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.
Part of the concept of the back-story for Glenmutchkin is that it is at the end of a long line so that locos need to be serviced and it was also at the foot of a steep gradient, so trains need to be banked out of the station. All this is creates a lot of thirsty locomotives that would have needed servicing and attention – so it will have a busy motive power depot.
The Highland Railway’s water tanks tended to be of a similar style with a tank made of sectional components and rounded head, base and corners. There is nothing available from any of the manufacturers so it was obvious these need to be scratchbuilt.
There remains one tank of this type still in situ, at Altnabreac which I will describe in the next post. In addition to this, there are drawings from Eddie Bellis of the Kyle’s water tower and also of Garve by Henry Orbach. I have elected to build a pair – one of Kyle and one of Altnabreac (the latter being the smaller).
Kyle’s water tank from the early post steam era. Photograph with permission from Armstrong Railway Photographic Trust, JM Boyes collection.
Starting with the tanks, I laminated a series of strips of plasticard to the right height and then used a belt sander to put the chamfer on these before then making them up into a box.
As with most of my stone buildings, I use Wills random stone plastic sheets; now available from Peco. On far too many occasions I see this used with panels butted against each other; either on corners or even worse on the flat. Unless the stones are toothed into each other, this screams as being incorrect even to a layman. Therefore, it is best to form corners either from a sheet cut vertically and then chamfer the inside faces so that the coursing is retained for its full length even on the cut face.
This means that courses line up from side to front without any silly jumps, as can be seen below. This technique can not be used in all examples and sometimes it is necessary to actually tooth panels into each other by cutting corresponding dog teeth into adjacent panels.
I find that the mortar courses on Wills sheets are a bit too deep and because lots of others use it its pattern is a little too obvious; so it looses its realism (or maybe I am just so sad that I can tell a material by its stone coursing!!). I get over this by part filling the mortar courses with a plastic filler – which is basically dissolved plastic in a solvent carrier (lovely and smely!). This tends to distort the sheets as it is only applied to one side so I first laminate the sheet to some thick (1.5 or 2mm plasticard). Due to the volumes of solvent to be sloshed around in constructing buildings in this manner, it is important to allow for the solvent to escape – regretfully I have a number of coach roofs which many years later have mushy sections where the solvent has been trapped and has distorted the plastic in its efforts to cut through it and escape! I thus drill regular holes or slots in the backing plasticard, which you can see here:
Whilst the desire to mask the coursing pattern on the Wills sheet might seem a fair amount of bother given the need to reinforce the walls with an inner laimanate, I think the effect is worth the effort. A blast of grey primer shows that the coursing and texture of the stone is retained but equaly it does not look like everyone else’s!
The use of the laminations does give the advantage that slots for window frames and doors can be created. These allow an etching to be slid in, either from below or behind. They can be slid out again for painting and make this aspect a breeze to do.
And this is where they have got to; the guts of both done but with a chunk of detailing and some basework still to be done.
But lets sign this post off with a fine HC Casserley picture of a Superheated Goods using the MPD as a headshunt in the early 1950s. This photograph is used with permission and is now part of Ernie Brack’s collection. He has a substantial on line collection of photographs (including the JM Boyes collection) with a good proportion of them being of the Highland’s system – you can loose many an hour in his flickr site – this being a link to his Dingwall & Skye album.
Readers of this blog will recall that my father has a significant interest in breakdown cranes; he has published a series of books on them and is the honoury president of the Breakdown Crane Association. As a result of this, a few years ago, he took a call from Bachmann when they started to research the possibility of filling a gap in the ready to run scene for a accurate breakdown crane. He delighted in being sworn to secrecy on this until the model was announced and now, some five years later, it has finally arrived on the shelves.
So after a somewhat unsatisfactory retail experience with Rails of Sheffield (which I won’t be repeating, there are plenty of other retailers out there), an example of a Ransomes & Rapier 45 ton crane arrived not much more than a couple of hours spare so that it could be parcelled up in its Christmas wrapping for my father. Now that it has reemerged, it is time to take a look at it.
The prototypes originate from the early years of the last world war and were initiated by the British Government; in part in anticipation of a lot of emergency repairs being required following enemy action and also for use on the continent once a toehold had been achieved. Initially a total of six were made, going to the SR and GWR but subsequently a further order of nine were made, mostly for the military but with a couple for the LNER and another for the SR. The example I bought being from the latter batch, being initially based in Gorton on the ex GCR system.
