Category Archives: Portchullin
Fear not, this is not an announcement that the McRats have been converted from DCC to run on ethanol (although this remains the preferred fuel of the layout’s operators). Instead it is a recognition that after 13 years on the exhibition circuit, Portchullin was getting a little faded and even battered. The colours of the vegetation were fading and the woodwork was showing all the miles they have been lugged about in the back of a van – all in all it was looking like 1970s BR, just not in the right way.
We reached the conclusion that something needed to be done about it and in anticipation of an April exhibition invite, the gang arranged a session on the layout to give it a spring refresh. Sadly the show had become a covid casualty by the time we met up but we convened anyway and even the stone-cold hearted Pete was showing emotion at seeing us all again by insisting on greeting us all with a hug!
So out came the static grass machine, modge podge and various scenic materials and away we went…….
We ended up making quite a lot of difference in only a short while, but adding the dwarf bushes and other vegetation then took a lot of time and I am still thinking it needs more attention.
There remains a lot to do, including a revamp of all of the woodshell and lighting gantry, but the layout is looking a lot fresher.
The other main task in hand is a complete rewire. Too often we (well I, the others will have nothing to do with my wiring) have had heads under the baseboard trying to sort out either point-motors or errant wiring, it has to change!
Portchullin is just back from a fun weekend attending the Brighton Model Railway Club’s annual exhibition – its thirty seventh show. Despite efforts, some electrical gremlins were making themselves felt quite severely on Saturday morning such that yet another temporary fix became required to keep the layout operational!
This did lead to some contemplation as to how many more times the layout should go out going forward. As the photograph below illustrates, the layout has made it to some fairly far flung places – Glasgow to Utrecht via Barnstaple, Portsmouth, Newcastle and a fair number of places in between.
Whilst I have not yet made the decision to retire the layout, and will give it a fairly thorough rewiring to ensure that the issues experienced this weekend fare overcome, its retirement will come in time. Don’t worry if you wish to see it again, there are still a couple of confirmed bookings over the next two years (starting with Perth in June 2020) and a couple more are likely.
Glenmutchkin is progressing slowly and will eventually replace Portchullin but as a taster of things to come (with some compromises, I know the livery of the Jubilee is incompatible with the fully lined coaches!), here is a video of the new (if older) order.
Portchullin’s next outing will be this forthcoming weekend; 18/19 May at Bracknell Leisure Centre, Bracknell, RG12 9SE.
We’ll be taking you back to the 1970’s where blue and grey ruled in the western highlands, with the odd stray green one………….
Pop by and say hello?
Portchullin is a cover girl again, as it features on the front cover of the DVD supplement that accompanies the just available (perversely February 2019) British Railway Modelling.
It features me blathering on about the inspiration for the layout, the origins of the real line and the prompting of its building. I even managed to remember to thank Peter for building the signal cabins this time, so hopefully he will not cold shoulder me for six months this time……………..
This DVD is only available with the subscription copy or if you take it in a digital format, so you can not rush down to WHSmiths to get it – I dare say that this is the publishers of BRM seeking to encourage you to take out a subscription!
In addition to this (and probably partially as a result), Portchullin has also got itself nominated into the BRM/RMweb’s 2018 British Railway Model Awards – click the banner at the head of their website here. It would be great to see the layout do well in the poll, so if anyone fancies doing a bit of voting, all contributions would be gratefully received!!
If you wish to see Portchullin in the flesh, its next outing is in May at ExpoEm in Bracknell. Look forward to seeing you there.
Taking a layout to shows is a surprisingly tense experience. There is the joy of the Friday traffic which typically adds 30% to the journey time (or rather more if the M6 is closed as I experienced once!). But it is the setting a layout up at a show is always a tense moment; typically there is always something that needs a bit of TLC and at Portchullin’s last show (last weekend at Spalding) quite a large dose of TLC became necessary due to these little blighters…..
Innocent looking isn’t?
It probably costs a tiny fraction of a penny but without it the layout is hamstrung because they are essential to the operation of the turnout motors. Portchullin uses Fulgerex point motors and this is a spring that activates micro-switches in these that change the crossing polarity and act as limit switches to the motor’s travel.
