Author Archives: highlandmiscellany
I am not quite sure why I am reblogging this given the grief I get within it but here is a not quite complete story of our trip to Holland with both Portchullin and Six Quarters………….
All that needs adding to the story is to add that the last we saw of Oly at the end of the weekend was his very worried face as he was in the Customs Shed at Dover whilst surrounded by several large burly men putting on rubber gloves in the search for HO scale contraband and assuring him that it would not hurt a bit…………
It all started with sound logic. The plan made perfect sense, Mark Tatlow had been invited to “Rail 2018” in Utrecht, Holland. Mark has always, religiously, hired a van around 10 times larger than required. This van was usually a classic long wheel base Sprinter, in which Portchullin had received many a war wound on the motorways of Great Britain by being allowed to slide around freely in the rear while the vehicle was driven like it had been stolen by a middle class mad man from Sussex.
Portchullin requires around 5 operators, 1 to operate and 4 to spend the weekend fixing it, so to make the proposition of 5 of us on the beer in Holland more appealing the spare space in the van would be taken up by SQ. So a sort of free layout for the exhibition manager.
That was where all logic ended.
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Following my last post on sliding axles, I put the coach through its paces last weekend when Portchullin visited the Netherlands.
We I am pleased to say we did not have any bother with road holding it at all, even on Portchullin’s famously rubbish track – as long as you wait to the end of this clip you will see the proof of this. The axle has about 1mm play on the centre axle – 1/2mm either way – and this proved to be more than enough for the 4 foot curves on the layout. We did find it would be defeated by the rather tighter curves on Horselunges which was nearby but as these were down to around 2 feet radius, I don’t feel guilty!
The one issue I encountered was that as the axle slid over, the wheel rim would touch the side of the W iron and thus electrify it. This lead to some shorting issues if it came into contact with a vehicle of different polarity (I know it shouldn’t but well it seems to do for my stock!). Thus, for the next vehicle I will look to insert a layer of very thin copper clad paxolin below the W iron to isolate it.
So even with this issue I consider that the experiment to be a definite success and for relatively short bodied 6 wheeled coaches this will be my standard approach going forward. This suits the Jones shorter 6 wheeled vehicle of which Lochgorm and Microrail have examples. I think the jury is still out on longer 6 wheeled vehicles and a further experiment is going to he required as I am still a bit concerned there may not be enough side play.
Six wheeled coaches are pretty and they are quite characteristic on branch services on the Highland system in the early 1920’s. The problem is that they are bu**ers to get to properly work because there is a tendency for the middle axle to rock on any raised sections of track or for it to fail to swing on curves. OO modellers can typically get away with this as those deep flanges do come in handy for it. P4 modellers, such as myself, have a tougher time of it and whilst I have built a couple of six wheeled coaches, the count that can master the trackwork of Portchullin is rather less than the number built!
Having got better over the years at getting things to run properly (still a work in progress mind…..) I have turned my attention again to some more six wheeled vehicles. The first one to write about uses a less usual approach to accommodate curved/lumpy track – the use of a sliding axle. Although this has been written up before, I have not seen it actually executed so maybe I am a first (or perhaps fairly near to the first to do so!) Actually, I have found it pretty easy and the completed vehicle manages my test track with ease, so it will get an outing on the layout next week.
This is how I did it……………
As I don’t have a lathe, creating the pin point axles is beyond me even though it would be a very simple bit of lathe work and this was one of the main stumbling blocks to trying this approach previously. Then I had an inspiration…………Exactoscale axles. These have a notional outside diameter of 1mm which I found to actually be about 0.96mm – even better as it is thus an easy fit to a 2mm brass tube with a 1mm bore! Tube in this dimension is readily available and can be purchased from Eileens or your preferred metal stockist. The first task is to remove the moulded plastic cosmetic inner axle which proved to be really easy as it came off very cleanly.
Alan Gibson wheels are structured around a 2mm axle (which again was actually fractionally below 2mm) and have a tendency to be a little loose, so popping them off was easy!
I cut the brass tube well over length and mounted it in the drill. Prior to inserting it into the wheel I ensured that the ends were burr free by spinning the drill whilst holding a piece of wet and dry over the end. Not doing this leads to the plastic boss getting damaged and the wheel being less likely to be perpendicular to the axle.
