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Sliding Axles – A Reprise

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.



The Far North – Let it Snow!

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.

From GNSR with permission to use (2)

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.

1998-8760_20a from NRM

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.

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.

HRS Barney with Large Plough

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?!?!?




Something Fishy…….

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.

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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.

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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.



Dia 51 Test Build Part 3 – and then there were two…..!

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………..

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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.

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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.


A Bit of a Slip Up…….

I have been continuing with the wiring of Glenmutchkin, but have hit a snag; one that I should have been ready for – the wiring of the slip,  I had been aware that a diamond crossing was a challenge to wire and I was suckered into thinking that the switches on a slip could over come the challenge,  Well I go that wrong…….!!

The basic problem is that there are a choice of two routes through a diamond crossing and each route requires the polarity of the crossings to be different.  The diagram below, which shows how a diamond crossing needs to be wired, should illustrate the problem.  The only solution to this is to power the crossing polarity by way of an approach turnout – if you really don’t have one to set the polarity with, then you are going to have to resort to some switches – but at least it will give you a good excuse to interlock the diamond crossing with some signals to remind you on which direction it is set!

Crossing Wiring

Hopefully this is clear that the crossings on the diamond crossing are activated by detecting the direction of the switch on the approach turnout.  If it is set for straight ahead, then a train can’t travel over the crossing and therefore the parallel line can so the polarity of the crossings are set accordingly.  Conversely, when the approach turnout is set to the branch, the line across the diamond can be used and the polarity is set to suit.

The principal with the diamond crossing needs to be heeded when the crossing is replaced with a single slip as I have, but it does get more complicated because the switch of the slip can also lead to a different route through the crossings.  The crossing to the left of the slip is the more straight forward as it is only activated by the approach turnout.  However the right hand crossing is more complicated as if the approach turnout is set for the branch then it always needs to be in the red polarity whereas if the approach turnout is set for the main, then it then needs to be controlled by the slips switch.

Slip Wiring v2

Hopefully the diagram above shows how this works.

The irritation I have, in addition to having wired it up wrong already (!) is that the approach turnout is on a different board to the slip.  To reduce the number of wires crossing the boards, I have decided to simply use a duplicate point motor for the approach turnout located on the same board as the slip.  It is expensive but rather more simple than the additional wires.

NB – please see also a follow up post on this wiring arrangement for an alternative approach.


Making Louvered Chimneys

One of the most characteristic features of the Highland Railway’s locomotives for many years was the louvered chimney.  This was fitted to almost all of David Jones’ locomotives and although some lost them over their lives, most retained them until withdrawal.  Indeed this style of chimney can still be seen on the preserved Jones Goods which is presently in the Riverside Museum of Transport in Glasgow.

05 Page 88b (2)

There is debate as to the reason that these chimneys were fitted but it is generally considered that they sought to assist in the drafting of the fire on the downhill sections of the line.  There were many long descents on the line and regulator would be closed for such descents and thus the fire was not drafted by the exhaust from the cylinders.  The louvres would have allowed the passing air to pull on the fire to keep .

Clearly for such a characteristic feature of the line, it is important to model it well on my locos but I am not totally happy with the renditions that are available.  The whitemetal chimneys look too chunky and neither the cast brass (Lochgorm) or turned brass (Jidenco/Falcon Brass) have very distinct louvres.  I feel that they can be improved and this is how I go about doing so; in this case starting with the Lochgorm Models cast brass chimney.  Similarly, if you are turning your own chimney, the same situation arises,


I started by some basic improvements to the chimney.  I found that my casting was not parallel down the shaft of the chimney, being fatter at the top, and also not particularly smooth.  I therefore turned it down a little on a drill with some needle files.  The casting sprue was not particularly central so to be able to turn the chimney it was first necessary to file this to get it more central.  Thereafter, I drilled out the chimney to 4.5mm diameter to its full depth on a pillar drill.  I am doing this partly for appearance but really because I intend to put sound speakers in the smokebox and it is necessary to leave routes for the sound to escape – the most authentic being to chimney!  Casting brass is very hard and this is no little task – it takes some time, lubricant and anyone in the house need to be able to tolerate a good amount of noise!

The Lochgorm Models cast chimney has a series of depressions to represent the louvres and these are what I felt needed improving.  I started this with a piercing saw with a fine (OOOO) slot at the top of the cast depressions.  This is cut across the whole width of the depressions and a little further beyond, ignoring where the pillars between the slots are.

