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!).
Whilst the NER signal from my last post gets itself painted, I turned my attention to the next few signals – in this case these will be Midland lower quadrants.
A lot of the character of a signal is in its finial and if this isn’t right then the model won’t convince. In addition, they are also very vulnerable so need to be durable. Therefore, my conclusion is that white metal finials do not cut the mustard – they are too delicate and too clunky. Thus, in this case I decided to make my own – I came up with this which starts with with some interlocking etches:
And then a bit of brass tube as a collar at the base
The Midland’s style of signals do have a few idiosyncrasies; one of which is the way that blinders are fixed. Instead of being fixed to the spindle these are secured to the arms and wrap around the lamp. This can be more clearly seen in the photograph below.
The other key change was in the manner in that the arms are secured to the posts. Instead of being pined through the arm and secured at the rear, the Midland used a bracket to the front of the post with a plate that wrapped around to the front of the signal to support the arm to the front. This can be seen in this view of a rather nice gallows signal at Butterley.
The bracket can be seen in this view below and I then created a pin that fitted into the bracket and slotted over the spindle.
I have bought a new light box for taking photographs in. Whilst I am still getting to grips with it, when it works it does produce much improved pictures of models. These almost look like an images of a 3D model on a computer screen. The pliers at the bottom of these views do rather give the game away!
The Midland were a bit odd in their choice of colours for their signals. The posts were “primrose yellow” but this quickly dirtied to something akin to cotswold stone is what the book says, so this does give something a little different. This is my representation of this with a decent dose of smokey dirt – when you look at contemporary photographs many signals were not only dirty but entirely smothered in smoke. I haven’t gone that far yet, but its going to need to be done!
As can be seen, this still needs connecting to the servos and the touching in of the paint on the parts that I fit after the main assembly (the balance lever and the plate that wrapped around the signal arm).
More progress has been made with the pair of water tanks and they have now reached the stage where they are effectively finished.
The stonework was painted by picking out each stone in different colours. I think there is a real art to this as when I see others do this, I often think the colour differences are unrealistically abrupt. I find the trick is to use a core of two colours that are close to the general colour that you want – in my case Humbrol Matt no 5 & 64. Put these in separate palates on a mixing dish and dip into these to create a combination of the two.
By selecting two relatively close colours, you can alternate from all one to all the other and any mix in between. Adding very moderate amounts of a stronger colour difference, in my case Humbrol Matt 66 and 62 which are a darker grey and a leather brown adds a bit of variety but in each case they still need to be mixed in with the two core paints to keep the toning consistent.
Even with this work the colours didn’t seem quite real, so I completed two additional steps. The first was to use some matt varnish that I knew the matting agent was a bit gone on – this gives a slightly translucent milky effect over the whole and drew the colours together a bit. The second was to use AK Abteilung 502 weathering powders – black smoke, ashes grey, gunmetal and rubble dust (primarily because these were the only colours I had!). These need to be used with care, as it is easy to put way too much on and you can’t generally get it off again! However, at low level and to the coal bank I have been pretty liberal with particularly the black smoke as such areas were far from clean!
The weathering to the water tanks was dealt with slightly differently, although it also started with the use of the acrylic varnish with the defective matting agent (that’ll be how I found out it was defective!). I then used a Humbrol dark grey was with downward brush strokes and then wiped off with a piece of kitchen roll, again with a downward stroke. A few additional marks, especially to the panel joints, with AK Interactive weathering pencils.
The water effect was another accident flowing from the defective matting agent – the milking was far from desirable on the black base coat of paint. Thus, I wiped it off once it was semi dry and I got most of it but where the remainder was still there, it added a bit of texture to the surface, as if there was a little disturbance to the water that affects part of the surface not the whole.
By reference to the prototype, I made a heating stove flue and spigot for the water bag from brass rod. To form the bends it was necessary to have a pair of additional tubes inside each other to stop the tube collapsing on the bend, The canvas section of the leather bag was formed by a piece of heat shrink sleeving but with a little 5 minute araldite in the centre such that as this starts to cure a degree of shape can be put into it and once fully cured it will stay in this shape.
The operating rod was based on that still largely apparent at Altnabreac and I have assumed this also had a ladder even if this has now gone. There is no watering bag to the smaller of the two water tanks as I propose to have some water columns, but that is a story for another day!
A further story for another day is the rather odd post sitting in the middle of the coaling bank; but that story will be fairly soon!
When my friends acquired Benfieldside, it had suffered a bit of damage, notably to its signals – in essence it was this that got me volunteered for their restoration! One signal that puzzled us, however, was the up starter which was missing altogether and we could not unearth any photographs of it. Ultimately, we decided that it should be a two doll signal to also control the adjacent bay (which did have a signal, albeit inoperative) – so I have set to in order to fill this gap.
