Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Signals big and small

Had a day up to my neck in brass and solder today, assembling various etched signal kits and associated buts 'n' bobs. This impressive-looking gantry is a OO kit from Traintronics (see to compliment its range of colour light signals, while the tiny 4-aspect signal is from NBrass Locos (

Although the gantry looks very delicate (the individual parts are and liable to distortion if not handled carefully), once assembled, it makes for a fairly tough, rigid construction. It was quite good fun to build, too, although a good 12hours work. The N gauge signal was much trickier - no surprise there - and I think I chose the wrong route in trying to solder all but the light shades, but it worked out well in the end. This is a dummy unit, though I'm sure someone with better experience of N gauge electronics could get this working with fibre optics and such like.

Anyway, they've both just been washed thoroughly in Cif detergent and are now drying in the airing cupboard before a coat of grey primer tommorrow.

Nice ladder and handrail detail on the Traintronics gantry.

This tiny 4-aspect signal is from NBrass Locos.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Jones Goods Extra

With the latest Model Rail now on sale (MR141), I thought I’d add some extra info about the DJH Jones Goods 4-6-0 kit that features on pp.36-41. As the feature – and a previous blog posting - relates, this has been a slightly frustrating and long-winded project that is still far from finished.

At present, the frames are about to be treated to a first coat of etching primer (Railmatch) which will provide a long-lasting base for the subsequent top coats. I’ve still to refine the shade of yellow to adorn the locomotive and tender as the 1960s BR version of the Highland Railway colour was far different to the original specification, which is offered in the Phoenix Precision range. Also, the job has slipped down my priority list just lately as other deadlines are looming large.
Railmatch etching primer (& thinners) arrived in the post last week and the frames are due to recieve a coating in the next few days.

Dremel Vice comes into its own
One thing that the building of the Jones Goods chassis brought home to me was how much I rely on the use of my Dremel vice! I was given this handy device way back in 2007 as a review sample (see MR107) and it’s certainly seen plenty of use since then. Despite being plastic, it’s tough and steady and has relegated my old cast iron vice to secondary duties (car repairs) in the shed. As the following images show, it can still be used for soldering tasks, provided a set of spring clamps are used as an intermediate holding device, absorbing the heat before it reaches the plastic jaws.
How could I live without my Dremel vice?! It can rotate and tilt to any angle, making jobs such a sthis much easier.
And it can be used to mount many brands of mini-drills - perfect for the job of turning down the wheel flanges for the Jones Goods.

The other good thing about the vice is that it can also be used to mount a mini-drill (most brands will fit – I use a Draper tool). This is just as well as far as the DJH kit goes, as I had to file away the flange on the centre driving wheelset, so mounting the drill and using it as a sort of lathe is pretty handy. I believe that the real Jones Goods No.103 now carries a flanged wheelset in its preservation condition (in Glasgow Transport Museum), but this isn’t possible on this model as can be seen below. The flanges of the two forward axles simply won’t fit side by side.
No room for the flanges on both the leading two coupled axles...
But now they will fit! Removing the flange must be done with great care not to disturb the wheel's profile.

Narrowing the frames
The main bug-bear of the DJH kit is that the frames, if assembled as per the instructions, are too wide to accommodate OO gauge wheelsets. As a degree of side play is essential for coping with even the slightest curves – especially for a long coupled wheelbase machine like this – some drastic action is necessary.

Filing down the top hat bearings after they’d been soldered in place did the trick, with the axles being re-fitted a few times until happy. Trying to achieve the same amount of protruding material on both sides of the frames took some careful measuring and filing, keeping the bearing faces as flat and true as possible. The bearings now stand about 0.3mm above the surface of the frames on each side and, due to these bearings being quite deep in the first place, there’s still just enough surface area available to keep the axles happy.
Filing down the raised top hat bearings also requires care - and can be a lengthy process.

So, what started out as an idea for demonstrating brass chassis building for relative beginners, turned out to be a bit more complicated than I’d envisaged. I do wonder what the future holds for such kits as the r-t-r market becomes a little more diverse. I seem to be meeting fewer modellers who are prepared to go down the kit building route, mostly for reasons of time, cost and lack of confidence in their ability. Indeed, it’s the fear of spending the best part of £200 on a kit, motor, wheels, paints, transfers etc, then making a hash of it, only for the bits to then languish in a box for years.

