Author Archives: highlandmiscellany
This day, 150 years ago, was a significant one for the highlands and the western isles. It marked the opening of the first railway to reach the Atlantic north of Helensburgh. To understand how significant this was, take a look at a map and and see what proportion of the country this represents – its almost a third of the country.
The line at the time was called the Dingwall and Skye Railway but nowadays we know it a little better as the line to Kyle of Lochalsh. Given it is the primary inspiration for my layouts, I think this anniversary needs to be marked with a blog post!
The original name of the line gives away the objective of the promoters – to bring communication to the western side of Scotland, in particular the islands such as the Isle of Skye. Given that even in the 19th century the centre of the country was very sparsely inhabited, the population was concentrated on the coastal fringes and on the islands. Prior to the arrival of the railway, to ship goods or travel to the islands from the lowlands would take days. These poor communications inhibited the development of these parts and the arrive of the railway was a major spur to the prosperity of the region.
Despite the value to the region, the line was not constructed with the support of the government, instead it come about entirely with private finance. Given the sparseness of population, this was a brave venture and the promoters did not have sufficient money to reach their ultimate destination – the Atlantic seaboard. Instead they only just managed to reach a long finger of a sea-loch, Loch Carron. This was only intended to be a temporary solution to allow some income to be generated before the final push for the eventual terminus to be made. As with the best of plans, it too a long time for this ambition to be realised as the line to the present terminus at Kyle of Lochalsh did not come to be for a further 27 years.
The line started from the route up the east cost of the northern part of Scotland from Ross & Cromarty’s county town, Dingwall. It was intended to run through a fairly significant spa town, Strathpeffer, but this plan was foiled by an obstinate landowner. Perversely, therefore, the line bypassed the most significant town on the route, which hardly helped its finances! Whilst the line then travelled through sparse countryside with few centres of population, there were a series of roadheads where glens branch off. A feature of the line until the 1980s were buses coming to meet each train to provide links to the other parts of the west.
The line is a remarkable survivor as it was chalked up for closure on several occasions. Its most significant saviour was the oil industry in the mid 1970s, when the country’s biggest dry dock was built not far away at Loch Kishorn and the prospect of increased traffic persuaded the government to refuse a closure request. This prompted the railway to make efficiency savings; for example the line was the first example to use a radio signalling system 40 years ago.
The line survives to today in its extended form to Kyle of Lochalsh and (touch wood) seems to be safe for a long term future. Ok, it has a lot less charm as a railway than it used to but the scenery is still second to none and you still have the romance of heading to the wild west of Scotland – it justifies being seen as one of the worlds great railway journeys! If you have never done it, then it really needs to make your bucket list!
If you want to enjoy the charm of the line in the era that Porthcullin is set, this is a link to a fabulous video created by Ross & Cromarty council in 1972. This was deliberately rose tinted as it was a promotional tool to seek to convince the then government not to allow its closure – indeed, it was shown to parliament at the time and may even have had a hand in the saving of the line. After all, you don’t just arrive at magic, it has to be conjured…….
As an alternative, if you do want to find out more about the line there are a number of good books on the line; including one by my father I mentioned here.
Being fundamentally an LMS man, I have recently joined the LMS Society. The cover photograph of the first Society newsletter that greeted me was so fabulous I thought it was worth sharing.
This is 6220 Coronation awaiting the right of way from Euston, sometime between June 1937 and the outbreak of the war. Driver Fred Bishop is peering out of the cab roof ventilator in what must be an official photograph posed shot for publicity purposes.
Coronation was the first of the Coronation / Duchess class introduced to pull the LMS’s premier train, named the Coronation Scot, and inaugurated on 29 June 1937. This was launched in competition with the LNER’s comparable train which was launched a week later and called the Coronation. Both trains were named in honour of the coronation King George VI.
On its inaugural press run Coronation became the world speed record holder with a speed of 114 miles per hour on Madeley Bank south of Crewe. Unfortunately the jubilation of taking this record became consternation as the footplate team realised the train was still making 110 mph only a mile and a half from Crewe. Urgent braking brought the speed down but the locomotive still passed through the station’s reverse curves at 57 mph, well in excess of the 20 mph limit. The resultant bouncing alarmed the passengers and destroyed a quantity of crockery in the dining coach! It discouraged more record breaking attempts for a while, although famously the LNER’s Mallard retook the accolade in July 1938 with a record that still stands today.
