Saturday 3 February 2024

Minffordd Update: What's New in 2024

An update to this blog is severely overdue, it appears.   I hadn't realised it had been so long since I had last posted.

There's been no big leap forward since the autumn but there have been developments in a number of directions.

Rolling stock acquisition continues steadily.

The most recent arrivals are a suitably ragbag selection of carriages to represent the final few years of steam haulage on the Cambrian, made up of various ex-GWR designs from Collett and Hawksworth.

A Standard 3MT, with an authentic Machynlleth identity, has joined the fleet, along with one of the new Hornby 2-6-0 2MTs.

Both still require investment in sound chips and speakers, as does our 'Old Gent' Prince which is running-in on the home test track following surgery to straighten its frames to 1960s condition.

On the layout there's been a major rethink on the fiddle yard with a decision to ease the entry curve at the Harlech end, because it was slightly too tight for the steam engines and their pony trucks - it was fine when we had originally envisaged only running DMUs and Bo-Bo diesels.

This has necessitated the construction of a 4"-wide shelf extension - it's not ideal but needs must.

Underneath Himself has been getting on with the electrics, connecting up the point motors and the tracks for DCC operation.

I've been called into action to scratch the louvres into the glazing sheets on the 'Barns' to represent the iconic, but impractical, ventilation arrangements on these carriages.

Currently on my workbench is a shrunken representation of the Minffordd goods shed which is making good progress.

Finally, a plug for what its looking like our only exhibition appearance of 2024 as we prepare to take Dduallt to the SEC in Glasgow for the Model Rail Scotland show at the end of the month.

Do come and see us and say hello if you are able to visit the show.

Friday 20 October 2023

Ladies Cosmetic Surgery

As you will know already if you follow the Bron Hebog social media posts, we have (expensively) succeeded in backdating one of the new Bachmann Blanche models to condition which is appropriate to the era we are depicting on our new Minffordd layout.

(Yes, I know that's a picture of Linda.  Read on for the full story.)

I was forewarned that Bachmann would only be producing a model of the loco as an FR machine in post-1971 condition with the pony wheel and the elegant piston valve cylinders.

But in the early days of its new life as a passenger loco, Blanche retained its original, chunky, square-topped slide valve cylinders, which sister engine Linda sports to this day.

The plan I hatched was to purchase an additional Linda - in early FR 0-4-0STT condition - with the intention of performing a cheeky chassis swap, and lend Blanche an authentic front end.

It turned out that the cosmetic surgery was not as simple as I thought it would be.

What I had imagined was that we (or to be more accurate, Himself) would be able to just undo a few screws to release the cab / saddle tank / smokebox units and mate them to the opposite chassis.

What I had forgotten about were the tenders!

Or, more to the point, I hadn't appreciated how on the Bachmann models the tenders are hard wired to the locomotive chassis.

Even if we released Blanche's upper front half and put it onto Linda's chassis, it would still be attached to Linda's tender....

The only way around this was to completely dismantle the chassis - wheels out, motion disconnected, cylinders unscrewed,  the lot! - which allowed Himself to exchange the chassis frames and the cylinders between the locos, before completely rebuilding both.

I'm told it was a full day's work.

All this highlighted the lengths that Bachmann's designer went to make these models authentic.

Just like the real locos the frames on the contemporary 2-4-0 are teeny bit longer at the front where they were extended to accommodate the pony wheel.

The frames on the modern Blanche also include some very intricate red lining.

This process has left us with an intriguing bonus loco - a Linda sporting piston valve cylinders (which I think suits her very well indeed).

It's well known that at the start of the 1970s this was the plan for both the Penrhyn Ladies, but legend had it that one pair of the cylinders which were produced at BREL Crewe were faulty, and thus only Blanche had them fitted.

I found out this summer, in conversation over a pint with a respected Boston Lodge figure, that this story is false in at least two aspects.

Firstly, the piston valve cylinders were fabrications, not castings as has so often been reported.

I was also told that both sets have the same imperfection - but it's quite clearly nothing that's prevented Blanche ricketing up and down the Vale for the past half-century.

Perhaps there's more to the story about why Linda was left untouched?

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Minffordd Update: Dimension Check

There's not been a tremendous amount happening on the layout for the last couple of weeks, which explains the lack of posts.

Most of the action has been on my workbench at home where I've been getting on with the main Cambrian station building.

With the main walls made and joined together I thought it would be wise to pop over for a test fit to check that will sit nicely in the space we've left for them.

The value of making the cardboard mock-ups was underlined because it fitted perfectly, as did the signal box.

In fact, I don't mind saying I think they look rather good.


Friday 15 September 2023

Minffordd Update: A Little Realignment

Himself hasn't had so much time available to make great leaps forward on the layout in the last few weeks, but there is a little bit of progress to report this time.

Having first had to obtain a couple of replacement points - the originals being damaged during removal - he has relaid the wee run round loop at the back of the yard in order to re-route the siding which runs between the two Maenofferen slate sheds.

All being well, this should be the last bit of trackwork required on the layout.

The next job is most likely going to be wiring it up, but after that there will be a bit of a lull as we enter exhibition season.

The old warhouse Dduallt has a couple of trips out this winter - more comebacks than Sinatra! - so that will have to be set up and tested, and of course we have Bron Hebog's big appearance at the Warley show in December.

At my end I've been making a start on the Cambrian station building.

This building I am having to design using only educated guesswork and a rather slim selection of archive photographs, but I was pleased when we went to check out the original Minffordd layout on display at the WHHR's Gelert's Farm museum to see that the dimensions of that model are more or less the same as mine.

