Friday, 28 December 2012

Farewell to the Old, Welcome New & Shiny

Not been posting much here of late. Lots of good reasons for that state of affairs, but now I have something I want to show you, which you can see above. This is a prototype axle hung motor for H0 and 4mm scale models of trams, trolley cars, EMUs etc. project that I have been driving.

They will be available to buy later in the New Year, further information on this will be announced as and when we have finalised the details. Don't expect these to be cheap, as they are bespoke, small run items that are hand assembled.

Test runs show that one power bogies will be adequate to power a car and trailer, assuming that the trailer is free rolling i.e.: pin-point bearings and not weighted to sink the Titanic. I will post a picture of an assembled bogie/truck in the New Year, but just wanted to give you all a taste of something that quite excites me.

So, let me finish this blog post by wishing you all a Happy New Year.

Thursday, 22 November 2012


It's an American thing and yes we celebrate it over here in Blighty, because my partner is half-American. So it's a family tradition. We have had the turkey now it is time for the cobbler...

I've been doing some blog admin and have switched off the captcha and gone for moderation of comments instead, so as to make it easier for people to post. I know some people find the codes difficult to read. And to be honest they are a pain in the bum.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Burnham Yard Fall Tidying Session

Over the last few months nothing much of anything has been happening on my layout. Lots of reasons for this, but one thing I did decide to get to grips with was the fact that the layout was being used as a storage shelf.

It may be hard to imagine, or not as the case may be, but this is picture is taken after I had already removed a bunch of Walthers Cornerstone buildings boxes that were obstructing the right of way.

So I decided to make a start at correcting the situation, as at some point it would be nice to run some trains, the lack of installed Hex Frog Juicers not withstanding, I use to be able to run stuff.

While the rest of the layout still needs clearing, and while there is still clutter on the layout, none of it interferes with the right of way. So that's my new rule; stuff can be placed on the board, but mustn't block the right of way.

Unsurprisingly enough, I now feel motivated to start working on finishing off the cars in the above picture, which are in the process of being weathered, and or having details like uncoupler bars added to them.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

One Year Older

Actually one year and two days older from when I first posted on this blog. I seem to have missed my first anniversary through becoming distracted by other stuff. Other stuff being trying to either set up my own business, or find another job with a suitable employer. As luck would have it the job search came up with a job on Monday that I had to complete the application form for yesterday. I was a little distracted by filling in the multi-sectioned online application form, which ran to many pages.

I've been laid off now for two months. Three months if you count the last month of work when I was using up all my annual leave entitlement. One would think therefore that I have been busy building lots of model railway models and the like. Not so much.

I have been practising with my static grass applicator on odd bits of board, as I was not completely happy with the first attempts. It's not that there is anything wrong with what I did the first time around, but I wanted to see if I could improve the look of the grass by adding more layers, which is what I have been doing over the last week.

Today I was applying varnish over the tops of said static grass to see how this works as a sealant, as I find a lot of the grass tends to lift off over time? I'm probably handling the grassed areas too much, as I suspect that this method is best for looking at, and not robust enough to be handled as such. I've actually been painting the static grass to add shading to the finished product. I know that one can mix different shades of static grass material, but to my eye it all looks a little flat. Unfortunately, painting the static grass tends to lift it off, and if you over do it, tends to make the grass clog up. I'm going to experiment with some spray dies next.

Other than that I am trying to get on with getting the Hex Frog Juicers actually fitted. Trouble is that the layout has become a temporary storage area for other projects, like the grass boards I've been working on. That as they say is the trouble of living in a small flat with limited space.

Saturday, 22 September 2012


Just got back from a very nice day out at the Seaboard Southern's show held at the Holbrook Club in Horsham, Sussex. This was a local all American model railroad show with trade representatives and layouts.

Talked to Nobby, Atlantic Region director about recent NMRA British Region developments and general gossip. Several people came up, hi David, and talked to me about stuff like wheels, CLAG and other stuff. This seemed largely driven by them reading my blog, and asking when the next post would go up?

Well here is another blog. Happy now?

