Make your own precision lubricator

One drop of oil is plentiful, the model train gurus always say. That means one tiny drop of oil when you are lubricating your locos!

I had a simple lubricator that dates back from 1964. It was made by Shell lubricants for Scalextric model cars. The cork stopper was wearing out and it was messy holding it.

So I decided to build myself a new one. I bought a pack of sewing needles from Spotlight. They were 1mm dia. I also bought a dowel (wood) of diameter 12 mm from Art Friend. You can use a smaller diameter dowel but I find that 12 mm is comfortable for my hands. I measured 130 mm length off the dowel and cut it. (You can decide how long the lubricator handle needs to be.) Then used a tiny drill bit to make a hole for the needle to stick in. It is easier to stick the sharp end of the needle into the wood. I used a small hammer to bang the needle in about 10 mm deep. I then cut off part of the needle with wire cutters to have a length of about 30 mm sticking out from the dowel. Its up to you how long you want the needle to stick out. You control the drop size of the oil by the depth you stick the needle into the oil pot!

Do contact me if you need more info or help building one. All shops are based in Singapore.

I used a little plastic bottle with a screw cap as my oil pot. Do check that your dowel will fit into the bottle. There is nothing fancy about the type of lub oil I am using.
I now have a new lubricator that works well!

Daniel Khaw

Building a OO/HO Baseboard

Model trains are meant to be enjoyed on tracks! After putting it off for 36 years, I summoned my courage to build a baseboard. I have since amassed a fair number of OO gauge locos and rolling stock, and more recently, HO stuff from Singapore Railways Pte Ltd (SRPL). I wanted a layout with long tracks, and for two trains to run continuously. Thomas (SRPL) gave me some ideas and I finally settled on a dog-boned layout. I downloaded the plans from the internet. The outermost radius measures 572 mm while the inner radius is 505 mm. The baseboard measures 3.2 m on the longest side and is 1.3 m wide. As I wanted the baseboard to be portable, I built it in two main sections and joined them by bolting the two parts together. Building multi-layered tracks is out of the question for now as the baseboard has to be portable. One advantage of this layout design is that I can add in longer straight modules in the center to extend the baseboard indefinitely (if I can find the space)! I had almost enough tracks in my collection to build the layout. All tracks used are Hornby’s standard code 100.

Building the baseboard

Everything that I have read on model rail layouts emphasized on building a strong and rigid baseboard to ensure trouble free running of trains for years. This is even more important if the baseboard is portable. I laid my tracks on the floor and test run with trains before taking the overall measurements for the full-sized baseboard. As I do not have any carpentry skills, I decided to order my wood ready cut from Plywood Online. Besides ensuring straight cut wood, it is a lot faster too (I collected the next day). It took me three times to work out the exact wood dimensions before I confidently sent it to the shop for the order. It pays to check over the dimensions a few times! Always draw the plan on paper with the dimensions clearly. It does give clarity on what is needed. The first quote I received from the wood shop was far too expensive because I used too much plywood. So, I used timber for all the spars and plywood for the outer frame as I wanted the latter to be 75mm wide. This reduced the price considerably by about 50%. 

I used a right-angle clamp to ensure my corner joints are square. All holes were pre-drilled with a 2 mm drill bit followed with a countersink drill to ensure the screw head will stay below the surface of the board. I used number 6 x1.5” wood screws and used two screws per timber joint. I did not use wood glue for joints as I forgot all about it!  But for fixing the 12mm thick plywood sheet onto the frame, I used both screws and wood glue. I have a table-top vertical band saw and this was invaluable in trimming off excess wood to fit the timber spars in quickly. Finally, I applied a coat of acrylic paint on the top of the wood.

Support for baseboard

For the baseboard support, I took the easy way out.  I bought four sets of trestles from IKEA. They turned out to be quite rigid and my base board is well supported.  I now have a portable baseboard with supports that could be dismantled.

Baseboard alignment

After aligning the two sections of the baseboard and bolting them together with 4 bolts (M8 x 90 mm), it was ready to have the tracks laid out on it. I had track spaces 3D printed out for me and they were extremely useful to ensure the tracks were evenly spaced side-by-side. (The spacers are red colour on the track layout). This ensures longer locos or coaches will not hit another passing train at the curves.  I tested with long trains of wagons and coaches, and they chugged along merrily – it was a dream come true for me!

The completed baseboard. The red strips are track spacers to ensure even spacing between two tracks.
Hornby LMS 2-6-4 Fowler 4P loco

Final thoughts!

Building a baseboard was not as intimidating as I thought and I am glad that I did it. I will test the board over a few weeks before pinning the tracks down. I am still undecided on the plan for the sidings. I want to solder the tracks onto the board (where both boards are joined) so it could be easily aligned after dismantling. I plan to ballast the tracks, build a tunnel, have a station platform, etc, later. This will take a while to complete. I am still figuring out a diorama that will suit both the British and European scene. In the end of the day, I am no purist.

“Model trains are meant to run on tracks”, and I enjoy seeing them do so!

Daniel Khaw

All named shops are based in Singapore.

