Portchullin Goes Green………….Again
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!
Normal Modelling Will Resume Soon…..
Sorry for the absence of any posts for rather a long time………..
We decided to move house, for a few reasons (a pleasant side effect of which is I can build myself a larger railway room) and this has been nearly all consuming for a few months. We are now moved and whilst we remain surrounded by boxes, normality is slowly returning to our life.
So some modelling posts soon, but first a summer holiday!
A Fold of Cattle Wagons
Your pub quiz fact for the day is that the collective name for Highland cattle is not a herd, as it would be for most cattle. Instead, and only for Highland cattle, the collective name for a group of cattle is a fold. If that does come up in a pub quiz, you owe me a pint!
Cattle were an important part of the highland economy and hence were a good source of income of the Highland Railway. In my slightly distorted version of real history, there were 4 million head of cattle to transport per annum in the Glenmutchkin area (which is remarkable given the cattle population of the entire UK at the time was only a little bit higher!). Thus, a fold of cattle wagons was obviously a pre-requisite for Glenmutchkin and this is what I have been working on of late.
First up are a pair of LMS standard cattle wagons; to diagram 1661. These date from 1925; so they would have been fairly new at the time that my layout is set in. These were built from Parkside plastic kits with only moderate modifications around the break gear and, of course, some sprung w-irons. Being a relatively recent kit, it is generally very good and whilst it is possible to convert it to some alternative variants, these came later than my modelling period so I was not tempted. I am concerned that I have painted them rather to dark though, so I will be weathering them on the light side.
Next up is a Great North of Scotland Cattle wagon, from a Model Wagon Company white metal kit. This is a much older kit and didn’t it felt it! For reasons I am not certain of, the two sides were not the same length so in practise the body is a bit trapezoidal – but can you tell? The casting was also covered in flash which was a particular problem in the gaps between the wooden slats – this meant I spent a few hours I would sooner not have spent scraping it out to keep these clear. The GNoS vehicle was a much more basic vehicle and, strangely, did not get any large ownership lettering so they remained rather anonymous, Instead, they had simple cast plates, which I made from a locomotive number plate and dry brushed white on the letters. I have glossed over the fact it does not have the right number or even a consistent number from one side to the other – sod the “getting it all right” mantra!
I have also built a further Highland cattle wagon, built from a Model Wagon Company kit. This is the Drummond era version and I have already built a number of these so this was relatively routine – its just as well as there are still a couple in their packet waiting their turn!
The final cattle van is a David Geen kit for the L&Y large cattle wagon. Whilst still a whitemetal kit, it is of somewhat better quality than both the Model Wagon Co kits so was rather easier to make. Even then, it did need filling at the corner joints and I felt the need to swap the brake levers for replacements – why to even the better manufacturers use the same material for all of their kits?
To finish of this little rake, I obviously need another brake van. This is not so obvious because this is brake van no 11 in the collection and I know I have at least one more spirited away! Whilst this was a kit build, it was first a kit unassemble as this was a vehicle I had first built in my teens. Generally fairly well but a couple of bits had got damaged over the years so I felt it needed rejuvenating.
And here they all are on parade.
Now all I need is rather a lot of heilen coos to fill them up with. I have been working on this but it seems that resin casting is a tad more difficult than I thought……………..
Oh and yes, they are all way to clean; another weathering sess’ is required guys………..
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!
Hornby already produce a very good model of the locomotive and are shortly to produce a number of the matching coaches; maybe I will be able to resist, maybe I won’t!
photographs with thanks to Ian Beattie and Jim Smellie
Fuel for Thought
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!).
Let there be water (and coal too)……part 2
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!
Alnabreac Water Tower – the Prototype
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.
Let there be water……..part 1
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.
Lining Things Up….
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!
Thirty Seven for Portchullin……
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.