease.

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Of course, the split in track will mean there’s no power in the second half of the board now that the rails aren’t touching. Don’t worry, I’ll be addressing that in the net instalment which will be about wiring.

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By Richard Francis

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