My pillar drill doubled up as a neat wheel press. With the brass tube inserted in the chuck, a wheel blank was laid on the base and the depression lever closed to push the tube into the boss. Even though the tube was to the full 2mm, I used a dab of superglue as this was inserted to ensure it stayed there. The first wheel blank was pushed approximately 10-15mm through the face, so that there was a good projection of tube beyond. This comes in handy when the second wheel blank is added as the projecting end can be held in the drill chuck so that the process can be repeated.
And this is what you get once the second wheel blank has been pushed onto the wheel blank. The free ends are then cut back with a piercing saw & file so that they project no more than 1/4mm.
A quick ream of the bore of the tube and the old Exactoscale axle can be inserted. It is a nice smooth but not sloppy fit and the tube can easily slide back and forth without a trace of effort.
There is nothing radical about the vertical suspension; each axle being supported on a Bill Bedford sprung W iron.
This whizzes very nicely along my test track, including where this has reverse curves so I am hopeful it will stand upto a proper test on Portchullin over the forthcoming weekend. If so, then I will adopt it for my future relatively short wheelbased 6 wheelers – specially where there are full footboards that restrict the movement of the any moving w-irons (of which this Microrail kit is an example).
So fingers crossed and I will report…………
Portchullin’s next exhibition may not be the furthest it has travelled but it will definitely be a first for the layout and indeed myself – an exhibition on the continent. In this case Modelspoor 2018 which takes place on the 23 – 25 February in the Euroteco Centre, Houten, near Utrecht in the Netherlands.
To the Anglo-Saxons amongst us, do not be put off by the website being written in Dutch. Basically almost everyone in the Netherlands speaks good English (embarrassingly perfect English typically) and it is a really easy country to travel around, engage with people and see what they have to offer. Although I have not been to Modelspoor before I have heard a lot about it – think Warley * 3 seems to be the gist of it (which may be a bit much in truth!). However, it has a core of “finescale” from across Europe to which I was very flattered to be invited and I hear is worth seeing in any case.
And of seeing Portchullin is a sufficient excuse to high-tail it over to Holland, coming in the van will also be Oly’s Six Quarters layout. In contrast to the fresh air of the west of Scotland, Six Quarters has air laced with Cumbrian coal dust and grime!
There are a number of other very good layouts there, including Jerry Clifford’s Highclere Colliery (under a new name I hear) and Gordon Gravett’s Arun Quay. Se even if you don’t fancy Portchullin or Six Quarters much (shame on you), it is still worth a visit.
So if anyone that reads this blog (well, either of you!) is over in Holland in a couple of weeks time, do pop over and say hello!
With portions of the country suffering from a bit too much of the white stuff of late and with some trains embedded in both snow and mud blockages, I thought it might be fun to look back at the problems that snow caused one part of the Highland Railway’s system in the past.
Even though it was not as high as many other parts of the Highland’s system, its northerly position and exposure to winds makes the Far North line prone to drifting snow; especially where the line rises across the flow country between Forsinard and Scotscalder. This has long been a sore to the Highland Railway and there are a number of fine photographs of snow ploughs in action. Here are a few of them.
Believed to be near Scotscalder Station; what looks like a Barney in the rear and a Medium Goods to the middle – there is a further loco lost behind the plume of snow! Photo courtesy of the GNSRA.
Potentially the same train with a pair of Medium Goods and a Barney look to have a lot of trouble with a significant drift at the County March Summit (a bit to the south of Altnabreac). You can see plenty of evidence that the ploughs could not clear the line on their own in the top photograph – note the sides to the “cutting” have lots of shovel sized depressions.
And proof that a lot of digging was required! Both photographs are the NRM’s.
Snow is still a big problem in these lines; in the mid 1970’s a full train was stuck for a couple of days and needed to be supplied from the air (if anyone has any pictures of this I could use, could you let me know?).
The picture below was taken in 2010 where some DRS class 37’s had obviously been hard at work. Photo from Outpost North RSPB.
And after the exertions of clearing the line, this Barney looks as if it needs some attention if only to remove the snow. Remember, this will have been in steam yet is still has snow on its boiler! Photo of a Barney at Helmsdale from the HRS.
All of the ploughs shown in the HR era are of the medium size. There was a bigger one which begs the question of what size drifts were these used on?!?!?
Fish was an important traffic to the Highland Railway and as a result fish trucks were one of their most numerous classes of wagons. Given that Glenmutchkin is conceived to be on the coast, fish traffic will also be an important feature on the model too. There is to be a line to an off-scene harbour, so that I can justify a significant traffic. I already have a shortish train of fish vehicles, mostly open trucks, but I definitely need more
Back in April, I reviewed the Mousa Models LNWR covered van, which I was generally impressed with. Buoyed with this I spent portions of the last couple of weekends making a pair of the same manufacturer’s HR Drummond Fish Trucks. The kit is arranged for the variant that had a centre drop door, but there was an alternative variant with full length drop sides and at least some acquired morton brakes during their life. Thus, there are a few modifications that can be made if you wish.
