Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Progress Report 39

There have been a few developments since the last report - mainly catching up with ongoing or unfinished jobs.

 Further work has been put into completing the railmotor set. The basis for model is a couple of Ashover coach kits from Andel Models (no longer available unfortunately). The coaches were foreshortened and modified to include a cab for the driver and a bonnet for the engine. I decided to have two railbuses coupled back to back to avoid having to build turntables at each terminus.

The models will be battery powered as I want to have something I can run at short notice on days when I don't want to go through a full track-cleaning session. For more information on the construction of the railbuses see How I constructed a railbus set (pending).

I bought a cheap remote controlled LED dimmer unit on eBay with a view to using this to control the speed of the railbus. Uncertain as to whether it would be able to control the speed of the motor, I set up a text-rig and videoed the outcome (see Controlling a low-volt motor with an LED Dimmer).

Track relaid at Beeston Market
The crossover at the end of the run-round loop at Beeston Market was originally laid with Radius 1 (R1) LGB points. It was always intended that these would be replaced with Radius 3 (R3) points as funds permitted. This is not only for cosmetic reasons but also because some locos find the reverse curve of the crossover difficult to negotiate. This work has now been completed and, at the same time, some of the continuity problems I've been having with other pointwork was sorted-out with my trusty 75 watt soldering iron.

Wagon loads
Having constructed a few more open wagons (see Progress Reports 37 and 38), I needed some loads for them. I felt I had sufficient opens loaded with coal and so wanted loads of general merchandise.

In addition to the mixed load of crates shown previously, I created a load of barrels made from a couple of packs of turned wooden barrels bought from Back2Bay6 suitably painted with thinned acrylic paints.

I have also created a load of bricks, sand and cement, constructed from a balsa block clad in miniature bricks from Miniature Brick Bargains. The pile of sand was another balsa block carved, coated in PVA and dusted with sand. The bags of  cement were fashioned in polymer clay, baked in the oven and painted with acrylics.

There is now an anonymous sheeted load, which was created by draping paper towels soaked in watered-down PVA over a wagon loaded with miscellaneous bits and pieces which had been wrapped in cling film to prevent the PVA from adhering.

And a load of farm machinery, made from various secondhand Brittains' plough models purchased through eBay. Although these are not to scale, I decided that by weathering and rusting them, they might look like some redundant horse-drawn ploughing apparatus.

Finally, there is now a tractor load on one of the the stake wagons. A resin moneybox has been heavily modified (ie its slot has been filled with resin!) and fixed to a scribed ply base. Two baulks of timber from the stick of a Guy Fawkes rocket which landed in the garden (waste not!) were trimmed to size and linked with ropes (bookbinders' thread)

Most of the loads are mounted on scribed plywood bases which allow them to be removed from the wagons for running back up the line as empties.

DCC operated points
I finally wired-up all the pointwork which is in hard-to-reach locations to accessory decoders. Two points leading to the hidden sidings in the porch and two at Bickerton Station throat are operated through an LGB switch decoder (channels 1-4). The other Bickerton point, the two reverse loop link points and the two Copper Mine link points are operated by a Massoth switch decoder (channels 5-7). The point controlling the link to the Beeston Market extension is operated by an LGB single switch decoder (channel 9).

The two 4-way switch decoders have been wired into the original section switch-box (see How I made a control panel) which is located in the porch.

When the railway was originally built, all the pointwork was electrically operated from this switch-box with cables run from each point to the switch-box. When I invested in wireless control, I quickly realised it was pointless (sorry) running in and out of the porch every time I needed to change a point and so the wiring was redundant. By re-routing the wiring from the Bulkeley pointwork to the Copper Mine Loop I was able to position the decoders in the porch as they are not weatherproof. Rather than running another cable, the most remote point for the Beeston Market/Copper Mine extension has had a single point decoder installed.

More figures have been painted (see How I painted some figurines).

I am slowly adding more figures to the railway to create tableaux. The figures for these are being sculpted in polymer clay which is baked in the oven.

My first efforts are a little primitive, but I am slowly developing more skills. This type of modelling is something I can do in the evening while 'watching' television.

Station nameboards
I've had five Coopercraft nameboard kits sitting in a drawer for some time awaiting construction. The kits are provided with white lettering to be fixed on a black background. I wanted cream lettering on a green background. I tried painting the black styrene sheet green and applying the lettering but was concerned that the green paint would peel off over time. I searched high and low without success for green styrene sheet until I happened to come across a single sheet in a bits-box at the Llanfair Garden Railway Show and WLLR Steam gala earlier this month.