Anyway, I bought a CE&I covered hopper from Intermountain, and two Walthers road sets for the layout too from Terry at LSWR Models, who is lovely. Then I was lucky because my partner bought me some Tam Valley Hex Frog Juicers for our layout from Coastal DCC.  They are very nice people who we bought the NCE PowerCab from, and they did us yet another great deal on our purchase. So highly recommended.

So I really have no excuse now not to get over the hump and have the layout fully operational by wiring these in. However, life has taken a difficult turn at this time. My work contract was not renewed, so I'm sans-job, and having to take time to reassess my goals in life. This takes time, so I expect it will be at least a month before Burnham yard is rolling.

Monday, 6 August 2012


I'm going to start by telling you what I'm going to tell you. There is no such thing as ready-to-run for a modeller who wants to model a specific prototype.

This post comes from an email by one of my readers, name redacted to protect the innocent, who wrote asking how I was getting on with building the Sunshine kits that I had bought off him recently?

Ready-to-run, or ready-to-roll, or out-of-the-box, all describe the concept that the model is fully complete and ready to be run in a train on your layout. For definitions of fully complete that include less than full detail, and for ready to run in a train that might require some fettling, this is largely true.

But, as soon as you start setting standards that are different to those specified by the manufacturer, then not so much. The truth then being that the model has all the basics and requires further work. As such I now have a dozen models on the work bench in various stages of transitioning from RTR out of the box, to actually ready to operate on my layout.

Unfortunately, Real Life (tm) has rather gotten in the way of late, what with my contract at work coming to an end and all. So I've been doing easy stuff to take my mind off the hard stuff. Such is life. Anyway, it's summer for definitions of summer that vary from rain, to dull and over clouded, with an occasional spot of sunshine, as and when.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

AT&SF 31564 Box Car

This PS-1 box car was known on the AT&ST as a BX-57. However, for freight car aficionados one should note that the BX57 class should have a Gypsum running board that was unpainted galvanised steel. This is a Plano replacement etch I plan to use to replace the running board. I'm a bit surprised that Kadee haven't produced this variant of the running boards for their models, as I can't imagine that they haven't made back their investment costs yet?

In general any PS-1 box cars running in the late 1950s should have their tack boards placed in the lower position, since by the time they were built the trend was towards lower boards that train crew could reach from the ground. I suppose I could change this, which in this case would mean getting replacement doors, not sure I can be bothered?

All the bits cut out, with the running board applied using canopy glue.

Just showing the lateral running boards in the process of being applied. You can just see at the right hand edge the replacement etch at the brake wheel has also been applied. To finish off I retrieved the lateral running board grab rails from the Kadee moulding and glued them on using canopy cement.

All I have to do now is send this car off to the weathering shop.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Operations 5: Lies, Damned Lies & Statistics

I have just got back from a week long work based conference, where I went to workshops and symposia to listen to learned professors either teach, or give overviews on their specialist field, and present research findings. I should add at this point that I'm not a researcher, professor, or statistician. My only role in all of this is to understand what the research implies for best practice, and how strong the evidence is.

I mention all of this as a preamble to a few comments that have arisen from various private conversations about the distribution of freight cars across the railroad networks of the North American continent.

When I started in the model railroad hobby the received wisdom was that one should base the number of freight cars per railroad on a rule of thumb that said anything between 25% to 35% would be the home railroad, and then the rest of the freight car models would be based on the connecting railroads, according to their size and proximity to the home railroad.

This paradigm has been replaced by the Gilbert-Nelson model that states that freight cars were seen in proportion to the national fleet. However, I would like to quote directly from Tony Thompson's post a couple of very salient points that people overlook:
"Of course, as they fully recognized, this can only be true of free-running cars like box cars, flat cars and gondolas which are not specially equipped, and is likely true only on main lines. A coal branch, for example, will obviously be quite different.
     They also recognized that certain factors can distort the general pattern. For example, interchange requirements or pool agreements can change the data; so can “hostile” or competitive relations among railroads."
Taking the first paragraph first. My model railroad is based on a traction line that mostly ran passenger services with a few freight trains to service industries along the line. It is therefore not a mainline. I highlighted that part of the above quote to emphasise the importance of the caveat.

The second paragraph's importance is that it defines the confounding variables that can relate to specific presentations of a locale, or railroad.