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These are then given a chamfer slope with a needle file that has a blank face (to make sure it does not cut above the slot).  This also needs to be taken beyond either end of the intended louvres to avoid the impact of any taper.  The top three have been formed in the picture below, with the lowest still just the piercing saw cut.

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Once all have been formed, the next task is to undo all of the work by filling them in again!  All of the gaps are flooded with solder.  I used 145 solder as it would survive the reasonable temperatures that would be incurred in soldering it to the boiler but also be soft enough to carve out again.


The louvres were then marked out, starting with the two vertical rows either side of the central pillar that must match the highest point of the flare.  Then with a knife, the solder infill between these is cut back out.  The knife can cut through the solder to cut it out but does it will not affect the brass, so the louvre is reformed.  I found that the technique was to initially cut it away and once a basic amount was removed the blade can be scraped side to side within the louvre to get a smooth surface.  This brings up burrs of solder at either side of the louvre which are then cut out.  This is what it looks like with the first two columns of louvres done – I found it best to do it like this as it was easier to get them vertical than by doing them in rows.

IMG_4137 (2)

You will find that you get through a fair few blades doing this as the most challenging part is getting the corners crisp (and the photography is very cruel in this regard!).  It is also easy to be a bit enthusiastic and accidentally cut pillar – if this happens, it can be reformed with a dab of solder and the process repeated until there is a neat row of four slots in four columns.

Once you are near to finished, a dusting of grey primer shows up any remaining inconsistencies and hopefully it looks something like this:.


This process creates not only the slope of the louvre opening but also the dark shadow of the cavity.  In my view these features are necessary to capture the feel of the distinctive feature of the Highland Railway.  It takes around 2-3 hours to make each chimney and in I reckon it is worth the time and effort.








Dia 51 Test Build – Part 2: Nearly There

I no longer affix roofs firmly to the body of my coaches as makes both the building and the painting much easier.  The downside of this is that there is the challenge of keeping the roof on tight without there being any visible joint between the two as this looks terrible.  The solution I now use is to clamp this to the floor with 10BA bolts by way of brackets as can be seen in the photograph below.

IMG_3928 (2)

As built, these coaches had full length step boards but they lost most of these through their life.  They were electric fitted from the outset.  The chassis below is close to finished except I have run out of vacuum cylinders so these will need to be added, along with the vacuum pipes.

IMG_3921 (2)

The bogies are also a key part of the proposed kit and are something that I have been working on with Justin Newitt of Rumney Models – the idea being to combine the sprung bogie design that he has prepared with cosmetic etches for the sides and then the castings from Lochgorm Models or perhaps our own in due course.  The bogie is quite sophisticated with both primary and secondary springing – the latter is on the bolster and is as below.


The primary springing is on the axleboxes and has bearing carriers, much like the Bill Bedford sprung W-irons.  There are still some wrinkles to iron out so it is not there yet but they do make up into some pretty neat bogies; don’t you think?

IMG_3915 (2)

The only area of the first test build that truly did not work was the corridor connections and it is going to be a case of back to the drawing board for these but other than the final few bits to be completed, the build is finished and I think the vehicle is handsome.

IMG_3943 (2)

So, off to the paint shops soon, but there is a bit of a holiday to squeeze in first!

Dirty Models……..

Now, I wonder if that heading will gather a few extra viewings………..?

As I have mentioned before on this blog, every few months I catch up with a group of mates to have a joint modelling session.  The general gist of these is a combination of banter, a bit of modelling, more banter, a visit to the pub, even banter, a bit more modelling and all nicely rounded off with some more banter.

Last week  saw us on the south coast to do some weathering – or rather some of us.  One of our number was preparing for their imminent marriage whereas Oly (one half of OTCM) felt his budding TV stardoom was a sufficient excuse to hang up his airbrush.   We do fear that Oly may not return to the fold; preferring instead to do his modelling with Brad, Leonardo and Denzil once he makes his silver screen debut in the autumn – don’t forget your roots Oly……….

We were all concentrating on different things; Peter constructed the better part of a bridge for his Aultbea layout and Chris was weathering some rather neat little shunters. For my part, I concentrated on weathering some of the stock that I have been building lately (and sometimes not so lately!):


First up is a pair of horseboxes.  On the right is my HR version based on a Microrail kit – still in need of some glazing.  On the left is the Caledonian’s equivalent based on a kit from by Spratt & Winkle.  Both are in their pre-group livery as can be seen.  As such stock was used in passenger trains, I have sought to give them an aged but largely cleaned feel – with the dirt largely present around ironwork and difficult to clean spots.