Whilst I am not against the A4’s, surely the blue Coronations with their stripes and a matching train behind had the ultimate wow factor of the pre-war railways?
What tends to get forgotten these days is that in the 1930s the top link drivers on the crack trains were major celebrities of their day. Had Ant & Dec existed back then, you would have found some of them in the jungle alongside annoying footballers and has been musicians! Fred Bishop was one such driver and his auto-biography (Queen Mary of the Iron Road – Jarrods, 1946) was a well known book of his time. It seems a long way from the grime of the inside of a locomotive cab being worked hard!
Only the first batch of Coronations were painted in blue; the second set of streamliners were in Crimson Lake with gold lining and were aimed at hauling prestigious but not bespoke trains. This (I think) is King George V and is in this livery.
Whilst they may have only really existed in this form for three years (as once war was declared, many were painted black and they were de-streamlined after the war), the LMS streamliners do hold quite a soft spot in my heart!
photographs with thanks to Ian Beattie and Jim Smellie
Obviously, where there is water in a locomotive yard, there really ought to be coal too.
The Highland, like many other railway companies of the time (certainly the Scottish ones), sought to stockpile coal. This was presumably insurance against coal strikes and allowed them to purchase coal at times when the price was favourable. Thus, quite substantial coal stacks where very much a feature of shed areas in the pre-grouping era. Typically, these were arranged in engineered stacks, with the sides formed in “dry-coal walling” and then loose coal behind. I can’t recall ever seeing this modelled, so I though I would change that!
The actual structure of the loading bank was formed in plasticard and Wills random stone sheets, but with the mortar courses softened as I described for the water towers. The shape of the coal stack was formed with a piece of house insulation left over from a DIY job and then real coal used to form the effect of…..err……real coal. Actually, real coal does not look quite like real coal without a bit of effort. It does shatter into angular but irregular lumps like real coal (especially if lignite coal is used) but its glossiness does not scale down. However, a vigorous brush with generous amounts of soot black weathering powder takes the gloss back and the whole becomes quite convincing. You do feel as if you are going to get pretty filthy if you go up onto the bank – and until the whole is fixed with matt varnish, you would!
Individual coal chunks were glued in place to form the wall structure. To get the effect, it is not enough to simply scatter the coal onto a bed of glue each chunk has to be laid individually with care taken to lock it into the course below – just like a real dry stone wall. Thus, the vertical walls of this took about a day to complete, scattered over about 8 stints because it is necessary to let the glue dry after every couple of courses to stop the layers collapsing. It is then possible to scatter the loose material behind the walls onto a layer of glue – the above picture shows the contrast in effects between the two methods.
But it is hard work shovelling coal into tenders, especially as the locos got larger and their tenders higher. As befitting such an important place as Glenmutchkin, it has all the modern amenities for coaling engines, a hand crane and a large bucket! In this case, I have fitted servos to this so that it operates – partly as a bit of fun and also to slow things down in the yard to a more realistic pace without it getting too boring for the viewer.
The crane operation was achieved by way of three servos – one to rotate it and then one each for the front and rear of the coal bucket. These are all mounted onto a cradle that is rotated by the former – thus as the crane rotates so too do all the servos and there is a quadrant shaped slot in the base to the rear of the post (just visible in the picture above) that allows the cables to rotate too without snagging.
The cradle is mounted to a solid rod that is in turn secured to the actual crane. This then slides into the rod that can be seen projecting from the base in the picture above. This means that there is limited strain on the crane or the mount as I had feared it might otherwise snap with any heavy-handedness on my part (something I am prone to!). The rest of the crane was made with brass hollow section and pulley wheels from Bill Bedford. A series of guides were made of small section tube on the pulley wheels, at the winding drum and across the jib to retain the operating cables.
The bucket was fashioned from metal sheet and is filled with low melt solder to give it as much weight as possible. It is secured to the servo arms with invisible thread – which is a nylon seamstresses material used for making invisible stitches. It comes in both clear (which really is invisible) and black, I used the latter. It is much better than cotton thread as that has a furry finish that looks terrible after a time or if it is painted. It is, however, very fine and rather wriggly to knot, so using it involves a certain amount of cussing!