I have used photographs to support some of the assumptions that I'm making for my freight car roster, because unlike a mainline railroad, freight trains on the North Shore were quite short, and rather than being in the position of being only able to see the first few cars in any train, I often have the luxury of seeing all the cars in the train. I may not be able to fully identify them all by type, but can get close to identifying the owning railroad though.

As for for my aims, I'm trying for verisimilitude rather than quantitative replication. So while I'm aware of the percentages, of freight car types per owning railroad, I'm not going to try and replicate them literally, because I can only have a very small number of models relative to the number required for a statistical representative numbers.

So statistics should be seen as guidelines, rather than rules per se.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

NCE Power Cab

Last weekend my partner bought me this to replace my Lenz Compact Digital Plus and ESU Mobile Control. I've had the latter two pieces for maybe eight years? I forget when I got them exactly, but a fair while ago as Jeff of Buffers was still alive.

Anyway, I've had my original set-up and have used it a bit over the years, first with my P4 layout Sands End, and now with my current project. For me the problem with the Lenz was that it is extremely limited in its functions and while the ESU corrected those failings, it suffered from a feature I didn't like. Namely the reverse switch was combined with the rotary dial for speed control. One had to push down on the rotary dial to change direction.

I inevitably would rotate the dial at the same time. I hated it.

So, I have admired the NCE units for a long while, and have coveted one for myself. Given the the current layout will only ever have one locomotive (okay a pair in consist mode will be needed) running at a time, I felt that the Power Cab really met my needs. If this proves not to be the case as and when the elevated line is put into place, then I will be able to upgrade it using their SB3 Smart Booster.

Plan is to install it sometime soon so that I can start running trains, especially now as I have 26 freight cars up and running to switch.

Friday, 15 June 2012

American Freight Cars 4: Yet More Additions

Some more freight cars for my fleet, which represent the final push to get enough cars for operational variety, so I'm not expecting to add many more RTR models from now on; apart from the odd shiny new thing that catches this girl's eye. :-)

First up a brace of Atlas ACF ICC-105 11,000 gallon tank car, which I've just discovered may be too modern for my layouts period?

However, they do look nice, but further research as to their provenance is needed. I quite like tank cars and if truth be told I probably didn't need these, but they were shiny and I couldn't resist their siren call.

I found out that this model from Red Caboose of an SP prototype that was also made by ACF for the C&EI, and as I needed cars from this railroad I bought one.

For pretty much the same set of reasons I saw this Kadee PS-1 50 foot double door box car that I thought looked really shiny, so I snapped it up. I only need one more C&EI car for my roster, which in practical terms means I can stop looking for anymore cars from this railroad.

This another InterMountain AAR 1937 car in a livery that I needed for my representational need to have a typical selection box cars from those railroads whose cars would appear on my layout. Can't just have PS-1s roving the layout like herds of wildebeest on the plains of the Serengeti.

The New York Central System was the first North American railroad that I modelled seriously, for definitions of serious that allow for youthful indiscretions arising from ignorance of the subject matter. I fell in love with NYC Hudsons and the 20th Century Ltd, which captured my imagination from the romantic notion of "Centuries that pass in the night". Anyway, this is a rather nice InterMountain model.

Finally, this time round, an InterMountain Tichy Group hopper. I like the paneling variation of this car, which adds a bit of variety to my hopper fleet.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Thirteen Back Up

Saturday saw us down in Chatham, Kent, which is a 140 mile round journey for us, so not a show we go to often, but well worth the time it took. The Chatham show takes place in the historic dockyards, based in one of the sheds on the quay. Being semi-open to the elements it can be a bit cold, if the weather is inclement, which it was on Saturday. At least one trader was complaining of being cold.

Saw a lot of very nice layouts with a wide selection of scales with a good mix of British, American and European models. The latter often being visitors from abroad, which is quite common to the Chatham show. Bought a building kit, and was bought an NCE Power Cab by my partner, to replace my old Lenz Digital Plus, which was a bit basic for my needs.

Sunday we went to a BBQ, so didn't get much modelling done.

