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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!

Coal loading dock

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!

Coal loading bank and coal hoist

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.

Coal loading

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 underside of the crane, with the operating servos

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 base of the crane; the projecting rod telescopes into the actual crane (and there is a rod inside the crane post that telescopes into this too and appears below and onto which the servos clamp
The crane and its mount

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 coal crane, bucket and operating servos

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!).

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