There were detail differences, with many of the railway company vehicles utilising standard components from their eventual owners. The valve chests for the cylinders moved to the exterior in the later batches and the operation of the loading of the relieving bogies became hydraulic latterly. The biggest changes, however, related to the match wagons where there was both variety of arrangements of tool boxes at the time of building and generations of modifications thereafter.
The cranes lasted until the mid 1980’s and a number of them survive in preservation, so if you want to see the real thing you might want to head to the Midhants Railway (on which the prototype photographs were taken and reproduced with kind permission of Carl Watson), the Bluebell Railway, the Great Central Railway, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway or the Swanage Railway. Below is a link to a video of the Midhants crane in action:
The first thing you notice with the model is that it is some way from the toy train end of the model train market. The prototype is smothered in detail; with the fine bracing between the sides of the jib, the gear trains, axleboxes and flywheels all being a bit out of the ordinary for the ready to run market. Bachmann have had a really good go at this and for the greater part they have got it right – very few could model a crane as well as this. There are, however, several compromises made to enable them to be operable. This particularly shows at the bearing points at the head of the jib (exposed metal when they shouldn’t be visible) and on the crankpin nuts to the flywheels (way too big and hexagonal). I understand why this was done, but it sticks out to my eyes! Some touching in of paintwork will help (but not be perfect) and the replacement of nuts with something more subtle should be possible.
The detail is very delicate and the model needs to be handled very carefully as a result. Even the most careful (and I don’t count myself in this group) are unlikely to keep all the detail in place on any model that does not merely sit in the display cabinet. With a recommended retail price of £250, substantially more than any other product that is not filled with motors & electronics, it is doubtful that too many will end up in the hands of children – maybe that is just as well!
The model I bought, the early BR model in black – Bachmann ref SKU: 38-802, has a match truck without tool boxes. This is correct for the specific crane post the early 1950s but what is not is the missing insides to the splashers. This seems to be a compromise to accommodate OO wheelsets without making the splashers excessively deep. It is easy enough to fill in the open spaces if you model in one of the wider gauges and it will make a big difference.
The painting and livery is particularly fine on the model. Even better there are some exquisitely delicate etched plates that can be applied on top of some of the plates. I suspect I see the shadow of Mr Hanson on them.
It looks realistic to get P4 wheels into the crane underframe and definitely so for the runners/match wagon. I would, however, be concerned as to whether a four axle vehicle could survive all but perfect track in P4 and how many of us have that? I suspect that it will all be very tight too, so some pretty large radius curves would be needed if a P4 model can get around them. Of course I will have a go, but it is not high on the to do list at the moment!
I think it is only a matter of time before someone looks at trying to motorise the crane. I think I will say good luck to them! Getting micromotors in might be possible for at least movement along the track but that still leaves slewing of the crane deck, raising of the jib and raising of the hook to go – getting another three in looks pretty difficult to me! The model does include internal hand operated mechanisms for the latter two movements – there are access panels that pop out to reveal a socket to receive a hand wheel. Thus, it is realistic to stage scenes, but not (in my eyes anyway – I really do look forward to someone having a go!) to make a fully operating model.
What is a must though is to add the paraphernalia of clutter the real cranes acquired in operation. Photographs show that they typically attracted lumber sections, jacks, chains and tarpaulins as if they were magnets. Cranes, not being front line stock in the public eye, tended not to suffer repaints very frequently and as they stood outside, they did weather and pick up corrosion spots. So any self respecting modeller needs to do something about how clean they look.
Although there is a very long in the tooth model crane from Hornby, it is somewhat of an uncomfortable marriage of several different cranes (the really old Hornby Doublo diecast version is better but quite crude), so does not cut the mustard. There are a limited number of kits for other cranes – notably the D&S Models Cowen Sheldon 15 ton breakdown crane (an example of one might grace these pages eventually!) but these are full on kits. Thus Bachmanns cranes are not only attractive models in their own right but they have a field fairly clear of competitors.
If you want the book on the prototype you need volume 2 of my father’s book – at present it is out of print but it is hoped with a bit of pressure on the publishers, Crecy, they can be persuaded to do a further print run.
The Bachmann crane is presently available in an SR livery, a GWR livery and then a pair of BR liveries – the 1950s livery shown above and a later gulf red livery. An example of the latter is below:
As usual, I set off over the festive break with plans to do all sorts of things and failed to do any of them fully. One aspect that I did get moved forward though was the painting and lining of a couple of my six wheeled coaches.