However, I did finally get my back order of wheels from Caboose Hobbies at the weekend. I have been spending sometime sorting out all the axles by length, before mounting them in the trucks of my freight cars that have been so long sans wheels.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

CNS&M 459: Part 5

Well after about an hour and a quarters work I got this part back into shape.

I was recently asked how do I hold all the bits together to stop them falling apart. The simple answer is to use a jig. In this case a very simple jig that uses dress pins stuck into the board I solder on to hold everything in place. To get the coupler plate in the right place I used a coffee stirrer to keep the distance I wanted between the front solebar and the coupler plate.

As you can see here bits have fallen off. Do not panic, bits will fall off. Just take your time and re-solder them back-on later with spot solder joints. Unfortunately, one of the little stanchions that holds the cut lever in place pinged off never to be seen again. Drat. Also broke one of the grab irons, but as that is a simple piece of bent wire, it's not hard to replace.

Meanwhile, I ran the all the rest of the finished parts through the paint shop. Here is the main body painted red, and I will now mask the nose, window frames, and doors and paint her green.

Et voilĂ ...

Of course I've still to finish off the other frame assembly and paint it. So a bit of a half-finished botch up really, but I was on a roll.

So now to fabricating a replacement for the missing stanchion that holds the cut lever assembly on the front of the frame. There are three of these, so I'm going to use one of the remaining two as a template. First I soldered the spare on to a piece of scrap brass that was the right thickness, cleaned it up a bit, and then drilled the hole through.

Next I cut around it to get the rough shape, but leaving enough to hold the work with.

Okay, all I've got to do now is clean off the excess solder, reassemble the cut lever assembly onto the sub-frame and this part of the project is done & dusted.

I have to be honest, and admit that on Monday I had lost my Mojo over this. I spent most of the day distracting myself with other stuff, like going out for a meal and seeing the new Ridley Scot movie Prometheus, which was a welcome change. On Tuesday I was able to get back in the saddle and work on both this locomotive and #452. The point is, that patience and perseverance are what you need when doing something like this, and if you have enough of both then you can achieve whatever you set your mind to.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

L&N 7438 Gondola: Part 1

My Intermountain USRA L&N composite gondola build. Here is the basic gondola as I found it after taking out of storage.

Since then I have managed to complete the undersides by adding the brake rigging as can be seen here.

However, in the process I broke a stirrup step, which I've reinforced with microstrip as the initial repair didn't hold up to being looked at hard. I'm really looking at that over scale width coupler box. I shall have to see if it needs trimming to allow this car to negotiate the ridiculously tight curves I run on my traction layout?

And here is an end view with the first three of the 26 grab irons that have to be applied to finish the model. These are a bit of a fag to do, being the very epitome of tedious repetition. Also, I think that they would be better if they were metal.

Next I have to move on to finishing of applying all of the grab irons...

Monday, 4 June 2012

CNS&M 452: Part 1

I realised that I haven't really posted anything about my one, mostly, stalwart performer on the layout, locomotive #452. I say mostly stalwart because I did have some initial problems with her after putting a chip in. Not that the chip cause any difficulties, but the model just stopped being able to pull cars.

I looked and found that only one power truck was actually working, and the other was just dragging on the whole locomotive. So I took the model apart and found that the universal joint on the gear train was rotating freely on the shaft. Pretty much a definition of not a good thing as you'll ever find in model railroading.

I ended up having to disassemble the whole motor drive train to be able to fix this problem, and noted that the universal joint had been jimmied to fit during assembly at some point prior to me buying the model, which I think was the reason it failed.

However, after re-powering locomotive #454, I thought why not go back and sort out the drive train on #452 the same way, and sort out the ride height at the same time. How hard can it be the second time round?

So here she is all disassembled and showing the old motor with the new replacement Mashima 1424 for size comparison. I stole the flywheels, with their built in universal joints, off #457, which has fast become the locomotive that one steals bits off to get the others running. Very "real world" operating department'ish.

Unlike my other two steeplecabs this model comes from The Car Works, and is wired to pick up with live wheels on one side of each bogie. So I am going to have to insulate the motor from the chassis.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Milwaukee 18590 Box Car Weathered

As per usual I started with an application on Games Workshop washes to grimy up the model.