The frailty of the design is that these are only secured in place by their own tension and they are prone to bouncing out. A long journey in a van is just the type of thing to dislodging them – which is just what happened over the weekend, Indeed, it has happened before and has occasioned a number of the upside down sessions under the layout that Oly delights in telling you about.
We have now reached the stage where three of the five turnouts have crossing polarity controlled by separate switches. This creates some excitement for the operators as they have to remember to change both the turnout and the polarity – so much show that they refused to do so for the show!!
So, my fulgerex point motors, your days are numbered………………………….
Portchullin’s next outing will be this forthcoming weekend at the St Neot’s show:
Come along and see some noisy diesels like this? I rather hope to have a type 1 make an appearance over the weekend and any HR enthusiasts might wish to see a Barney put in an appearance (still in brass, don’t get too excited!)
Don’t worry, it is not as dramatic as all that, I have not burnt it or anything……………………oh hang on a minute, I have – well a bit of it anyway!
One of Portchullin’s quaint little foibles was it did occassionally like to derail trains as they left the fiddleyards; especially the fiddle yard representing Kyle. There were various reasons for this; including some proper cr*p woodwork on my part, the hand shunting that occurred every time a train was turned around, the effects on thermal expansion that was not catered for and, something that I had not seen until recently, a bit of a dogleg at the baseboard joint. Add to this the rather Heath Robinson approach to the legs for the fiddle yard boards, electrical connections and facia support and it was fundementally a b*ggers muddle. So something had to be done and, a mere 8 years after the layout’s first exhibition, it now has!
So with lots of thanks to Tim and Julian at the Electric Loft Ladder Company again, we have a new fiddle yard at the Kyle end and redesigned legs at the Inverness end. The design adopted is an adaptation of the sector plate that was in use before but with a refinement that it uses cassettes for the locations that the loco arrives and departs at. The idea being that these are both storage points at the end of the fiddle yard roads but also the means to move/turn the locos ready for their next duty. This is a development of the system used by Simon Bendall on his layout Elcot Road, but with a rotating sector plate rather than a traverser.
Other halfway novel ideas are the use of the tray below the traverser as a storage tray for stock (and maybe tea!) and the projection of the sector plate beyond the end of the fixed board to make the ensemble smaller to transport. The facia also folds up rather niftily as well – photos of this will follow once I have taken them!
The new fiddle yard has not yet been tested but will very shortly get its chance to prove if it is a good’n. Portchullin will be out at the Barnstaple MRC’s show in Bear Street, Barnstaple – you can find details here. If you are in North Devon at the weekend, stop by and say hellow?
A skinhead; what’s he on? Well for the steam age people out there, a skinhead is the nickname for those BR built sulzer class 24s that did not have headcode boxes – as you can see below in Paul Winter’s photograph they did have a rather bald headed appearance and it is not difficult to see where the nickname came from.
Whilst the bulk of the class that ran on the ex Highland lines had the headcode box, for a long time one or two skinheads were allocated at Inverness and visited both the far north and Kyle lines. Given that they do look quite different I could hardly resist getting one to offer a bit of variety on the layout. I had been plotting getting one for a time, having bought the Bachmann version and even converted it to P4 but I had not quite got to enhancing or weathering it so it did not ever make it out onto the layout.
There are failings in the Bachmann model that have annimated many; the worse being the slope of the cab front which is too steep. Whilst I feel it is close to invisible when the Bachmann model is used as a doner for conversion to a headcode fitted version (see my article in the Highland Railway Journal, issues 96 & 97) it is more apparent without the headcodes, simply because they act as a bit of a counterpose to the slope. This was one of the reasons that my skinhead was languishing in its box (although, doing other things was the real reason!). Although I am aware that a recast of the model has been in the offing for a while I did not know that a new manufacturer, Sutton Locomotive Works, was in the process of producing one until it simply appeared at the turn of the year.