The line is set in Cumbria and is an imaginary westward extension of the Newcastle & Carlise line. In theory, therefore, it should not have the heavy cast iron brackets that the NER used. However, in reviewing the NERA’s signalling book, it became apparent that there were quite a lot of strays of signal designs, so I had an excuse to build one!
As this particular signal is going to be platform mounted, I did not need to sort out a mount for it and moved straight to the post and bracket, the latter being by MSE which I had in stock.
I then moved on to the prefabrication of a pair of dolls, each with slotted posts. This is made up of solid square section filed to a taper which is then cut and each end then has a tongue filed on it onto which flat plate is soldered either side to create the slots. I used a variety of temperature solders to ease this process but it was not easy – I did have one gum solid which resulted in a need to dismantle it and start again! As alluded to in the previous post, as these are slotted posts I had to depart from my usual practise of fitting the arms after painting as it is not otherwise possible to solder them to the spindle for the arm.
As mentioned in the last post, I came up with a bit of a dodge to successfully (well, in two of three cases!) to solder the arm to the spindle without gumming it up. By extending the ear that forms the point at which the operating rod attaches to the arm forward a bit (see the line below), it provides a point at which the soldering iron can be touched. If you use a slight excess of solder this allows the heat to transmit to the spindle and make the soldered joint.
And this is what you get with a prefabricated doll, ready for the next stage of assembly.
And below of the pair of dolls now inserted to the landing.
Even at this stage, there is still a lot of building to do as there are handrails, the main ladder, steps and ladders to the dolls, the operating mechanism transferring the movement to the dolls all to do. In respect of the latter(I used rocking cams in this case – you can just see the use of some handrail knobs as the bearings in the photos below, the cams will be fitted after painting.
Slightly peculiarly, the NER built their landings in front of the arms whereas all the other signals I have yet built have these in the rear (excepting gantries, which can be either or both!). This view shows this most clearly.
The main ladder is not visible in the views as I have made this detachable because it is much easier to spray paint these (and better, it is not easy to get a thin coat of paint by brush application and it thickens up the fine detail of a ladder too much.
The grey primer is pretty cruel to modelling efforts but on the whole, I am pretty chuffed with this!
A mere three weeks ago, but a lifetime in the past now that we are in the middle (or more worryingly, perhaps just the beginning) of the Covid-19 crisis, I was a demonstrator at the joint EMGS/Scalefour Society skills day. These skills days are not really exhibitions and are instead aimed at passing some skills on to the visitors – thus they are primarily a hall full of demonstrators with only the odd layout or two to break up the rows of desks.
Here I am, in a shockingly creased shirt (!), and as you can see, I am demonstrating signal construction. I am pleased to say that at the skills day I had a solid stream of people engaging with the topic all day; so much show I had to pull down the shutters for a brief lunch as otherwise I really would not have stopped all day!
By way of preparation for the event, I thought about what I have learnt about building signals and distilled a list of my top tips. These proved to be the cornerstone of my conversations with people at the Skills Day so I thought it was worth repeating them here on the blog.
- Conceive how you are going to mount the signal; where and how, what is above the ground or below the baseboard – which might well mean you also need to;
The base and mount for a two movement servo controlled signal
- Decide how you are going to operate the signal, how is the drive mechanism to be mounted and what does it need to be connected to mechanically/electrically;
- If you are going to illuminate your lamps, you need to decide how you are going to run the wires to the LEDs or fibre optic cable. It is possible to use the post as a common return but you still need one wireway;
- Consider how the movement is to be transmitted (especially bracket signals) and how you are going to replicate this? Multiple movements in close proximity to each other can lead to interference, compromises to reduce this risk are sometimes desirable (especially for triple or more movements in close proximity);
- Conceive how you are going to paint and assemble the signal before you start – it is generally easier to paint arms and ladders before you assemble them so it is possible to create sub-assemblies to be attached later – the touching in of local areas of damaged paint caused through assembly is a small price to pay for the ease of painting the remaining areas;
A Southern rail built home signal; the post was formed of two pieces of nickle silver rail.
- Tight, tight, tight – the most important part of building a signal is to keep all holes of operating parts as tight and snug as possible as slack leads to sloppy movement;
- You will use a lot of fine drills, down to 0.3mm, and a good quality pillar drill will mean you break rather fewer of them!