The nameboards were constructed for each station as per the instructions, with a hole drilled into the bottom of each post into which a 1.6mm brass rod was inserted.

The rod is inserted into a 5mm rawlplug on concrete platforms or 1.6mm holes on the wooden platform at Beeston Market.

At present the lettering, posts and frame have been left as white plastic, I am considering repainting these cream at some point in the future.

I've been experimenting with Binnie Carmarthen couplings as replacements for the unrealistic LGB hooks and bars.

I'd like to retain some sort of auto-coupling as I am keen on shunting and freight operations. However, I also want couplings which combine realism with reliability. All my stock has had LGB hooks added to both ends. Not only does this allow for the reversal of stock on the line (which might happen if I use the reverse loop) I found that stock would occasionally become uncoupled over undulations in the track if only one hook was fitted. My testing of the Carmarthen couplings has revealed that whilst it is possible for couplings with two bars to be coupled together, only one bar actually engages.

 This raises concerns over possible random de-coupling. I need to run a few more tests to see if this potential problem can be overcome (eg by shaping the wire bar differently or by changing the profile of the hook) before I change the couplings wholesale.

Garden Rail articles
In answer to the editor's (Tag Gorton) plea in the editorial of the previous edition of Garden Rail for articles about 45mm gauge railways, I have penned a couple of articles about the railway. One is a general article about the line and the other is an article covering my approach to freight handling on the railway. These summarise some of the information that is included in this blog but present a new perspective, and the photos which will be included are unique to the articles. I have no idea when the articles will appear, but hopefully you will find them interesting. (See Progress Report 40)

ToDo List
The winter months are usually spent in catching-up with various maintenance and construction jobs. I thought I'd list them here so those of you who are considering constructing your own garden railways have some idea as to what's involved.

Maintenance jobs
  • Repair Hunslet loco and add more weight (see Progress Report 41)
  • Fix Fowler diesel fly-cranks which have become loose on layshaft (see Progress Report 41)
  • (Maybe) instal power-buffers in all locos
  • Lightly weather all locos
  • Lightly weather coaches
  • Re-weather all goods stock
  • Clean coach wheels and check bogies through pointwork at Beeston Castle (see Progress Report 41)
  • Reduce weight of cattle in cattle vans (by drilling holes in their undersides) (see Progress Report 40)
  • Replace IP Engineering cattle truck metal roofs with plastic to reduce weight  (see Progress Report 41)
  • Repair hinges on engine shed doors (see Progress Report 41)
Construction jobs
  • Re-site copper mine further back from the main line and ease the R1 main line curves
  • Construct a branch to the timber mill between Peckforton and Bulkeley
  • Sell L&B vans and either buy W&L vans or bash more LGB balcony vans

Friday, September 09, 2011

How I painted some figurines

Over a prolonged period I had been accumulating figures to populate the railway from a variety of sources. The figures are a mixture of whitemetal castings, resin castings and plastic mouldings. I have even started to sculpt my own figures from polymer clay which can be hardened in the oven.

As with all my postings, I do not profess to be any sort of expert, but I have tried to learn from others' experience, had a go myself and am using this blog to share my own experiences, frustrations and musings with others in the hope they/you might be able to short-cut your own practice.

No matter what type of figure I was working with, the first stage I went through was to wash each figure thoroughly with detergent and hot water. My researches suggest that it is best to avoid using soap powders or detergents with too may additives as these can leave residues on the figures. I tended to use the cheapest washing-up liquid I could find (usually on the window sill above the kitchen sink).

I used an old (recycled) toothbrush to clean out muck and more importantly greasy deposits from the crevices. The figures were then left to dry at least overnight.

In some cases, I removed the slab base on which the figure was mounted and then for all the standing figures I drilled a hole into one leg and inserted a short piece of 1/16" (1.6mm) diameter brass rod. This served the dual purpose of giving me something to hold when painting the figure and would be used to mount the figure on the railway while allowing for removal during the winter.

The next stage was to prime the figures with, in my case, matt black primer from an aerosol spray. Again, my researches suggest that white or brown primer can be used. The consensus seems to be that lighter primers help to produce brighter final figures, whereas darker primers produce duller final figures - which seems to make sense. As the period in which my railway is being modelled is the late 1920s/early 1930s I went for a black undercoat, as most of my figures would be likely to be wearing drab or at least muted colours. I found that a couple of light coats of primer were preferable to trying to cover the figure in one heavy coat, which could mask the finer details of the figures' mouldings.

Once the primer had dried (at least overnight), I decided to pick out the figures' flesh using a mix of red, yellow and white acrylics.