The above is a full drop side version of the fish truck at (I think) Kyle (AB McLeod, HRS Collection).
Having built a few Mousa Models kits and however regretful it is, I was not surprised to find there were no instructions included in the kit. This is a pain as there is enough going on with the model to justify some guidance and anyone who does not have my father’s book will struggle. Unfortunately, I did not take any mid way through photographs before I realised that some notes on its construction would be of assistance, but hopefully these notes and the pictures of the completed model will be helpful.
A first issue I discovered was that the resin casting was a touch distorted. The ends in particular bowed into the well of the wagon and the whole wagon had a slight twist to it. This is a common problem with resin kits but with care can easily be corrected. Put the body casting in hot water – as hot as you can tolerate with hands (so less than boiling – 40C is about right) and it softens sufficient to allow these to be corrected.
Although the resolution quality of the LNWR van was good, the quality of the prints that formed the masters for these resin castings was not nearly good enough. Significant portions of them looked as if they were sand castings and did not look real. The body sides were better and were capable of being improved to an acceptable standard with some work with wet and dry sand paper. The solebars were worse, possibly because they received less effort to tidy them up prior to being used as a master. I managed to tidy it up a bit more in the areas that were more free of rivet heads, but above the W irons this was not possible and will have to be masked with some weathering.
The roughness of the print is apparent to the solebar
The kit is conceived with sprung W-irons to Mousa Models normal design – details of the assembly of which can be found in my previous blog post. However, these need to be carefully lined up to the bolts on the outside of the solebars as the locating slots to the underside are oversized and allow too much slop. It is also necessary to use the Brassmasters axle spacing jig to ensure that the axles are parallel and correctly spaced.
As I noted previously, Mousa Models seem to wish to use resin parts for as much of their recent kits as possible. There were only a few parts where this was a problem on the LNWR van but the problem is rather worse on these fish trucks due to the additional elements of detail that they contain. Had some of the components been produced as etched parts, they would have been a lot more durable without compromising fidelity. I replaced the brake levers, coupling hooks, vacuum brake plunger and brake tie bars with etched components or wire but if I were doing any more of these, I would also swap the brake blocks/hangers because I have managed to damage two of these. Masokits do some that are suitable, although there may be others too that I do not know of.
Page 147 of the carriages and wagons book shows a drawing of how the Drummond patent brake levers operated. In this, it can be seen that there was a long lever running to the right hand end from the fulcrum of the “scotch brake”. This then met a smaller lever that operated in a cam arrangement on the long lever but also connected through a rod to the other side of the wagon. On this side, there was another short lever (so appeared on the left hand end on this side). In the kit, the brake lever is rather crude due to the need to beef it up so that it is durable but even then it is very vulnerable. Furthermore, there is a second long lever, which is not correct at all. Instead, I made up a rod from brass and utilised an etch from the Highland Railway Society.
The principal side to the wagons, showing the missing brake lever now provided by way of a Highland Railway Society etching.
The patent braking system was, however, found to be unsafe because one side could be operated without the user on the other realising it (it cost someone some fingers, I believe) and the Board of Trade banned them for new construction. Therefore, many wagons had their braking arrangements changed, either by the use of full length levers and a ratchet or even a full change to morton brakes. I converted one of my wagons to the former by the use of some etched levers from 51L and an extra V hanger from the scrapbox.
And now the subsidiary side to the wagons, showing the Drummond Patent Brake lever to the left hand vehicle and a replacement long lever on the right hand vehicle.
I also took the view that the buffers were too delicate to survive in use and therefore swapped them for Drummond buffers available from the Highland Railway Society. I also found it necessary to cram the whole of the underside of the chassis with lead, to get the wagon’s weight to a level that would operate the wagon’s springs.
The underside – the rod to the Drummond brake is visible to the left hand end of the top vehicle.
Although these will have been green with yellow lettering for much of their lives, I chose to do them in LMS crimson lake. Rather fine they look too! When carrying fish boxes, it is known that turfs were used to provide thermal insulation around the fish for the journey but my guess is that this was covered within tarpaulins. I have tended to find that the paper tarpulians (Smiths etc) are not that durable so I need to do some experimenting on alternatives – I do have something in mind. That will be for another post though!