It is fair to say I was a little sceptical initially, partly due to the pretty punchy cost of the model but also due to the amount of airwaves noise it was eliciting. However, they were at one of the shows that Portchullin was at and of course I went over to have a gander………. What I found was that it was really a cut above the Bachmann version, both in terms of correcting the cab and also with the quality of detailing but more than that, it had an onboard sound system that was significantly better too (and tellingly, more controllable). An added bonus is that the model can be supplied, at a small additional cost, with your choice of EM and P4 wheels, thus making it the first true ready to run P4 loco.
Initially the model was available as one of the first batch in a “just built” form in green and as 24 081 in blue, as it now is in preservation. A bit of hunting about prototype information – notably Derby Sulzers – showed me that no’s 5113 & 5114 were transferred to Inverness for the last couple of years of their life (which coincide’s with Portchullin’s era) and that these were pretty close in form to the 24 081 form of the model. That decided it; off went a cheque and back came the model – in a spectacularly substantial amount of box and glinting clean like a museum piece!
A look over the model proved to me that it was really very good, but not perfect. The worst problem, by far, is the glazing that suffers from the moulding lines no less severely than Bachmann/Hornby models – apparently, short of putting in individual pieces of glazing, this problem is insurmountable. Good news for Shawplan and their glass replacement kits – if Brian is not going to do a set for this model (are you Brian?). It will repay doing them by hand no matter how hard this is if Shawplan don’t do them. The other problem was a lot less than crisp junction between the yellow ends and the blue sides – most visible in the fianl photograph. I did make this a little better with some 1200 grade wet & dry, but it is still not all that I would wish it to be.
It is fair to say that the good bits are very good indeed. It runs perfectly (although some others have muttered about theirs) and all of the detail is very delicate – compare the door grabrails with the other models or prototype for example. I understand that the number of seperately applied parts is exceptionally high and I can beleive that, it really does look quite a lot better than the alternatives even after the “supe-ing up” that I gave the two headcode box fitted versions I have. There are a lot of detail variations between the vehicles and care is needed to chose wisely if you have a specific example in mind – time for a good book!
Sutton Locomotive Works approach is to release relatively short runs of differing varients, their second and third batch has already been released (see their website). They are not saying, but I suspect some Highland Sulzers will be inevitable before too long – I am saving up anyway!
But the model is way too clean; although Inverness did not allow their locos to get too decrepit looking and they clearly saw the inside of the washer plant pretty regularly, they did take on a careworn appearance especially given that they were knocling on 20 years old by the time I am modeling them. So, some subtle weathering was required – do I have the subtly of skill to do this – not really was my conclusion, not on my own anyway! So some help was enlisted from OTMC who I share occassional modelling days with and yesterday we had a weathering day instead.
Prior to starting the weathering, the number was removed with 1200 grade wet and dry and replaced with Fox transfers, protected by some brushed on matt varnish. The dirty-ing of the model then started with the creation of some “gunk” – a mix darkish grey with a tad of brown mix – Tamiya acrylics. Whilst this was a relatively thick mix, it was brush painted over the more extreme coloured sections of the model – the lifting points, axle boxes and coloured pipework to the bogie and drawbar. Then the gunk was diluted to a wash and sprayed onto the model; heavily on the underframe/bogies and more lightly on the body side. An acrylic solvent was used and this evaporated almost immediately and once the paint was on, efforts were taken to remove it from the sides. Cotten buds and make up buds (similar but with a flat head) dipped in acrylic thinners were dragged downwards on the sides and ends. This removes the majority of the paint, leaving only that which gets into the nocks and crannies and can not readily be reached by the buds. If the paint gets a bit stubborn (which it did, especially on the ends) then the process is repeated using enamel thinners which is much more vigerous and takes the acrylic off almost immediately but acheives the same effect.
I did encounter a couple of problems. The first was not of my making in that it proved very difficult getting the wash out from behind the grab handles to the front of the cab – eventually this was fixed with the use of cocktail sticks. The second was firmly of my making in that I used some meths to clean of some grease stains from my fingers right at the end. It would appear that meths is pretty effecitive at removing both the wash and also lightening significantly the original blue paint on the model – aghhhhh! Ultimately, I have had to repeat the wash effect a couple of times on the side that I did this on and it does not look nearly as subtle as it did before – so do as I say, not as I do!!!
