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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.



Sliding Axles

Six wheeled coaches are pretty and they are quite characteristic on branch services on the Highland system in the early 1920’s.  The problem is that they are bu**ers to get to properly work because there is a tendency for the middle axle to rock on any raised sections of track or for it to fail to swing on curves.  OO modellers can typically get away with this as those deep flanges do come in handy for it.  P4 modellers, such as myself, have a tougher time of it and whilst I have built a couple of six wheeled coaches, the count that can master the trackwork of Portchullin is rather less than the number built!

Having got better over the years at getting things to run properly (still a work in progress mind…..) I have turned my attention again to some more six wheeled vehicles.  The first one to write about uses a less usual approach to accommodate curved/lumpy track – the use of a sliding axle.  Although this has been written up before, I have not seen it actually executed so maybe I am a first (or perhaps fairly near to the first to do so!)  Actually, I have found it pretty easy and the completed vehicle manages my test track with ease, so it will get an outing on the layout next week.

This is how I did it……………

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As I don’t have a lathe, creating the pin point axles is beyond me even though it would be a very simple bit of lathe work and this was one of the main stumbling blocks to trying this approach previously.  Then I had an inspiration…………Exactoscale axles.  These have a notional outside diameter of 1mm which I found to actually be about 0.96mm – even better as it is thus an easy fit to a 2mm brass tube with a 1mm bore!  Tube in this dimension is readily available and can be purchased from Eileens or your preferred metal stockist.  The first task is to remove the moulded plastic cosmetic inner axle which proved to be really easy as it came off very cleanly.

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Alan Gibson wheels are structured around a 2mm axle (which again was actually fractionally below 2mm) and have a tendency to be a little loose, so popping them off was easy!

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I cut the brass tube well over length and mounted it in the drill.  Prior to inserting it into the wheel I ensured that the ends were burr free by spinning the drill whilst holding a piece of wet and dry over the end.  Not doing this leads to the plastic boss getting damaged and the wheel being less likely to be perpendicular to the axle.

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My pillar drill doubled up as a neat wheel press.  With the brass tube inserted in the chuck, a wheel blank was laid on the base and the depression lever closed to push the tube into the boss.  Even though the tube was to the full 2mm, I used a dab of superglue as this was inserted to ensure it stayed there.  The first wheel blank was pushed approximately 10-15mm through the face, so that there was a good projection of tube beyond.  This comes in handy when the second wheel blank is added as the projecting end can be held in the drill chuck so that the process can be repeated.

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And this is what you get once the second wheel blank has been pushed onto the wheel blank.  The free ends are then cut back with a piercing saw & file so that they project no more than 1/4mm.

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A quick ream of the bore of the tube and the old Exactoscale axle can be inserted.  It is a nice smooth but not sloppy fit and the tube can easily slide back and forth without a trace of effort.

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There is nothing radical about the vertical suspension; each axle being supported on a Bill Bedford sprung W iron.

This whizzes very nicely along my test track, including where this has reverse curves so I am hopeful it will stand upto a proper test on Portchullin over the forthcoming weekend.  If so, then I will adopt it for my future relatively short wheelbased 6 wheelers – specially where there are full footboards that restrict the movement of the any moving w-irons (of which this Microrail kit is an example).

So fingers crossed and I will report…………




Going Dutch – Two for the Price of One!

Portchullin’s next exhibition may not be the furthest it has travelled but it will definitely be a first for the layout and indeed myself – an exhibition on the continent.  In this case Modelspoor 2018 which takes place on the 23 – 25 February in the Euroteco Centre, Houten, near Utrecht in the Netherlands.

To the Anglo-Saxons amongst us, do not be put off by the website being written in Dutch.  Basically almost everyone in the Netherlands speaks good English (embarrassingly perfect English typically) and it is a really easy country to travel around, engage with people and see what they have to offer.  Although I have not been to Modelspoor before I have heard a lot about it – think Warley * 3 seems to be the gist of it (which may be a bit much in truth!).  However, it has a core of “finescale” from across Europe to which I was very flattered to be invited and I hear is worth seeing in any case.