I tended to mix the flesh tones lighter (ie more white) for females and darker (ie more red and yellow) for males. As my railway is set in a rural community I assume that the men would be more likely to be engaged in outdoor occupations. My reasoning for painting the fleshy areas first is that I can then overlay the clothing colours on any inaccuracies in my painting. Some figure painters suggest blocking out the larger areas of colour first and finishing with the flesh tones. It's all down to personal preference.

I then blocked in the base colours for the clothing, starting with the garments closest to the skin and working outwards. In this example, I started with the shirt, then the waistcoat and the trousers and then the topcoat.

I then usually repeat the process as I find one coat is often insufficient to get an even covering. This also allows me to touch-up areas where my painting has not been as accurate as it could be.

I then start to pick out the details on the faces; for example the shadows under the chin and hollows of the cheek and the highlights of the cheek bones using darker tones. Lips are picked out in a slightly redder flesh tone (lips are seldom bright red unless lipstick has been applied). Following advice from various websites, I paint the pupils of the eyes first and then the 'whites' (white with a little yellow added to tone it down). Where teeth are showing I use the same yellowy white (who in 1930 would have actually had ultra-white teeth?).

Hair is usually given a base colour at first and then a dry-brushing of a lighter colour to pick out highlights. Dry-brushing, as the name suggests, is achieved by loading the brush with paint and then wiping off most of the paint on a paper towel. The brush is then wiped lightly over the area so only the raised areas receive the colour. In the picture below, the figure's hair and moustache has been dry-brushed in light grey over a dark grey base coat.

I then picked out the creases in clothing with a darker shade of the base colour. A watery mix was painted into the creases and any excess wiped off with a paper towel. On some figures, a lighter tint of the base colour was dry-brushed on to accentuate the raised features of clothing.

Most of the of the bare-headed figures were given hats. As my railway is set in the late twenties/early thirties, people seldom went outdoors without a hat or cap. 'Green Stuff' two-part modelling compound was used to model the hats. This can be sculpted into quite fine details and left to harden. It then takes acrylic paints without problem.

Where appropriate, the gaps between fingers were also given shadows using a darker shade of flesh colour.

And then fine details (eg ties, buttons, patterns on clothing) were picked out with a 000 brush.

Once the figures were dry, they were given a couple of coats of matt varnish to take the sheen off the acrylics of their clothing. I've found from experience that it's advisable to pay a little extra for a decent matt varnish as the cheaper so-called 'matt' varnishes are seldom matt enough.

Fixing the figures in place
 On the wooden platform at Beeston Market Station, a 1.6mm hole was drilled in the platform and the spike on the figure inserted.

All my other platforms have been cast in concrete and so a different approach was needed. The flared heads were removed from a few 5mm plastic Rawlplugs.

A hole was drilled in the platform with a hammer drill. The Rawlplug was inserted and the spike from the figure tapped into place with a small hammer.

The figure was then pushed on to the spike. Sometimes the peg needed to be bent slightly to ensure the figure was not leaning at an unrealistic angle.

The figures were grouped on the platform as if in conversation or patiently waiting.

I am in need of more railway staff. These are few and far between at the moment, but some are presently going through the paint-shop and so will join the line by the start of the next season.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Progress Report 38

As a former teacher, September always marks the end of the summer for me and, to a large extent, opportunities for running and working on the railway diminish as I still work part time (and as any teacher will tell you, this job is never really part-time!).

The tag-end of August has been very productive as I managed to work on the railway for just over a week with very few interruptions (not including fitting new worktops in the kitchen - worth a blog in itself!).

Running sessions
The weather cleared long enough for a couple more running sessions. These enabled me to complete a day's worth of timetable (see A typical running session) and test-run the newly weathered rolling stock (see Progress Report 37).

 The pickup goods shunting at Beeston Castle

 The copper ore train arrives at Beeston Market

The down passenger train passes the pickup goods at Peckforton

Rolling road and Sprog
Having made some lineside Point of View (POV) videos of the railway in operation (see Progress Report 37), I realised that I needed some finer control over my locos. I decided to invest in a Sprog DCC Decoder Programmer. I also felt the need for a rolling road on which to program and test run the locos but not having around £80 to spare I looked around for a cheaper alternative. A trip to Back2Bay6 resulted in the purchase of two home made roller units for £20. These comprised two pairs of roller bearings mounted on aluminium angle which in turn was mounted on a sheet of plywood. After re-gauging the units from 32mm to 45mm, I produced a sub-assembly from a piece of ply and a couple of lengths of stripwood. This was wired up and connected to the Sprog.

I have now re-programmed all the locos' acceleration and deceleration settings to something more realistic - on the rolling-road at least.