The wash was then darkened a bit and used on the roof. Initially this applied without masking to the centre and then subsequently with some masking. The masking was applied such that the edge of the tape was at the line of the roof with the cab front yellow and pressed home. However, along the sides the tape projected 5mm above the cant rail but not pressed home (so it sort of flaps above the edge of the roof). This gives a soft boundary between where the spray goes and the protected surface below and neatly mimics the effect of the washing brushes failing to reach the roof as it slopes away.
The grilles were picked out with a black wash effect that has a touch of gloss in it. The same was then used at the axleboxes and around the fuel filler points to mimic spilt fuel oil. The while of the underframe and boigie then had stone colour mig powders dabbed on them. As with the wash, once it is on, take it off with a brush – in this case it tends to attach itself to those parts that the brush presses it home on. So it tends to catch more the projections than the recesses and neatly highlights the detail on the underframe/bogies. Not done yet, but I will apply some break dust powders around the brake blocks and wheels to finish the full effect.
Portchullin’s next outing will be down in the west country – 30 July 2016 in Barnstaple. Come and see the new engine – hopefully it looks a bit like this?ry
In the light of all the excitement that tresspassing to see the Flying Scotsman is presently giving Network Rail, I wonder what they might have made of this – and then there are the flairs to consider…………. Chris Longley, is that you – I know you were on this particular tour!
Although it may be that there is a train in the yard as the shunt signal is off…… I suspect it will be one of the class 24s?
Portchullin is just back from a trip to the St Alban’s show and its next outing will be in Telford, for the Diesel & Electric Show on the 20-21 February.
With thanks to David Brandredth and Tim Venton for the cracking photo. Now my fav of the layout!
I guess that it is pretty difficult for the RTR manufacturer to take a stab decent corridor connections because they have to design for toy train set curves and clumsey hands but it is a weakness of all proprietary coaches. Hornby’s buffet also seems to have overly skinny corridor connections and most noticeable they are mounted too low – they should finish at the meeting of the roof with the ends.
Whilst it is possible to simply slice off the connections off and move them up, I chose to remove the and them with some produced by Comet – as this is an LNER vehicle, you need the Pullman type. The core of the operation of the corridor connections are the bellows which are formed with a pair of sheets of fairly stiff paper. These have slots cut to half their width and are then folded into a concertina shape, with the slot between the folds. Two such pieces are then offered up to each other, with the slots opposing and these then slide over each other as shown in the first picture.
To create a concertina bellows like this.
Thereafter, the etched end plate is attached to one face. Whilst not provided in the kit, I formed a second plate from plasticard and affixed this to the other end. it is important to ensure that no glue gets on the concertina sections of the paper, as they need to be capable of compressing with minimal effort to correctly operate without derailing the carriage.
This is how Comet envisage that the completed connection should look like but I felt that the bellows did not look very realistic, especially from above where the crossing point is all too obvious. In practise, the top of these connections had a fabric roof and applying this dramatically improves the appearance of the connection and has the added advantage of providing some control to the operation of the connections which do tend to expand out and look rather flabby!
I dealt with this by putting the rain hood on the top of the connection, which is afterall prototypical (and makes a huge difference to the appearance as you can see). I did this in a manner that meant it acted as a restraint to the movement of the connection. I acheived this by only gluing it at the very back and front of the connection, so that the bellows could move unimpeeded but once they had moved to the required extent, the rain hood pulled tight and stopped them going any further. I found that doing this at the top was not sufficient as their movement continued at the bottom and they took on rather drunken appearance – however, this was solved by simply repeating this at the bottom.
Key to getting this to work was to use material for these restraints that was ultra flexible. I did think about trying silk but settled instead on the rather more mundale – plastic from a bin liner. This is remarkably thin but is still tough enough to hold the connections. A tiny dab of super glue at the front and back and then it can be laid onto. It is important not to sigh with releif for some time though – the stuff is so light that it blows away at the slightest. So this is what it looks like:
I think that I have still allowed the connections to be too big and if there were two together this would definitely be true but next to a rather skinny Bachmann corridor connection, I think they look pretty good (and a big improvement on the originals).