And of seeing Portchullin is a sufficient excuse to high-tail it over to Holland, coming in the van will also be Oly’s Six Quarters layout.  In contrast to the fresh air of the west of Scotland, Six Quarters has air laced with Cumbrian coal dust and grime!


There are a number of other very good layouts there, including Jerry Clifford’s Highclere Colliery (under a new name I hear) and Gordon Gravett’s Arun Quay.  Se even if you don’t fancy Portchullin or Six Quarters much (shame on you), it is still worth a visit.

So if anyone that reads this blog (well, either of you!) is over in Holland in a couple of weeks time, do pop over and say hello!


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.



Benfieldside at South Hants – Part 2

Following from last week’s post, here are a selection of further photographs from Benfieldside’s outing at the South Hants show, starting with a few around the platforms.


One of the charms of the layout are its buildings; typically constructed from cereal packets – good old fashioned modelling but very effective as you can see!




There remains a lot of stock to build for the layout and also a fair amount of restoration; the next bit of restoration can be seen in the picture below; a somewhat wonky signal (which will be rebuilt as a two doll to act as a starter signal for both the bay and the main loop).  Hopefully, this will be done for ExpoEM, which is the layout’s next outing – see you there?


Many thanks to Dave Brandreth for the photographs in this post, along with some of those in its predecessor.

Benfieldside’s First Outing In a Long Time

Benfieldside has just completed its first outing for what is believed to be 17 years and whilst honesty dictates that we must admit to some glitches; especially first thing, on the whole it went really very well.  As I have a fair number of photographs (some with thanks to David Brandreth), I will spread these over a pair of posts to keep people on tenterhooks!


A NER C class (to become a LNER J21) pauses at the starter with a  freight train.


The same train in the distance, showing the goods yard with the station throat behind.



Things are quieter at the other end of the station where there is a full brake in the milk bay.  The signalman has a commanding view; in part of the slightly droopy signal on the gallows signal!



Because we were so pleased simply to having it running, there was no pretence to running a sensible service (and we were a little short of stock, particularly passenger stock).  Thus, the poor coal merchant went without any delivery of coal all day!  At least it looks as if he has enough to keep the coal fires of Benfieldside going for a little longer.


Next door, it seems like it might be lunch break at Iliffe & Stokes; builders, joiners and undertakers.

Moor to follow in a few days time……………  If you don’t already do so, you can subscribe to this blog by entering your email address in at the top left of the page.  This means you will be sent an email each time I post anything on the blog.




South Hants Model Railway Show

In just over a week from now, I will be down in Portsmouth for the South Hants Model Railway Club’s annual show.  Despite being a one day show, I find the show to be a good quality finescale show and the crew down there are very friendly, so it is definitely worth visiting.  You can find details of the show here.

I will be assisting in the operation of Benfieldside, which I have illustrated on this blog in the past but it is worth looking at some of the pictures again:

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I can assure you it is worth coming to the show to see this alone; and you might even find my latest construction effort – although probably still shiny like this.  This is a D&S Models NER auto-carriage and really needs a sister to work with it but that will have to wait!



Stop by and say hello if you do visit.

Slip Ups – There is an Easier Way……………

My last post recounted the difficulties that I was encountering correctly wiring up a slip and the technique I had arrived at to overcome this,  This precipitated various bits of advice including an alternative approach provided by Richard.

Richard’s solution is certainly a little easier than my approach to wire and does not need an additional point motor to run the extra switching required.  It is, however, slightly less idiotproof in use than my version – this is because once the approach turnout is set for the branch in my version, the whole of the run was also set electrically.  On  Richard’s version, it is also necessary to decide whether the main line to yard is to be set for the yard.

This is what it looks like as a wiring diagram and it is important to note that the approach turnout (A) is also operating one of the slip’s switches too.

Slip Wiring v3

I need to fire up the soldering iron now and undertake the correction, so that we can play with trains!

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.

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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.

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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.








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