And this is what it looks like in operation…………
A little of the bouncing about of the bucket is caused by it sitting on my servo test rig, so the act of changing the switches imparts a little vibration. Hopefully, when mounted on the layout this will be less obvious.
I do still need to do the final detailing on this; tools, a bit of discarded debris and a couple of fellas from Modelu standing around doing nothing (because static people in animated poses look silly on a model layout!).
A signal imitating a Fresian cow was not the effect I was after…………..
Halfords etch primer is obviously not that etchy!…………….. So someone will be waiting a tad longer for their signal than I thought…………
Whilst the NER signal from my last post gets itself painted, I turned my attention to the next few signals – in this case these will be Midland lower quadrants.
A lot of the character of a signal is in its finial and if this isn’t right then the model won’t convince. In addition, they are also very vulnerable so need to be durable. Therefore, my conclusion is that white metal finials do not cut the mustard – they are too delicate and too clunky. Thus, in this case I decided to make my own – I came up with this which starts with with some interlocking etches:
And then a bit of brass tube as a collar at the base
The Midland’s style of signals do have a few idiosyncrasies; one of which is the way that blinders are fixed. Instead of being fixed to the spindle these are secured to the arms and wrap around the lamp. This can be more clearly seen in the photograph below.
The other key change was in the manner in that the arms are secured to the posts. Instead of being pined through the arm and secured at the rear, the Midland used a bracket to the front of the post with a plate that wrapped around to the front of the signal to support the arm to the front. This can be seen in this view of a rather nice gallows signal at Butterley.
The bracket can be seen in this view below and I then created a pin that fitted into the bracket and slotted over the spindle.
I have bought a new light box for taking photographs in. Whilst I am still getting to grips with it, when it works it does produce much improved pictures of models. These almost look like an images of a 3D model on a computer screen. The pliers at the bottom of these views do rather give the game away!
The Midland were a bit odd in their choice of colours for their signals. The posts were “primrose yellow” but this quickly dirtied to something akin to cotswold stone is what the book says, so this does give something a little different. This is my representation of this with a decent dose of smokey dirt – when you look at contemporary photographs many signals were not only dirty but entirely smothered in smoke. I haven’t gone that far yet, but its going to need to be done!
As can be seen, this still needs connecting to the servos and the touching in of the paint on the parts that I fit after the main assembly (the balance lever and the plate that wrapped around the signal arm).
More progress has been made with the pair of water tanks and they have now reached the stage where they are effectively finished.
The stonework was painted by picking out each stone in different colours. I think there is a real art to this as when I see others do this, I often think the colour differences are unrealistically abrupt. I find the trick is to use a core of two colours that are close to the general colour that you want – in my case Humbrol Matt no 5 & 64. Put these in separate palates on a mixing dish and dip into these to create a combination of the two.
By selecting two relatively close colours, you can alternate from all one to all the other and any mix in between. Adding very moderate amounts of a stronger colour difference, in my case Humbrol Matt 66 and 62 which are a darker grey and a leather brown adds a bit of variety but in each case they still need to be mixed in with the two core paints to keep the toning consistent.
Even with this work the colours didn’t seem quite real, so I completed two additional steps. The first was to use some matt varnish that I knew the matting agent was a bit gone on – this gives a slightly translucent milky effect over the whole and drew the colours together a bit. The second was to use AK Abteilung 502 weathering powders – black smoke, ashes grey, gunmetal and rubble dust (primarily because these were the only colours I had!). These need to be used with care, as it is easy to put way too much on and you can’t generally get it off again! However, at low level and to the coal bank I have been pretty liberal with particularly the black smoke as such areas were far from clean!
The weathering to the water tanks was dealt with slightly differently, although it also started with the use of the acrylic varnish with the defective matting agent (that’ll be how I found out it was defective!). I then used a Humbrol dark grey was with downward brush strokes and then wiped off with a piece of kitchen roll, again with a downward stroke. A few additional marks, especially to the panel joints, with AK Interactive weathering pencils.
The water effect was another accident flowing from the defective matting agent – the milking was far from desirable on the black base coat of paint. Thus, I wiped it off once it was semi dry and I got most of it but where the remainder was still there, it added a bit of texture to the surface, as if there was a little disturbance to the water that affects part of the surface not the whole.