Once this was done I then used car screen wash, from undiluted out the bottle, to quite diluted, to wash the model clean.

Friday, 1 June 2012

CNS&M 459: Part 4

And the saga continues.

First off remove the cow-catcher and the coupler mounting plate. As you can see I've cut a couple of small brass pieces to act as an extra shim to raise the cow-catcher casting off from the floor.

And here it is all soldered back together after a quick clean in the ultrasonic cleaner and quick brush over with a fiber glass brush. Unfortunately, when I assembled said sub assembly together the mounting post fouled the gear box. So I had to sit and ponder the clearances, which were pretty tight, but I reckoned I could find a good compromise position for the post.

So here are both frames altered and both have been washed and put in the ultrasonic cleaner for good measure. The right hand assembly is still awaiting a for a good go over with the fiber glass brush to sparkle it up. I'm starting to think at this point that I might as well run the whole locomotive through the paint shop while I'm at.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

CNS&M 454: Part 2

I went to to Railex on Saturday and had a good time browsing the show, looking at the layouts and buying some Mashima motors. Pretty much the whole of the CLAG gang were there, what with Trevor, Susan, Bill, Russell, James (now editor of the Scalefour News), and myself being in attendance. It's just a pity Ted and Prem couldn't make it. We were also noticed, being labelled as the London Group by one friendly trader (High Level Kits).

It seems that the motor that I put into #454 was a 1628 round can, and today you can get smaller motors from Mashima, so I bought a pair of 1424s, one 1426, and a 1015, which I believe is the smallest Mashima make. The former have 2mm shafts, while the later has a 1.5mm shaft. I also bought some flywheels too.

Here is a comparison shot of the original Canon motor in #454, the round can I posted about, and then the new Mashima's. I intend to use the smallest in locomotive #450, to replace the massive old Pittman that is in it.

So now all I have to do is replace the round can motor in #454 with a flat can, as this will lower the drive shafts in line with the gear towers. And while I'm at it I shall rework #452s drive train as well.

As you can see above, the ball bearing make the tube for the drive shafts really floppy, as both of mine have drooped here.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

NYC 867399 Hopper Weathered

The Kadee hoppers are beautiful models, but  their weight is made up by the load, and therefore if you want to run them empty they are a bit too light to run reliably.

So I poured liquid lead into all the available space I could in the underframe, which helped to bring the model up to a light, but usable running weight. Adding the coal load brings the car up to the full recommend NMRA weight. Once I'd done this I ran the car through the weathering shop, trying out some different techniques I remembered from the past.

I have previously documented the interior weathering in a previous post. 

And all I had to do was finish off that like so.

Well I think this looks suitably distressed now, and having modified the coal load placement height and adding real coal I think this looks pretty sharp too.

Friday, 25 May 2012

CNS&M 459: Part 3

Well once I got the soldering iron out all bets were off on getting this job done and dusted quickly.

I took off the casting by wafting a micro blow torch across the joints, because my soldering iron doesn't have the thermal capacity to cope with large conductive surfaces. I added a shim to the floor so that the casting bracket would not be floating at an uncontrolled height from the floor when I re-soldered them back on.

I also chose to file the cow-catcher where the bottom Kadee box would fit, but even in spite of doing this, I ended up having to cut off part of the lid on the box, so that the coupler would fit as you see above.

All back together and a comparison between before and after modification to get the Kadee coupler box to fit.

And here is a side view showing how much lower the cow-catcher is. Unfortunately the coupler is drooping, which I suspect is down to the missing lid.

However, the height is in the right ball park when the assembly is checked against a height gauge.

Uhm... not totally 100 percent happy with this. So for the next one I'm going to increase the shim thickness so as to lower the cow-catcher casting a little more, as it appears I will have enough clearance for it not to short on the track.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

CNS&M 459: Part 2

Well I thought to myself if I'm chipping engine #454, why don't I chip #459 while I'm at it? After all how hard can it be? (Note to self: perhaps I should rename the blog "How Hard Can it Be?")

So here she is chipped and ready to roll. And she ran okay too. How about that for something that for once really was just a straight forward job?

