Tuesday, 30 October 2012

MOTW - Mary Ann

This is one of my favourite ugly ducklings.

In many ways you could argue the story of Mary Ann - or 'The Simplex' if you prefer - is a microcosm of the journey the FR itself has made over the last half decade.

Now considered a heritage artifact our model shows Mary Ann in its workaday condition of the 70's and early 80's.

When the new administration took over in 1954 the Simplex tractor - a veteran of the Great War narrow gauge system in France - was the first thing they got working.

In the years that followed as traffic boomed and the railway struggled to expand it was rebuilt and modified to meet changing needs, receiving a transplanted diesel engine and growing a semi-enclosed cab, which certainly gave it back something of the 'tin turtle' look of its armoured sisters on the Western Front.

Those whose only experience of Mary Ann has been as a working museum piece in the last 20 years or so, when it has been stripped back to 1950's condition, and had its original gallons-per-mile petrol engine reinstalled, may perhaps be appalled to see such mutation. But it's important to remember that during this time Mary Ann was one of the mainstays of the p-way department who inevitably ended up doing most of their work in the winter months of the year or early in the mornings. It would have been unreasonable, to say the least, to deny them even this modicum of comfort in the name of heritage, surely?

Our model is one of those box of bits machines. It came about when as a teenager I was given a random selection of old 009 stuff including the remains of a Meridian Models kit for an armoured Simplex and couple of very crude old French 0-4-0 chassis which had been used for a scratch built Garratt.

As it happened, one of these chassis fitted neatly beneath the Simplex body which was opened up at the sides and Himself  created the cab from styrene and added some etched brass grills, nameplates and vac bags.

Back them I considered this a marvel of miniaturisation, never for a moment imagining that in years to come there would be kits of the market for a fully open Simplex with the tiniest, rubber band powered mechanisms such as those produced by Nigel Lawton.

That's progress for you.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Photo (Etched) Finish

And so this is what a sheet of 30 freshly etched bogies (and brake bits) looks like.

It's quite a work of art on its own. It seems rather a shame to have to snip all the individual frets out.

But that's what I'm about to do, and the first consignment of DZ wagon kits will be going in the post very shortly to customers including the Ffestiniog Railway's own retail emporium in Porthmadog.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Better Bogies

Success at the second attempt with the bogies for the DZ wagon kit.

This is the second test etch from Narrow Planet with one of the bogies folded up at the top of the shot.

As you can see they are a basic fold-up design which require 2mm flanged pin point bearings to be inserted plus wheelsets - we use Parkside Dundas 6.2mm disc ones - and couplings to complete them.

Many thanks to Steve at Narrow Planet for his patience in putting up with my rather vague specifications for these parts and the multiple re-designs it has required.

They are now good to go and the first batch of 30 should be with me any day now and the kits can be dispatched.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

MOTW - Van 59

This is my scratchbuilt model of a van which has had very peripatetic existence.

It started out as a cattle wagon on the Vale of Rheidol Railway, being built at the GWR's Swindon works in 1923.

15 years later the company re-gauged it (to 2'6") and transferred it eastwards to one of its other Welsh NG outposts, the Welshpool & Llanfair Railway where it stayed for another 20 years until it was purchased in the early years of the FR revival, and re-gauged back to 2 foot (give or take half an inch).

It was rebuilt by volunteers in Buckinghamshire and first saw use on the FR in 1968.

Van 59 has been used to carry all manner of irregular cargoes over the years including horses and more recently, as you can see from the picture, with the intention of deploying it as a bicycle van, although I don't ever recall seeing it being used for that purpose.

Its great versatility to the railway comes from it being fitted with a vacuum pipe connection (and more recently its own cylinder) which means it can be marshaled into passenger trains, which has led to its most notorious duties as the host of a small generator providing power for the lights and sound system on volunteers'  'disco train' charters.

It also performed a similar role during a gala event in 2002 when it again carried a generator to power the lights in the train as 'Blanche' ran through the night during 84 hours of continuous running.

Another interesting fact, which I have only just discovered, is that the red handbrake wheel you can see in the picture is the original wheel from 'Palmerston'.  

Monday, 22 October 2012

A Two Z

The Z struts on the ends of the hoppers are one of the most distinctive features of the NG-Y wagons, and one of the trickiest bits to get right on a model too.

There are at least 5 angled cuts you've got to get precisely right on the 3 lengths of styrene channel which are bonded together to make up each of them.

Get any one of them wrong and at least 1 of the 4 points of contact with the hopper or the frame will be messed up.

It took me at least three attempts to get this one done to my satisfaction, and because they are handed - effectively a mirror image of each other - I am going to have to go though the trauma again to make a second one for the other side.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Putting The Pieces Together

So its the moment of truth with the assembly of my first NG-Y ballast wagon castings.

The first stage is to bond one of the side pieces to the main frame.

Satisfyingly sides and the frames match up perfectly for height at the top and bottom edges.

I repeat the process on the other side and then slip in the two hopper ends.

And even more pleasingly the angled lip mates quite neatly too.

I think I'm pretty satisfied with that, so I shall crack on with making the masters for more of the detailed bits now.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

MOTW - Carriage 10

A very straightforward Model Of The Week this time, one of our few which is straight 'out of the packet'.

Our model of Carriage 10 (yes, I know it's called Van 2 these days, but this is a model of it as number 10) is built from one of the excellent Parkside Dundas kits.

It shows the carriage running as it was when it was restored to traffic in 1991 with an all over green livery.

Today it has very natty brick red colour on the ends and the framing along the bottom, and I am intending to get my hands on a second kit to represent it in this condition to run on Bron Hebog, leaving this original one to be used on Dduallt.

For those who don't know the background, this carriage started off as one of three 'curly roof vans' but was rebuilt in the 1920's with a conventional profile and two passenger compartments squeezed into part of the old luggage space.

What would make a very interesting model of this van is of it in the beaten-up condition, with half its doors missing and flaking paintwork, from the mid-1950's when it was used on early clearance trains along the line, before its wooden frame finally cried 'enough' and it was placed in store for three decades waiting for the FR's heritage revival.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

End Game

So, here's the first cast end for the NG-Y ballast wagon kit.

Why is it wedge shaped rather than flat? That's because the sloping ends of the NG Y wagon do not form a perfect diagonal line all the way to the top - there is a narrow vertical strip as well as the angled lip along the top, which you can just make out at the left hand side.

Therefore the only way to make this in an open back mould - where the top usually has to be completely flat - is to design is like a wedge of cheese.

I hope it won't notice too much when the hopper body is put together.

Getting the angled lip along the top to match with corners I'd already cast on the sides was rather tricky and took a few attempts.

The other details you can see are the locating brackets / shelf for the Z struts at each end.

Now I need to cast a second and we can glue it all together.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

In The Frame

The next logical step in the ballast wagon kit development is to design the main frame.

It's much more complicated than the frame for the DZ I did previously.

For a start it is part open structure, part flat platform. I had to factor in accommodating the ballast door / chute assembly in the centre of the wagon and the bogie mounting points which have to sit down below the rest of the frame, meaning the top surface as you look at the model would have to at the top of the open mould for casting.

To make like easier I used pre-cut styrene strip to the same height as the frame on the sides so they should match up perfectly as the meat in the sandwich, as it were.

Here it is glued to a sheet of styrene which will form the bottom of the mould box.

And here is the first casting produced from the mould. In this picture you get a better view of the thin platforms at each end, which are cast just half a mm thick to save resin.

Once I've made masters for the ends we can glue this to the sides and see if we end up with something that looks like an NG-Y, or not.

Friday, 12 October 2012


The mould for the NG-Y ballast wagon sides has been tried out for the first time and I'm more than satisfied with the result.

Here's how it looks fresh out of the mould..

All that excess resin you can see is the very thin film - and it is no more than a film - which is formed when the clear sheet (covered in sellotape, for non-stickness) is placed onto the back of the open mould and squelches out in all directions.

A few minutes careful work with the scalpel leaves you with this....

Now I have proved the master - and the mould - is satisfactory I can get on with making masters for the hopper ends, the frame and the trademark Z struts on these NG-Y ballast wagons.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

MOTW - Van 2

We have another player in the popular FR game of musical numbers this week.

This attractive example of a Mk3 quarrymen's carriage turned brake van is very much a period piece now showing the van in the orange livery it wore through much of the 1990's and wearing the number 2.