(With the caveat that the only way I could measure it, as it was in a perspex case, was using the fiendishly clever measuring app on my iPhone.)

Much of the construction time so far has been swallowed up fabricating the sash windows from  styrene strip.

Saturday 2 September 2023

Signal Saga

As well as work on the Minffordd project there are still occasional developments on the 'test track' at home.

If you're going to have a 'test track' then there's no harm in doing a little scenic work to turn it from something purely functional into a more of a feature in the room.

However, it is definitely not a layout for boys, big and small, to play with, wipe that thought from your minds..

I've been tempted to try out some of the Dapol working semaphores and decided now was the time to splash out on an LMS bracket starter signal for the inner loop.

These beasties are motorised with a chunky box containing the servos to move the mechanism, and  include a rather nifty bounce function when the signal arm goes down.

I watched a selection of the review and fitting videos you can find online, and then when the signal arrived I thought I would give it a wee test on 'dry land' to see how it all worked.

Which is where the problems started.........

The fit the signal on a layout the base simply clips onto the bottom of the treaded tube which you insert into a 15m hole drilled in the baseboard. 

The signal comes complete with a pair of switches which have wires already fitted, and plugs on the other end which push home into the side of the base unit.

These are not long enough to stretch to where my control panel is.  

You can buy extension kits but what I intended to do is to splice in some extra wire so it goes the distance.

Anyway, back to the test.

I clipped on the base, plugged in the control wires, hooked it up to the power and had a play - and was very impressed.

And then I went to take it apart again.......

To be fair to Dapol, there is nothing in the instructions which tells you how to remove the servo base, but equally there is nothing written to say that once it's on you can't take it off again.

Well, it certainly doesn't unclip as easily as it clips on, and eventually when I tugged at it hard enough - holding the signal by the threaded tube not the post - as the base came free it ripped off the mechanism to the left hand signal, which flew off in all directions.

The part that I couldn't find anywhere in the room was the cover which goes over the balance weight arm and holds everything in place.

Without it the control wire mechanism simply falls off and the signal arm stays stuck in the raised 'off' position.

It was a very tricky job, too, to reconnect the mechanism, but I was forced to come to the reluctant conclusion that I had wrecked a rather expensive accessory within 5 minutes of opening the box.

My family will attest that I was in a very bad mood for the rest of the evening!

Blatantly courting sympathy I posted about my mishap on our club Facebook group and received some helpful suggestions about possible repairs, and I chewed these over in my mind over the course of the next day.

Returning to the workbench I examined the broken signal again and noticed there was a little bit of metal peg sitting proud of the balance weight arm.

Thinking about it some more I realised that the servos operate the signal mechanism much slower, and more gently, than I was doing with my fingers.

My hope was that if I could put some sort of retaining cover over the pivot it might not need to resist too much sideways force.

Rather than attempt to glue a piece on I thought I would first try drilling a very small hole in a piece of styrene strip to see I could make it a resistance fit onto the peg and hold the mechanism in place.

It did fit, and what's more it seemed to stay in place even through some vigorous manipulation of the mechanism.

So I made another one, and shaped it to something like the original cover, pressed it into place , adding a dab of superglue for luck, and painted it matt black to match.

Now, as you can see in the picture at the top of the post, the signal is in place on the layout.

It still does not have the servo base attached.

I won't do that until the wires and been extended and the switches mounted in the panel, because I am quite sure that once that base is clicked on again I will not be able to risk a second attempt at removing it without wrecking the signal even more.

And we shall see how long my repair holds out for.............

Sunday 27 August 2023

Minffordd Update: Cabin Fever

This week has seen very satisfactory progress on the latest building project to make the Minffordd signal box / ground frame cabin.

The main structure is complete and the biggest remaining construction task is to form the steps up to the door.

As I wrote in a previous post, the first job was to create a master for the window frames which could be cast in resin in multiple.

Once they had cured and been cleaned of flash they were built into an outer styrene frame.

The front and the sides of the cabin were built around these with a laminate structure with wooden slat effect styrene and embossed brick styrene.

With carefully mitred edges to the brickwork prepared this was bonded together into a box.

When it came to making the 'crinkly tin' roof my habit of hoarding off-cuts paid dividends.

The transparent Wills corrugated sheet I had tucked away in the drawer is sold old it was the pack I bought for making the entrances to the wooden toilet block on Dduallt more than 30 years ago!

This accounts for why it is very much yellowed now, rather than clear.

Because it is so thin and bendy it's been glued onto plain styrene sheet to try to ensure the roof doesn't sag.

Wednesday 23 August 2023

Minffordd Update: Chute Gallery

The most obvious progress to report on the layout this week has been going on deep in the 'Coal Hole'.

Himself has been working on recreating the chutes used to transfer bulk loads, such as coal and ballast, from standard gauge wagons into the FR narrow gauge waggons on the tracks below.

This has been done using styrene to represent the concrete support structure, with brass used for the chutes themselves.

I think this has the potential to be one of the most unusual and appealing cameos on the layout - although we're not going to be silly enough to attempt to transfer any substances from the big wagons into the small, you'll have to imagine that bit.

It will, however, be one of those things which makes it unmistakeably Minffordd Yard.

The one thing that will be authentic about it is that the chutes encroach well into the FR loading gauge, ready to catch out the unwary who forget, or allow gravity to drag their engine or vans further down into the coal hole than they can venture.

Hopefully we won't have to straighten out bodywork or attend to dents the way Boston Lodge Works has had to over the years.....