However, I forgot to mention the coupler problem. What coupler problem do you mean, I hear you ask? Surely the mounting pad on the frame is the correct height to mount a Kadee on? It sure is the correct height, but the space between the top of the cow catcher and the bottom of frame is too small to fit a coupler box in the space in between. Furthermore, even if one remove said cow catcher the coupler box will hang out front like a cushion draft gear that you see on some freight cars.

Not good.

Also, there was the small matter of the loose handrails, which I had temporarily super glued back into position. What can I say? I'm a slacker for avoiding soldering whenever I can. Again, how hard can it be to take the locomotive apart and sort out the couplers?

Well by the time I had managed to get the sub-frame apart I had completely disassembled the model. Along with said handrails, and in the process found that all the apparently solid ones were worse for wear too.

So I think while I'm here I might as well put this baby in the ultrasonic cleaner, as one does, to remove dirt, grease and other residues. Took the parts out and there was a nasty white residue coating everything. I'm going to assume that this was the lacquer sprayed on the model when it was made. In addition a couple of foot steps came off in the ultrasonic cleaner too.

Anyway, most of the white gunk came off in the ultrasonic degreaser bath, and what was left mostly shifted with the help of some car screen wash, using an old electric toothbrush to scrub the surfaces clean. The really stubborn stuff require the use of a fiber glass pen.

Then out came the soldering iron...

Monday, 21 May 2012

CNS&M 454: Part 1

Again I found myself this weekend distracting myself by thinking about chipping another steeplecab, or two for that matter.

Number 457 is still in the shops being rebuilt (for definitions of rebuilt that include not doing much on it). So my model of number 453 was chosen, which I plan to modify to represent #454 when I get around to working on the hood sides to add the missing ventilation holes. Number 454 also had an interesting variation on how the window frames were painted, which is why I fancy turning #453 into #454. No two alike remember.

However, just because all the modification have yet to be done, it wasn't going to stop me from chipping her, and getting her on the road. So I started by taking the body shell off, and decided to remove the switch that allows one to go from track to overhead power; as after all I'm chipping this for DCC, and I don't think it is practical to use a switch to go between overhead and track power with DCC.

Then I thought I would look at the ride height, as I had noticed that the couplers were a bit low, and thought how hard would it be to fix this? So I disassembled the drive train and put some washers at the bolster, which brought the body up to the right height. Et VoilĂ  done.

However, and you knew there was a but coming along, as I start to reassemble the drive train I noticed that universal coupling shafts ends were freely rotating on the shafts. This is not good thing, and kind of explains why this steeplecab pulls so poorly. I started to work on fixing this problem and noticed that the angle of the drive shafts to the gear towers were quite extreme. I thought to myself why don't I replace the motor with something smaller? Again, how hard can it be?

So trusty puller to the rescue to remove the flywheel/come universal joints on the old motor.

New motor and I decided to use Ted Scannel's ideas from the CLAG website, using radio control aircraft fuel line, two small 3/32 ball bearings so as to extend the shaft lengths to match the new motor configuration.

All fitted, and here I'm making up a new motor retaining clip, using the old one cut in half with the plan that I'll solder the two halves back together in due course. I used my Kadee coupler trip pin pliers to adjust the circumference of the bands halves.

Here it is all hunky-bunky and ready to rock'n roll. Put it on the track and found I had an intermittent short. Poot! Back to the work bench...

On closer examination it was obvious that the ball joints were fouling the screw heads that kept the trucks in place. This is due to the fact that I have of course altered the ride height, but the gear towers remain the same height. Doh!

It was at this point that I regretted the fact that I had cut the original shafts in half, as after a bit of thought I realised that I could dispense with the original universal joints as supplied on the gear towers. Rather than spend time now making new shafts I stole the pair from engine #457 that is still in need of substantial cosmetic work.

And hey presto, just like that all done and dusted. Put the chassis on the track and she purred along like a sweet thing, rather than the old growl she use to have (I adjusted the skew of the motor you can see in the above picture before proceeding any further).

Next thing is to just run her around a bit, programme the chip using Decoder Pro, and then it will back to the bench for some cosmetic adjustment to get her to more closely resemble #454. After this

NB: Must get around to making some more poles.