This is how it was known for around 40 years after the preservationists takeover until the fleet of heritage vehicles was re-numbered in the mid-90's, a state of affairs that still leaves many of us - me included - confused.

What I grew up calling Van 2 - and have this model of - is now known as Van 6.

Carriage 6 - a first class 'bug box' - is now carriage number 2.

And carriage number 10 is now Van 2.

(I hope you're remembering all this because I certainly struggle to.)

As for the history of the van / carriage, it is said to have been converted in 1908, when the bodyshell was cut back at one end the the balcony added on.

Between the two world wars it was also fitted with air brakes and used on the WHR.

In the early years of the FR revival it was often pressed into passenger service as part of the famous 'Flying Flea' set of four wheeled carriages, with room for 6 people.

Our model was adapted - in much the same style as the prototype - from a Parkside Dundas plastic kit for one of the Mk 3 Quarrymen's, with windows cut into the ends and a balcony rail added in brass.

Van 6 is once more running around in green livery and I may well find myself making another model in this condition at some point in the future.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Trial & Error

The first test etch for the bogies and brake bits of the DZ wagons has arrived from Narrow Planet.

It's only now that I see it in three dimensions that I realise I didn't quite ask for the right thing.

The bogie frame outline isn't quite right - which is entirely my fault - so I've had to ask for the design to be tweaked and another trial etch is being done before I commit to the production run.

The brake wheels, however, have come out perfectly.

It is much to Narrow Planet's credit that their professionalism and determination to get this right is matched only by their forbearance of my complete inability to ask for what I want properly, the first time.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Lights, Camera, Action!

Dduallt and Himself are set to be TV stars.

A crew from Available Light Productions came along to film the layout yesterday.

The footage is to be used for a two part programme for BBC Four called 'The Golden Age of Steam.'

The first of the programmes, will be about the revival of the Welsh narrow gauge and one of the main narrative threads of the episode will be the building of the Deviation and the construction of the current 'Earl of Merioneth' at Boston Lodge.

So how come they've been pointing a camera at our layout?

The producer told me when they were going through the footage they filmed on the FR a few weeks ago they realised they could do with some shots that showed the spiral in the context of the wider landscape and the original route to Blaenau.

Hiring a helicopter for aerial filming wasn't an option so they asked the FR's PR department if the railway, by any chance, had a model of the spiral?

'No, we don't', they replied. 'But we know some blokes who do.'

So yesterday they filmed our trains running around the spiral - hauled, appropriately, by our model of 'The Square' and also recorded some interviews with Himself talking about the making of the layout and the stock (which I suspect he may secretly be hoping ends up on the cutting room floor - or whatever the digital equivalent is these days).

We'll find out next spring when the programme is due to be screened.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

MOTW - Dduallt Signal Box

A lot of the subjects I have modelled for Dduallt and Bron Hebog have been altered or rebuilt since I completed them, but very few of them have ceased to exist - this is one of them.

If you've only ever visited Dduallt in the last 20 years you could be forgiven for not realising there ever was a signal box here because it was torn down a few years after the passing loop was taken out of commission.

You could also be forgiven for thinking it looks more like an overgrown potting shed than a signal box, but this is the FR of the 60's and 70's where practicality and getting back to Blaenau were the only criteria that mattered.

The box was tucked in the corner between the start of the new Deviation spiral and the line to the Old Moelywn Tunnel.

In the year we chose to model Dduallt - 1988 - there remained a very short stretch of this line forming a short siding behind the signal box. It gives us lot more operational flexibility when running the layout at exhibitions and a handy place where we can leave items of rolling stock on display while the trains run.

The model was built by guesstimating the dimensions because I never did take  the opportunity to measure it while it was still standing.   Using a comprehensive set of pictures - that I did have the presence of mind to take - I based the design around the size of the average front door knowing that the FR most likely built it using off-the-shelf components. 

I think it turned out pretty well.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Britomart - Almost There

Himself has been very busy putting the finishing touches to our new Britomart.

As you can see from these pictures he's sent me the wee engine is looking pretty complete now.

One of the details he has added which make this unmistakably a model of Britomart is the small wooden box which sits on top of the saddle tank just in front of the cab.

I've dreamt for over 20 years of having proper outside frames on Britomart and I think this model looks absolutely sensational and I for one can't wait to see the finished loco running on our layouts.