Massive rockslide in Switzerland

A massive rockslide happened in Switzerland this June 2012. One of the main train connections between Switzerland and Italy, the Gotthard line was affected. 1 person passed away and 2 others got injured. For several weeks, trains had to be rerouted via Loetschberg and other routes with approx 2 hours additional travel time.

The men at the site, when the accident happened were working on securing the strip, because earlier this year a similar slide had already happened.


This is the Gotthard location.


Find here a photo documentation from Swiss based 20 Minuten Online.

Weeks later the site has been almost cleared.


And the trains run again.


Find more informations and pictures here.

Z21 – A new generation of model train control ?

This device makes it possible to control digital model trains with Apple iOS- or Google Android-devices.
Z21 front view
After a long waiting time, finally the first sets of Z21 arrived last week in Singapore and we could borrow one from the local distributor, Singapore Railways. If you believe some of the German forum comments, the initial wave of this new digital control, which started to appear in August 2012 at selected dealers in Central Europe, is already sold out.

Well, nevertheless it finally found its way to Singapore and we have it here in front of us and want to share our first impressions with you.

Z21 boxThe packaging comes very solid and leaves a good first impression.

The systems comes in two parts: A standard wireless router from TP-Link, which has been preconfigured and the Z21 itself with a static IP-address.


Z21 packaging

The system is designed as plug and play. There is a DIN A5 manual with different languages included and a DIN A4 quick start leaflet.

Z21 connection on the rear

You basically unpack now everything, connect the cables according to the pictures of the guide, connect your phone/ tablet to the router and download the free app [we had an iPhone for testing]  [search for “z21 mobile”] like shown in the quick guide. Make sure that your previous power supply is NOT connected anymore to the track.

Before you put a digital loco for the first time, make sure that the right voltage is selected for the track. Depending on your system, this can be done astonishing easily via your phone/ tablet. Under “Z21-settings” you are able to select the voltage via numeric input for main and programming track separately. The selectable range is from 11 to 23 Volts; the default setting is 18 [main] and 16 Volts [programming].

From Z-, N-, TT-, H0, 0, 1 to G-scale, the perfect adjustment is therefore possible. After confirmation the new voltage is set. We checked each time with a digital multimeter and it was perfectly allright. Gone are the times, where you had to buy an additonal physical voltage-reducer for small scales.

Loco Library Take now your phone/ tablet and go to “Settings”, “Locomotives” and select “Add New Loco” at the bottom.

On the next page you can give a name, eg “class 10” and address number, eg 10. The button “Modify Functions” allows you to define available  functions [eg light, sound etc] for your loco.

You would need your loco-manual for function overview to do it properly.




Loco Library Change now to “Control Panel” and select your loco.

We didn’t face any difficulties to setup and run our first loco via iPhone. The system is really made for non-technical guys and the accompanying manuals come with good explanations and a quality print. Our second impression was also perfect.





Roco multiMausNow we went a bit deeper and attached a “multiMaus” from Roco to one of the X-Bus-plugs at the front. Selecting the address from our loco … voila, it worked.




Main Control The next cool thing, we noticed, was the bidirectional visualisation of parameter changes: Eg if you control loco-speed, direction, functions with MultiMaus and your colleague has on his iPhone selected the same loco, he can see on his display your speed changes etc. A third buddy with another device [we tried with a 2nd iPhone] has also the realtime settings on his display. Each of the three can any time control the loco and the others can see the changes on their displays, cool stuff.

We tried now very special things, which normal users usually don’t apply. It was stated as a feature that you are able to upgrade firmware on selected digital decoders [the chip, which is built into a loco to enable digital functions]. Well we searched and tried, but without hope; this is currently not implemented [we used iOS app-version 1.0.8].

We also tried to change CV-values [configuration value] via MultiMaus; Z21 went into a kind of hanging state. We had to reset Z21 by pressing the main-button twice. Well, the programming can of course be done from iPhone either.

What we didn’t try yet is the “sniffer bus”. You are able to connect here the output of an existing digital command; Z21 would merge any commands here to its own data stream.

For tablet-devices there are also “driver-cabin”-views available; but currently only for Taurus/ class 182.

It will be also possible in future to let a PC or notebook communicate via the router with Z21. Currently there is unfortunately no software available to do so. There seems to be plans to work together with selected manufacturers of train controlling software. One unconfirmed date of availabilty of the first compatible software is 2nd quarter 2013.

Conclusion: A highly interesting piece of technology, which makes control of model trains much easier and cheaper than ever before, bundled with lots of plugs for interconnections with other systems and open for future developments.

Train fans, who just want to do the basic tasks and use their already existing gadgets are perfectly served.

However, professionals  who want to do special configurations and setups might be disappointed for the one or other currently missing function. They will have to wait for upcoming feature upgrades.

Firmware upgrades of Z21 itself can also be done easily via iOS/ Android device. The good thing is that we can expect tons of new interesting features in future, which will add value to our current machine.

We will continue testing and keep you informed 😉

Available now in Singapore at Singapore Railways.

Manufacturers website: