Sunday, June 26, 2016

How I motorised a ModelTown steam wagon

The 16mm scale ModelTown Foden steam wagon kit is no longer available. I bought mine secondhand already made up with a view to having it as a static model in the station yard at Beeston Market. However, while making a time-lapse video of the station in operation over the period of a day's timetabled session I decided to animate the steam wagon.

This prompted a fellow modeller to enquire as to whether I planned to put the wagon under radio control. Well, I like a challenge and so .......


The wagon is constructed from a series of resin mouldings - the first job was to decide where I could attach a motor.

The underside was quite open but I felt it would be relatively straightforward to connect a motor to the rear axle.

I had a few small 12v gearbox motors to hand which I'd purchased a while back with the intention of using them for powering small locos. However, they were smaller than expected and so I felt they might be insufficiently powerful for locos - but ideal for a road vehicle.


The rear axle was detached - a piece of 2mm bore plastic tube provided the bearing for the axle and so I needed some other way of mounting the axle to enable a bevel gear to be attached.

A couple of L shaped brackets were bent up from some 1.5mm brass sheet and drilled with 3mm holes.

These were attached behind the axle supports with Gorilla Glue.

The motor was bolted to another L-shaped brass bracket which was, in turn, bolted to the base of the wagon.

A pair of 3mm bore bevel gears were acquired from MotionCo and one was forced on to the motor shaft and fixed in place with some Loctite adhesive.

A piece of 3mm diameter brass rod was cut for the axle and the other bevel gear fixed to it with more Loctite. A couple of rubber wheels (from Technobots) were attached to the ends of the axle. I tried finding wheels which were more traction-engine style but I could find none of the right size.


The front axle assembly was removed (it was held on by a small nail). The same arrangement for mounting the axle was used here - a length of 2mm bore plastic tube.

The tube was cut to remove the centre section and the remaining two lengths of tube were reamed out (with a 3mm drill bit). A length of 3mm brass rod was cut and smaller plastic wheels attached to the ends.

 The wheels needed to be smaller than those provided to enable the front axle to swivel under the cab for steering.A couple of 16mm diameter holes were drilled into the bottom of the firebox moulding to accommodate a small servo.

 The holes were tidied up with the blade of a craft knife....... 

........ to enable the servo to slot into place.

 Two hooks were fashioned from some copper wire ......

..... and inserted into holes drilled in the front axle mount. These were then connected to a swivel arm on the servo with some brass chain.

Wires were led from the servo and the motor through a hole in the floor of the wagon body.

Wiring and control

I decided to use what resources I had to hand and so I used an RC Trains / Deltang Rx102 and a Brian Jones Mac5 ESC. The output from Channel 1 of the receiver was connected to the ESC and the output from Channel 4 (pin2) on the receiver was connected to the steering servo. Power was provided for the ESC by six AA alkaline batteries (9v). The receiver was, of course, powered by the ESC.

I could have used a conventional joystick transmitter to control the wagon, but I was keen to see how re-setting the inertia control on one of my RCT-Tx22 transmitters would work.

By waiting until the transmitter had been switched on for at least a minute, the bind button was then held down for around 20 seconds until the Tx LED went out and came back on again. Releasing the bind button then changed the function of the inertia control knob so that it now controlled Channel 4 (repeating the process changes the knob's function back to controlling inertia) - see RC Trains - Transmitters for more information.

I am pleased to say that the wagon and transmitter performed well.

  There is still plenty of work to do. The wagon needs a fair amount of additional detailing and a new paint job - but I have shown that the system is workable. It seems that, in a later life, these wagons were equipped with pneumatic tyres and so, if I am unable to source any spoked wheels resembling those used on the early steam wagons, then I may continue with my 'temporary' plastic wheels.

My mate in Australia (Greg Hunter), has suggested that maybe I could put the wagon under automatic control using a Picaxe microprocessor. Rather than having to control the wagon from a transmitter, the wagon would be programmed to come 'on stage' at the station, pull up to the goods yard, perform a three-point turn, wait to be loaded and then depart. I must admit that this is tempting. My main focus during operating sessions is running trains, and so this sort of automation is very attractive - as they say, watch this space!

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

How I created destination boards for my wagons

Freight handling is fundamental to the way I run my railway (see Managing Freight on the Railway). Over the years I have accumulated around 60 items of goods rolling stock through a mixture of scratch-building, kit-bashing and kit building - plus a couple of off the shelf models (see Stock List). This enables me to simulate freight movements which I feel are representative of how a light railway such as mine might have operated during the early 1930s - the period when my railway is set. Mind you, I have exercised a fair degree of modellers' licence by assuming that all the local industries make extensive use of the railway rather than road transport. But for me, that's one of the great attractions of railway modelling - the opportunity it affords for creating hypothetical realities.

The problem

While my bespoke computer program (see My freight management program) creates reasonably realistic, challenging and sometimes unexpected freight movements, I was finding that, even with the tailored print-outs of freight manifests, the practicalities of juggling them while holding a transmitter and shunting pole as I followed each train around the garden sometimes meant that I would make mistakes and wagons would end up at the wrong locations.

My initial solution was to use self adhesive sticky labels attached to the wagons indicating their intended destination.

This made operations a lot more manageable. Once the wagons had been marked up at the start of a session, it was easy to see which wagon needed to be sent where from the main terminus and, when goods trains arrived at the intervening stations, what stock needed to be shunted.

However, even though they were quite small, the labels were quite prominent and not really that realistic.

Whilst showing the railway in operation to a Wargaming friend he inevitably asked about the 'dots' on each wagon. When I explained that in reality wagons would have had waybills or even just have their destination chalked on the side he made a suggestion, 'Why not have detachable metal "chalkboards", fixed on with magnets?'

The solution

To create the boards I decided to draw upon my knowledge of ICT (as it was known when I taught it).

The first job was to create the backgrounds for the chalkboards. Searching the internet for 'chalkboard backgrounds' I downloaded half a dozen images. One by one, these were inserted into a Word document.

I decided that my chalkboards would be 8mm x 15mm. This would enable me to attach them to the solebars of all wagons as there would be minimal additional space on flat wagons and timber trucks. Once the background images had been inserted, I placed the mouse pointer on one of the images and right-clicked. From the pop-up window I selected 'Size'

After removing the ticks for 'Lock aspect ratio' and 'Relative to original picture size' checkboxes, I changed the height to 0.8cm and the width to 1.5cm (though the system preferred to round the width down to 0.79cm!).

Once I had inserted and resized a few boards, I then copied and pasted them across and down the page.

I then inserted a text box from the 'Shapes' menu.

Into the box I then typed in the name of one of my stations, Beeston (short for Beeston Market).
To get rid of the border and to make sure the background to the text was transparent, I right-clicked on the frame of the text box and from the pop-up menu I selected 'Format text box'

From the 'Picture' tab, I set the Fill color to No Color and did the same for the Line color.
I then clicked OK and highlighted the test by dragging over it. From the font  drop-down field I selected a font which I felt was suitable for a handwritten message on a chalkboard (in this case 'Chawp')

I had previously searched the internet for 'Chalk fonts' and downloaded four fonts - 'Chalk it up' - 'Chawp' - 'Cool Crayon' and 'Finger Paint'. Once downloaded these were installed by right clicking on the font file and then selecting 'Install' (on Windows 7).

I then highlighted the text and right clicked. From the pop-up menu I selected 'White'.
The text box was then dragged on to one of the blackboard images.

The text was highlighted and re-sized so that it fitted within the image.

The text was copied ......

.... and pasted, and then dragged to fit over the next blackboard image.
The text was highlighted and the font changed to give some variety.

This process was then repeated until the entire row of blackboard images was filled with text.

The row of text boxes was then highlighted (by holding down the shift key and clicking on each piece of text). These highlighted text boxes were then copied .....

.... and pasted. They were moved over the next row of images with the arrow keys on the keyboard.

The text in these boxes was then changed to the name of another station on the line (Bickerton).

These processes were repeated to create nameplates for each of the locations on the railway .....
The nameplates were copied and then pasted until the entire page had been filled.

The page was then printed out on to a sheet of matt self adhesive vinyl which I had purchased from Snap Paper.

I hunted around the house, shed and garage for some suitable steel sheeting on to which I could mount the labels. Eventually, I came across an old can of waterproofing agent which had dried out.

This was pierced with the aid of a flat bladed screwdriver and a hammer ......

The metal was then cut from the can with a pair of tin-snips. It was washed with detergent to remove any residue from the waterseal and the smoothed out.

The backing was then removed from the vinyl sheet and the sheet applied to the metal.

The individual labels were then cut out from the sheet using a pair of scissors.

In the meantime, a hundred miniature magnets (8mm x 3mm x 1mm) had been ordered from an eBay trader (and arrived by First Class post the following morning).

One of these was fixed to the solebar of each wagon using Clear Bostik/Uhu type adhesive.

The destination boards were then applied to the magnets ......

I am not sure at this stage how visible the boards will be in practice. It might be that I have to think again about their size and where they are located on each wagon, but for the moment, I am pleased that I have discovered a way of creating destination boards which are in keeping with the prototype and are quick and easy to change.

Many thanks to Jeff, my wargaming friend, for the idea.