By reference to the prototype, I made a heating stove flue and spigot for the water bag from brass rod. To form the bends it was necessary to have a pair of additional tubes inside each other to stop the tube collapsing on the bend, The canvas section of the leather bag was formed by a piece of heat shrink sleeving but with a little 5 minute araldite in the centre such that as this starts to cure a degree of shape can be put into it and once fully cured it will stay in this shape.
The operating rod was based on that still largely apparent at Altnabreac and I have assumed this also had a ladder even if this has now gone. There is no watering bag to the smaller of the two water tanks as I propose to have some water columns, but that is a story for another day!
A further story for another day is the rather odd post sitting in the middle of the coaling bank; but that story will be fairly soon!
When my friends acquired Benfieldside, it had suffered a bit of damage, notably to its signals – in essence it was this that got me volunteered for their restoration! One signal that puzzled us, however, was the up starter which was missing altogether and we could not unearth any photographs of it. Ultimately, we decided that it should be a two doll signal to also control the adjacent bay (which did have a signal, albeit inoperative) – so I have set to in order to fill this gap.
The line is set in Cumbria and is an imaginary westward extension of the Newcastle & Carlise line. In theory, therefore, it should not have the heavy cast iron brackets that the NER used. However, in reviewing the NERA’s signalling book, it became apparent that there were quite a lot of strays of signal designs, so I had an excuse to build one!
As this particular signal is going to be platform mounted, I did not need to sort out a mount for it and moved straight to the post and bracket, the latter being by MSE which I had in stock.
I then moved on to the prefabrication of a pair of dolls, each with slotted posts. This is made up of solid square section filed to a taper which is then cut and each end then has a tongue filed on it onto which flat plate is soldered either side to create the slots. I used a variety of temperature solders to ease this process but it was not easy – I did have one gum solid which resulted in a need to dismantle it and start again! As alluded to in the previous post, as these are slotted posts I had to depart from my usual practise of fitting the arms after painting as it is not otherwise possible to solder them to the spindle for the arm.
As mentioned in the last post, I came up with a bit of a dodge to successfully (well, in two of three cases!) to solder the arm to the spindle without gumming it up. By extending the ear that forms the point at which the operating rod attaches to the arm forward a bit (see the line below), it provides a point at which the soldering iron can be touched. If you use a slight excess of solder this allows the heat to transmit to the spindle and make the soldered joint.
And this is what you get with a prefabricated doll, ready for the next stage of assembly.
And below of the pair of dolls now inserted to the landing.
Even at this stage, there is still a lot of building to do as there are handrails, the main ladder, steps and ladders to the dolls, the operating mechanism transferring the movement to the dolls all to do. In respect of the latter(I used rocking cams in this case – you can just see the use of some handrail knobs as the bearings in the photos below, the cams will be fitted after painting.
Slightly peculiarly, the NER built their landings in front of the arms whereas all the other signals I have yet built have these in the rear (excepting gantries, which can be either or both!). This view shows this most clearly.
The main ladder is not visible in the views as I have made this detachable because it is much easier to spray paint these (and better, it is not easy to get a thin coat of paint by brush application and it thickens up the fine detail of a ladder too much.
The grey primer is pretty cruel to modelling efforts but on the whole, I am pretty chuffed with this!
A mere three weeks ago, but a lifetime in the past now that we are in the middle (or more worryingly, perhaps just the beginning) of the Covid-19 crisis, I was a demonstrator at the joint EMGS/Scalefour Society skills day. These skills days are not really exhibitions and are instead aimed at passing some skills on to the visitors – thus they are primarily a hall full of demonstrators with only the odd layout or two to break up the rows of desks.
Here I am, in a shockingly creased shirt (!), and as you can see, I am demonstrating signal construction. I am pleased to say that at the skills day I had a solid stream of people engaging with the topic all day; so much show I had to pull down the shutters for a brief lunch as otherwise I really would not have stopped all day!
By way of preparation for the event, I thought about what I have learnt about building signals and distilled a list of my top tips. These proved to be the cornerstone of my conversations with people at the Skills Day so I thought it was worth repeating them here on the blog.