- Use the file up the length of the post not across it as much as possible – the files leave less scars and any that do occur mimic the grain of the wood;
- Pre-form or pre-drill elements such as balance weights, holes to the posts or landings early on before they are assembled when it is easiest (well potentially!);
- The prototype of most of the components to a signal are pretty delicate with fine sections; thus, to capture their character these needs to be similarly fine, however:
- There is a trade-off to make with the operating components such as balance levers which are typically best made over scale and with laminated brass to give them more strength;
- Generally, build the bigger more robust elements first and potentially alter the build sequence in the light of thermal mass and whether adjacent items might be disturbed by later additions – consider using different temperature solders and prefabrication of elements such as dolls with all of the lamps/landings finished;
A prefabricated doll and arm – I wouldn’t normally fit the arm until after painting but this is not true for slotted post signals
- Don’t use the flat etched ladders, they are too flexible to look real. Either use the built up versions or solder 0.3mm wire on both front and back of stringers and file the outside face flat – they look more realistic and are more durable.
A flat etched ladder with 0.3mm wire being soldered to the stringer
- Lots of delicate parts and complicated sections means that ultrasonic baths are really helpful for cleaning without damaging elements;
Slotted Post Signals
- Not the easiest because of the need to solder the arm to the spindle inside the slot. Use a laminated piece to the ear that is the point at which the operating rod attaches to the arm and extend it cross the back of the arm by 3mm so that it is would project beyond the slot slightly. Be liberal with the solder but make sure that the rubbing faces are cleared of any excess. Wrap the arm in cigarette paper and insert it into the slot. After the spindle has been inserted, touch the cigarette paper with light oil and allow it to soak through. Then put a little flux on the laminated ear and apply the iron. The heat will transmit along the solder joint and reach the spindle.
- Protect the signal from excess throw; they are delicate – therefore set the servo up to an approximate centre point through before connecting it to the model;
- Leave room to be able to see the signal as you are setting it up, otherwise it takes ages and a lot of bending under the baseboard;
- If you are going to illuminate your signal, understand what the right colours would be – oil lamps are relatively dim (so you need to resist down the voltage) and quite yellow (so modern LEDs need to toned down).
Dimensions were not standardised even within a company, let alone between, so offering directions on dimensions is dangerous – all I will say is these dimensions are commonplace:
- Single post wooden signals – 6” square at the top and then tapering out 3/16th of an inch for each foot of height (1.5% or so)
- Wooden doll posts – 7” square at top and tapering as before
- Main post for wooden bracket signals – 10” at the top and then tapering as before
- Single post tubular signals – 5 1/2″ to the upper portion and 6 1/2″ to the lower portion. The height of the lower portion varied with the height of the post (for details, see LMS journal no 4)
- Arm – centre pivot – 1′ 6″ from the top of the post; second arms 6′ 0″ below that;
- Spacing between dolls – 6′ 0″ or 6′ 6″ (less for shunt arms)
- Height of handrail to landings – 3′ 0″
A GER three doll bracket signal
One of my pet hates on model railways are buildings that float a fraction above the ground because they have been plonked in situ, not bedded in. For me, it completely destroys the illusion and I can get quite wound up about it when I see it (…..and it is pretty common, so this is fairly often!).
Occasionally, I actually do attach the building to the baseboard and “scenic in” the ground around them but more normally I construct a base into which the building sits. This gets embedded permanently and then the building sits into a slot that is formed into it. I have also seen the building being built in two parts, with the base being affixed to the ground and the building slotted onto them. Peter Bond did this for me with the signal cabins for Portchullin. This is the base for the larger water tank:
The large water tank is more prominent as it is located closer to the baseboard edge and is to the rear of the main focus of the MPD area, the trackwork between the shed and the turntable. It is also adjacent to the coaling bank and as a result I decided to make this now and as part of the base for the water tank.
The smaller of the water tanks is designed to mask a baseboard joint in a rockface/embankment. The base (below) will thus be split into two halves when it is fitted, each sitting on adjacent boards – a neat way of not having the San Andreas fault line running through a rock face!
I have also started the painting of these, which had a fairly characteristic design with the border in a red/brown and a cream central panel. It is important to recreate this and as it is fairly eye catching, errors will be instantly visible.
The straight edges weren’t too difficult to achieve with masking tape; initially the horizontals and then the verticals a day later. Peeling back the masking tape was a thrill to see if it worked!
The scrolls at the corner was a concern throughout the construction of the water tanks but I did hit on an idea I think is rather nifty. I sprayed the same red/brown on some transfer paper (thanks Chris!) and once it was dry, used a domestic hole punch to create disks of transfer. I then cut them into segments that were a bit bigger than a quarter of the disk. They were then applied as a transfer to each corner.
Actually, it was pretty easy once I got going – I definitely spent longer thinking about it than I did doing it! I am pretty pleased with the outcome, much neater than my hand could manage!
The rather prominent hole in the coal bank will be the subject of a future post, as there is something a bit different planned for this!
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!
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.