Having mucked up the weathering of some brake vans at the previous weathering session, I was also keen to get these corrected.  This is where I have got with them.

As can be seen, I do not follow the school of thought that the pre-group or 1920’s era stock was constantly pristine.  If you bother to look at contemporary photographs, little is clean and some of it is downright grubby.  Railways in the steam era were very dirty places; it is inevitable where so much coal, ash and smoke prevail.  Furthermore, I can not see even the most houseproud of railway companies regularly (or probably ever) cleaning their goods stock and most of these show stock that is care worn and soiled.  This is the feel I am seeking to capture; not the utterly neglected and on its last legs look of the final days of steam but of railway materials that earn a living the hard way.

The pair of brake vans above are to HR diagram 39 from 1922 and are from a Lochgorm Models kit.  There is some doubt whether they were delivered in 1922, as there are no known pictures of any of them in HR livery.  However, I applying the “its my trainset rule” a number of modellers have painted them in Highland colours; including Paul Bannerman whose example is below.

The other highland brake van I weathered was the diagram 38 brake van.  This originates from a Microrail kit and may well still be available from David Geen occasionally at shows as he does own the rights to the artwork.  I have modified this with the early pattern roof look outs.  These allowed the guard to look over the train around the twisting curves that characterised parts of the Highland’s system.  However, there were complaints about whacked heads as the guards came up and down the steps to look onto the lookouts and as a result they were modified with approach cutouts on the roof – take a look at the Lochgorm’s page above to see an example.

Next up on the weathering front were some wagons and NPCS.  The first pictures being the weathering to a couple of the items I have described in the pages here – the Oxford Rail NB jubilee wagon and the Mousa Models LNWR van.

And then some rather more ancient models of mine, a Highland Railway meat van from a Sutherland Castings kit and a GC van from another Mousa Models kit.

Finally, a group of wagons for Benfieldside.  The hoppers have been seen before and the brake van we will hear more of another day.



Dia 51 Full Brake – Test Build Part 1

Following the last delivery from the etchers, it was time to get on and do the first test builds.  First up was the dia 51 Full Brake.  This vehicle was one of the later coaches from the Highland Railway and was of similar design to the cove roof corridor coaches that have been available from Lochgorm Models for some time.  They were also amongst some of the last highland coaches to service as tool vans etc.  This is what one looked like late on in its career after its corridor connections had been removed.


As with my efforts for the scrap tank, I am seeking to try and be a bit smarter with some of the kit design to draw together ideas of assembly of my own and also those of others.  So starting with the ends, these will be made with a double skin to both provide the footsteps and, less commonly, some tabs to allow the sides to be secured to them.


I have always found that too many etched coaches have flimsey sides that become distorted as they are made (or when ham-fisted me does anyway).  Therefore,  I have designed this such that the head and base of the side have significantly sized stiffening pieces, as can be seen below.  These are designed to interlock with the tabs at the ends such that most of the locating of the parts is largely defined by the kits components.


Once the basics of the shell are together, this is what it looks like.


The roof proved to be one of the most challenging parts of the build.  I had originally designed this with an inner to form the shape of the roof and then a thinly etched outer layer to go over this to provide the rainstrips and other detail.  It proved too difficult to get the two to laminate well or even be rolled to a similar curve.

Instead, therefore, I ditched the outer layer and relied only on the inner.  This had been half etched on the underside to assist its rolling to the curved profile.  I found that it was still difficult to roll the roof due to the tightness of the curves at the extremity of the roof but by simply using bending bars it was quite easy to put the curves in with a limited amount of faceting.  Faceting is where short straight sections with bends to the next short section that gives the impression of a curve.  Once this was then filed on the outside to smooth out the facets, a smooth curve became pretty good.  Thereafter, it was necessary to form the rainstrips with wire and file them back to square sections and as you can see, the effect is pretty convincing.


The underframe and bogies are to follow, in part 2.

Goodies – time for some more test building….

I had a delivery at work which was rather more interesting than the average box of lease documents I usually get…………it looked like this.


There are a number of items in this, some parts for some locos I have underway and an attempt to adjust the ECJS 6 wheeled bogies but the key goodies in this are a MR 6 wheeled full brake (to dia 530) and an HR bogie full brake (to dia 51).

The MR full brake should look like this:

Midland dia 530

and the Highland’s full brake here

So all I need is some time to do some more testing building…………..

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