Painted (well I seem to have missed the rims!) and awaiting weathering
All in all, these are quite attractive vehicles, very core to the required stock for Portchullin and the kits are a pretty good – but they could be better and easier to build if Mousa models had dealt with what are relatively obvious points.
As mentioned in my last post on my visit to Zimbabwe, due to the kindness of Alan Crotty and Fabrice Lanoue, I have access to a number of other great pictures of steam on Zimbabwe’s railways. It is a shame not to share them………..
Following the first test build of the dia 51, I took account of what I had learnt from this and completed various amendments to the artwork. There was nothing truly major, so I was fairly confident that the corrections would get the model to the point where the artwork was done. But of course, to prove this, another test build was required and this is where we got to………..
And this is what it looks like……..quite handsom I think and certainly quite differnt from all the pother stock I presently have.
The eagle eyed will spot that the vehicle is slightly different in that this one has sliding doors, whereas the previous had cupboard doors. The kit is intended to cover both options and does successfully do so.
The ducket also has cut outs for a lamp at its head (a feature of Highland duckets). This proved quite challenging to model and I will avoid doing it again because it seemed to fall out of favour prior to the end of the Highland era so having only one or two would be right for my timeframe.
There remains a bit more work on the bogie to do; they can be made up to work very well but are a little more difficult to build than I had hoped. Once this is cracked, I will be making the dia 51 available for sale.
I my last blog-post, I mentioned that the only time I had seen steam engines earning their keep was in Zimbabwe.
Unfortunately father felt rather slighted by this comment. He felt that the readers of a blog like this would consider him a very poor father if he had not insisted that his young son was dragged to see the dying days of steam on BR if he could.
To prove that he is not a poor father, here is a picture of a very little (I was 18 months old at the time) lad being lifted up by his mother to see steam roar past. In this case, a rebuilt West Country No 34004, Yeovil appearing from bridge under the Basingstoke Canal at Deepcut on the 10 June 1967.
Sorry, Dad, not accusing you of being a poor father I just don’t remember it!
Mind you, I do remember going to the Longmoor Military Railway in October 1969 and being plucked away from operating a crane with a promise that we would come back another day – that was cheating because it was the final day of operation ever!
Zimbabwe has been in the news a fair amount of late I do hope it makes a turn for the better as it is one of the most stunning countries in the world and with some of the friendliest and gentlest people too. This news prompted me to remember my visit there, in 1989 immediately after leaving university and before entering the big bad world of work.
The railways of southern Africa had some extensive systems but were with long distances on lightly laid track and heavy loads, the railway companies were confronted a difficult reality – how do you get a sufficiently powerful locomotive without making it too heavy for the line. Making a long locomotive with many wheels would have worked, only they would not have coped with the sinuous curves required to snake through the countryside. The solution came in the form of an articulated locomotive – essentially two locomotives with a single boiler slung between them. First patented by the Manchester firm Beyer Peacock these locomotives were synonymous with the railways of Africa, although they were found around the world.
The railway snaking around the contours was very much part of the railways of Zimbabwe and the need for an articulated locomotive is easy to see. It is the only time I have seen steam trains truly earning their keep – something that I will probably never see again as I understand that even the Chinese have withdrawn almost all of their locomotives.
As can be seen in the photograph, the railways of Zimbabwe do not use standard gauge track. They, along with pretty much all of the railways of southern Africa, use 3’6″ gauge – to the point where it is nicknamed “cape gauge”.
Due to the sanctions placed against Rhodesia and the economic condition of Zimbabwe, steam lingered on for a long time and has not totally faded out even as I write this; although I believe that the last remaining couple of steam locomotives are really pets and are largely wheeled out for tourists. I suspect that there are a lot of rusting hulks still in the country though and perhaps if the country settles down we will see a really proper number of them put back into use as the tourist trade picks up. It really is a wonderful country, so is worth a visit and I would love to do the journey again.
In putting this blogpost together I was conscious that most of my pictures were taken at relatively close quarters to the trains, because I was travelling on them. Therefore, to supplement my photographs, I contacted a few people who had posted their Zimbabwean railway photographs online. I am therefore I am indebted to Alan Crotty and Fabrice Lanoue for the use of their photographs in illustrating this blog – all rights to these photographs are retained by them. The good news, if you have liked the pictures, is that John and Fabrice were not the only ones who were prepared to let me use their photographs – therefore, there will be a part 2 to this blog post soon!