Back in my youth, lining pens held no fear and I could genuinely dash off a fully lined coach in a few evenings. Thirty years of pushing a computer keyboard has dulled my drawing skills to the point where I am close to terrified to pick up a bow pen and I have not had the nerve to line a coach for a long time. I am confronting this fear in a couple of months by attending a class run by Ian Rathbone on painting and lining at Missenden Railway Modellers. In the meantime, however, I can still line utilising transfers, in this case those provided by Fox Transfers.
Being preformed in straight lines, these do work best for the square panelled beading of some of the Midland Clayton stock, like my dia 501 full brake. I had taken care in designing this with beading sizes that were correct (and matched the Fox Transfers). They thus work quite well I think.
I deliberately left the handrails and door handles off at this stage to make the lining easier but the door hinges still created problems that I will need to touch in with acrylic paints; burnt ochre looks about right. I also still need to block in the black to the head and foot of the sides plus where the lengths of transfer where they crossed – I will do this with a Roting pen as I still feel confident enought to wield this!
So there is still plenty to do, but I am dead chuffed with this and it will soon be finished and ready for service.
Second up is a Lochgorm Models third class saloon that has been waiting for its lining for rather longer. It is a more difficult prospect to line as it has round corners to the panels and, over the doors and windows, shallow arcs. These can’t be formed with transfers as these are straight. I have thus used the transfers for the straight sections and then brush painted the curved sections with cadmium yellow acrylic paint.
If all goes well, the Roting pen can then be used to infill the black to the centre and form the curves across the windows and doors. Lets see!
Compliments of the season to you all and picture of Rudolf battling through the snow to deliver all the Christmas packages – well sort of!
I suspect this was taken near Altnabreac in 1895 as there are a series of photographs from there t this time, others of which I have posted before. The photograph is in the NRM’s collection but given its date will be out of copyright,.
Way back in the mist of time (well 2016), I made a start on one of Arthur Kimber’s kits for a NER 2-4-0; termed a Tennant. After residing at the back of the cupboard for a bit too long (as is the way with my modelling, I do admire those that start something, see it neatly through to a finish before starting another……..!), I have made some more progress with it.
First up with the tender body which is close to finished except for some detailing around its front.
There was a bit of irritation in the building of this; despite being quite a modern kit the rear panel was much to narrow, the buffer beam a bit flimsy and there were some missing details around the front of the tender. Nothing someone raised on Jidenco’s kits can’t sort, but I rather hoped it wouldn’t happen with a modern design!
I also found that the boiler was about 0.7mm too long; a degree of filing and fettling has got it fitted. It is fair to say whilst there were these niggles, most of the rest of the kit is well designed and there are a number of neat facets to the kit, the flairs to the tender top for example are pre-rolled and they are very difficult to form without the right presses.
Here she is with the boiler now fitted and the first of the boiler fittings being attached. Something that grates with me on many people’s models is where these do not sit down tightly on the boiler or have overly thick flanges onto the boiler. Given that these are castings, it is understandable that these sometimes happen but they do damage the reality of the model and it pays to address these issues. For this reason, I prefer to solder them in place and am prepared to attack them with a file both before and after they have been fitted.
This does create a problem of soldering the parts in place; they are quite chunky so need a lot of heat to solder them in place and it is difficult to move them about to get them in the right place when they are so hot. I have just started to address this by drilling out the base of the boiler fitting and tapping it to take a 10BA bolt + washer. This allows the the fitting to be moved about until it is in the right place and held tight with the bolt so that it can then be soldered. I am pleased with this little trick; it definitely repays the effort and for the white metal castings, saves the risk of returning them to a blob of metal with too much heat!
One example of a Tennant is preserved, being situated at the Head of Steam Museum at North Road Darlington Station. This has enabled me to take a good number of detailed shots but they are all rather close up they don’t really capture the prototype; so here is one from Neil Dimmer’s collection from the earlish 1920s, at (I think) York. The thin nature of the flanges to the dome and chimney I comment on above can be seen in this.
This view also illustrates how thin the boiler bands are. Given that this will be painted in NER livery that has lining on the boiler bands I am going to rely on the thickness of the lining transfer to give the impression of the boiler band rather than represent them in metal.
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.