- Conceive how you are going to mount the signal; where and how, what is above the ground or below the baseboard – which might well mean you also need to;
The base and mount for a two movement servo controlled signal
- Decide how you are going to operate the signal, how is the drive mechanism to be mounted and what does it need to be connected to mechanically/electrically;
- If you are going to illuminate your lamps, you need to decide how you are going to run the wires to the LEDs or fibre optic cable. It is possible to use the post as a common return but you still need one wireway;
- Consider how the movement is to be transmitted (especially bracket signals) and how you are going to replicate this? Multiple movements in close proximity to each other can lead to interference, compromises to reduce this risk are sometimes desirable (especially for triple or more movements in close proximity);
- Conceive how you are going to paint and assemble the signal before you start – it is generally easier to paint arms and ladders before you assemble them so it is possible to create sub-assemblies to be attached later – the touching in of local areas of damaged paint caused through assembly is a small price to pay for the ease of painting the remaining areas;
A Southern rail built home signal; the post was formed of two pieces of nickle silver rail.
- Tight, tight, tight – the most important part of building a signal is to keep all holes of operating parts as tight and snug as possible as slack leads to sloppy movement;
- You will use a lot of fine drills, down to 0.3mm, and a good quality pillar drill will mean you break rather fewer of them!
- Use the file up the length of the post not across it as much as possible – the files leave less scars and any that do occur mimic the grain of the wood;
- Pre-form or pre-drill elements such as balance weights, holes to the posts or landings early on before they are assembled when it is easiest (well potentially!);
- The prototype of most of the components to a signal are pretty delicate with fine sections; thus, to capture their character these needs to be similarly fine, however:
- There is a trade-off to make with the operating components such as balance levers which are typically best made over scale and with laminated brass to give them more strength;
- Generally, build the bigger more robust elements first and potentially alter the build sequence in the light of thermal mass and whether adjacent items might be disturbed by later additions – consider using different temperature solders and prefabrication of elements such as dolls with all of the lamps/landings finished;
A prefabricated doll and arm – I wouldn’t normally fit the arm until after painting but this is not true for slotted post signals
- Don’t use the flat etched ladders, they are too flexible to look real. Either use the built up versions or solder 0.3mm wire on both front and back of stringers and file the outside face flat – they look more realistic and are more durable.
A flat etched ladder with 0.3mm wire being soldered to the stringer
- Lots of delicate parts and complicated sections means that ultrasonic baths are really helpful for cleaning without damaging elements;
Slotted Post Signals
- Not the easiest because of the need to solder the arm to the spindle inside the slot. Use a laminated piece to the ear that is the point at which the operating rod attaches to the arm and extend it cross the back of the arm by 3mm so that it is would project beyond the slot slightly. Be liberal with the solder but make sure that the rubbing faces are cleared of any excess. Wrap the arm in cigarette paper and insert it into the slot. After the spindle has been inserted, touch the cigarette paper with light oil and allow it to soak through. Then put a little flux on the laminated ear and apply the iron. The heat will transmit along the solder joint and reach the spindle.
- Protect the signal from excess throw; they are delicate – therefore set the servo up to an approximate centre point through before connecting it to the model;
- Leave room to be able to see the signal as you are setting it up, otherwise it takes ages and a lot of bending under the baseboard;
- If you are going to illuminate your signal, understand what the right colours would be – oil lamps are relatively dim (so you need to resist down the voltage) and quite yellow (so modern LEDs need to toned down).
Dimensions were not standardised even within a company, let alone between, so offering directions on dimensions is dangerous – all I will say is these dimensions are commonplace:
- Single post wooden signals – 6” square at the top and then tapering out 3/16th of an inch for each foot of height (1.5% or so)
- Wooden doll posts – 7” square at top and tapering as before
- Main post for wooden bracket signals – 10” at the top and then tapering as before
- Single post tubular signals – 5 1/2″ to the upper portion and 6 1/2″ to the lower portion. The height of the lower portion varied with the height of the post (for details, see LMS journal no 4)
- Arm – centre pivot – 1′ 6″ from the top of the post; second arms 6′ 0″ below that;
- Spacing between dolls – 6′ 0″ or 6′ 6″ (less for shunt arms)
- Height of handrail to landings – 3′ 0″
A GER three doll bracket signal
One of my pet hates on model railways are buildings that float a fraction above the ground because they have been plonked in situ, not bedded in. For me, it completely destroys the illusion and I can get quite wound up about it when I see it (…..and it is pretty common, so this is fairly often!).