Closed van
In addition to the open wagon (see Progress Report 37), I've now had time to complete the closed van from the GRS combi-kit. This is presently still in need of weathering but complements the other combi-kit closed van which I purchased on eBay a while back (see Stock List).

Wagon loads
I am slowly constructing oddments for filling the newly completed open wagons (see Progress Report 37 and/or Stock List). So far, I've completed two packing cases from coffee stirrers plus a gear wheel in a cradle.  Some whitemetal milk churns from GRS complete the load for one wagon. This will be mounted on a sheet of scribed plywood so it can be removed for return journeys.

I have also made a large tree trunk for the bolster wagons from a cardboard tube covered in PVA-soaked paper towels scrunched to resemble bark. I will add more restraining chains when I've figured out how to make them easily removable for return trips up the line.

Passengers for the workman's coach
A trip to my local 50p shop resulted in the purchase of a pack of eight hand-carved wooden miners for the princely sum of £1.00.

These were duly dissected and repainted to dull down their colourful garb.

They were then glued in place in my workmen's coach (see Progress Report 37) for journeys to and from the copper mine.

They do not bear close scrutiny but look somewhat craggy and artisanal, peering out through the windows of the coach.

Planning the railway
For some time, I have been preparing a posting on the process I went through in planning the railway (see Planning the railway). I tend to spend quite a while planning my railway layouts having built a few over the years (see Railway Modelling and Me). I'm not sure how useful others will find my account of the planning process but I found reviewing my scribblings and notes quite interesting and somewhat nostalgic.

Microlight flight over the railway
As a present for a rather significant birthday, my wife bought me a trip in a microlight aircraft.

The pilot was persuaded to fly over my house and also around Beeston Castle and for a short distance along the hypothetical route of my railway.

 I must admit that, if I didn't already have a hobby, I could easily become hooked on this mode of travel.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Planning the railway

For me. planning a layout is just as interesting as building and operating it. As you can see from my personal history of railway modelling, I spend a fair amount of time in the planning phase. In the case of my garden railway, the planning stage lasted around five years.

When I first laid out the garden, thirty years ago, I had half a mind to including a garden railway. Around twenty years later, this dream was realised.

The first few plans I drew were based on the garden design as it then existed.

From the start, I appreciated the importance of planning the railway so it could be built in phases. Firstly, this would allow me to spread the cost of construction over a more prolonged period and secondly, I felt it would help to maintain my interest over the years.

In the meantime, I continued researching - viewing video material and reading magazine articles and browsing websites for ideas and inspiration (see Where did I get my ideas from). I came to realise that, to maximise the potential of the garden and gain the most from the model, it would be better to redesign the garden. One particular video of a railway had the greatest impact on my thinking - it was Railways in the Garden vol 3 by Tony Morris. The video featured a railway which was built around the perimeter of a garden on raised beds constructed from several tons of rock. In the centre was a sunken lawn. I had already accumulated a good quantity of local red sandstone - some from a rockery which my parents removed from their garden, some which I had dug up from my own garden when landscaping it, and some bought by answering adverts in the local free paper. Metaphorical seeds were sown!

I decided to start from scratch and landscape the garden around the railway, rather than vice versa. I would lower the lawn to create some raised beds around its perimeter. Various ideas were considered:

Eventually, I homed in on a configuration which I felt would make the most of the available space ......

..... and so experimented with various ideas to make the most use of the space.

I toyed with the idea of basing the railway on a real prototype, in this case one of my favourite railways, the Southwold.

Ultimately, I decided on a less complex design which would allow me to build the railway in phases.

 Here's how the railway looks now

Initially, I had no particular prototype location in mind for my railway. However, after a stroll in the local countryside one weekend, I came up with the idea of setting my railway in the hills not far from where I live (see The line gains an identity and The route of the hypothetical line). After all, the red sandstone landscape was very much in keeping with the piles of rock in the garden!

To gain some idea of the growth of the railway over the years, this animation summarises the phases completed so far:

The railway has now been in place for around six years and is becoming bedded into the garden landscape. The present layout allows for a range of approaches to its operation. I can run trains end to end; I can set trains to tail chase around the main circuit or I can run out and back from either terminus. This animated plan with an on-board trip along the line from one end to the other shows how trains run from end to end:

Animated plan with on-board trip along the line

What I enjoy most is freight handling. I find a train of mixed goods far more interesting to watch and operate than passenger trains (see No 1 takes the pickup goods, A typical operating session and/or Computerised freight management).

For now, further development of the railway have stopped while I accumulate or anglicise more goods stock. However, those raised vegetable beds which my wife requested are quite strategically placed ........................