Occasionally, I actually do attach the building to the baseboard and “scenic in” the ground around them but more normally I construct a base into which the building sits. This gets embedded permanently and then the building sits into a slot that is formed into it. I have also seen the building being built in two parts, with the base being affixed to the ground and the building slotted onto them. Peter Bond did this for me with the signal cabins for Portchullin. This is the base for the larger water tank:
The large water tank is more prominent as it is located closer to the baseboard edge and is to the rear of the main focus of the MPD area, the trackwork between the shed and the turntable. It is also adjacent to the coaling bank and as a result I decided to make this now and as part of the base for the water tank.
The smaller of the water tanks is designed to mask a baseboard joint in a rockface/embankment. The base (below) will thus be split into two halves when it is fitted, each sitting on adjacent boards – a neat way of not having the San Andreas fault line running through a rock face!
I have also started the painting of these, which had a fairly characteristic design with the border in a red/brown and a cream central panel. It is important to recreate this and as it is fairly eye catching, errors will be instantly visible.
The straight edges weren’t too difficult to achieve with masking tape; initially the horizontals and then the verticals a day later. Peeling back the masking tape was a thrill to see if it worked!
The scrolls at the corner was a concern throughout the construction of the water tanks but I did hit on an idea I think is rather nifty. I sprayed the same red/brown on some transfer paper (thanks Chris!) and once it was dry, used a domestic hole punch to create disks of transfer. I then cut them into segments that were a bit bigger than a quarter of the disk. They were then applied as a transfer to each corner.
Actually, it was pretty easy once I got going – I definitely spent longer thinking about it than I did doing it! I am pretty pleased with the outcome, much neater than my hand could manage!
The rather prominent hole in the coal bank will be the subject of a future post, as there is something a bit different planned for this!
The smaller of the two water towers I am building is a model of the tower that the Highland Railway built at Altnabreac. Altnabreac is around 12 miles from the nearest paved road so even though it has not been used for approaching 60 years, it has proved too expensive to realise its scrap vale.
What is possibly even more remarkable, you can see the paint – including the detailing at the corners – which probably dates from the LMS era; how much original pre-1948 paint is still out there?
Being able to get up close to the tank, it can be seen that it is made out of sections; there are quarter segments for the corners and then straight panels for the sides. They obviously came as a kit of parts and could be built to a size to suit the requirement. Thus, I note that the Altnabreac is the same width wide as the Kyle tank was deep – so I can determine how many panels were used to make the Kyle version. Whilst the lines are fient, they are there and I will replicate them with a hint of a score on the plasticard.
A float inside the tank was used to transmit the water level to this gauge on the exterior.
The tank as a whole is remarkably intact – the only elements I can positively identify is missing is the delivery bag which will have been of hessian and the wooden windows. However, I suspect there are two other elements that have now been removed. There was probably an access ladder at one end to reach the interior of the tank but leaving it in situ would to be dangerous, hence its removal. Furthermore, there is no sign of any heating to the tank. Whilst the largish body of water will have taken a while to freeze, the region around Altnabreac is well-known for its cold temperatures so I suspect there is a boiler inside with a flue through the tank. The outlet valve is controlled by a wheel at low level connected with a rod with a thread at its head. This connects to one end of a lever that has a threaded nut in order to transfer the movement into the interior of the tank where the valve is located.
A drawing of the water tank can be found at this link: Altnabreac Water Tower or if you are a member of the Highland Railway Society it will be in the next Journal and subsequently from their drawing service.
The other water tank I am building is a model of Kyle of Lochalsh’s water tank. Eddie Bellis drew this and his drawing is in the November 1975 edition of the Railway Modeller. There are couple of pictures of in LMS Engine Sheds: Volume 6 by the Oxford Publishing Co. The only other Highland Railway water tower that has been drawn that I know of is Garves, which Henry Orbach drew – it is in a 1950s Model Railway Constructor or was reprinted in my fathers The Dingwall & Skye Railway.