Not all kits are so expensive, but with the ever-increasing costs of metals, even a set of wheels for a 0-6-0 can set you back around £30-40. Hattons are selling a few r-t-r diesel locos for only a few pounds more, fully finished to a high standard. I suppose you really have to want a specific loco type – unavailable r-t-r – to go down the kit-building route. Unless, of course, it’s the construction aspect that is the attraction. I must admit that I prefer to build wagon kits rather than buy r-t-r stock and this has nothing to do with the inadequacies of ready-made wagons. I just love building them.
When I get the time, that is!!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Old Layout Memories Part 2

My fictional creation of Tuebrook Station and High Street, c.1980

After finishing Art School in 1996 and moving back home, I thought I’d have another go at producing a small layout in my tiny bedroom. This time, my birthplace of Tuebrook in Liverpool was the subject, although the track plan and scenery would be fictional and the boards were fitted, shelf-like, to two walls of the room to form a 7ft x 4ft ‘L’ shape (1ft wide boards).
The low relief Georgian townhouses are definately out of place compared to the real Tuebrook!

The track layout was quite advanced for me at the time and colour light signals eventually guarded this busy junction, interlocked with the points

Assuming the freight-only Edge Hill-Bootle line had been taken into the Merseyrail system in the 1980s, Tuebrook reopened for a local DMU-operated service. In contrast to the real location, the station was set in a cutting rather than atop an embankment, with the station building being at road level. The short platforms hinted that they carried on beyond the outside wall of the house(!) and trains obviously had to terminate here. A small engineers’ siding was provided and the goods line ascended a steep gradient to reach a (never completed) warehouse and oil terminal, while the main line disappeared into hidden sidings beneath.

My first stab at kit-built motive power, a DC Kits Class 101 DMU, stands at Tuebrook. The signal box in the foreground was a scratchbuilt copy of the LNWR box at Arpley Junction.

Most of the buildings were kits, although the lengthy retaining walls and numerous other buildings were created from the Linka cast plaster system (anyone remember that?!). Point motors were fitted and interlocked with Eckon colour light signals and, although only insulfrog points were used, adding extra power collection to locos meant that running was fairly reliable. The curve at the top of the goods line was far too tight, however, limiting the trailing load to just one or two wagons. The hidden sidings were hard to reach, too, but other than that I enjoyed operating the layout.
This was my favourite part of the layout. The canal and twin level rail bridges created a nice scene as trains passed by.

The tortuous curve at the top of the goods line could only be managed by short Bo-Bo diesels or shunters.

As the layout progressed I also began kit-building wagons and the odd DMU from DC Kits, as well as fitting all of the buildings with fully detailed interiors and lighting. I even started to replace the kit-built buildings with scratch-built versions of real structures.

The Newsham Park pub, on the corner of the bridge, was scratchbuilt from Linka castings and had a fully detailed interior complete with bar, seating and a darts match in progress. The name refers to the old park in Tuebrook and the name of my Dad's old 'local'.

The top of the goods line terminated at a warehouse, oil terminal and MPD, although this was never finished. The scratchbuilt depot is well under way here but never received a roof!

In common with my previous attempt, the track plan had distinct advantages (this one was my own design) and, given a bit more space – or simply re-jigged, it could be made to work better. I’m thinking of revisiting both of these layout plans for future ‘Masterplan’ features for Model Rail.

Unfortunately, I never finished the scenery and dismantled the whole thing just before I married and moved back to Liverpool. The matrimonial home was a tiny terrace with little space, although I did eventually make a start on my Dent Station odyssey in the spare bedroom before we moved to York. But that’s another story...

The real Tuebrook Station c.1930. See for more info.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Class 14 at work at Maudetown Colliery

Resting in the stabling siding at Maudetown Colliery, 14029 looks at home in this environment

After reviewing the Hattons/Heljan limited edition Class 14, I had intended to photograph it on my colliery-themed layout. However, I prefer review images to be on a clear background, lest your eye be distracted by a busy background scene. Besides, it has been a bit too cold to be hanging around out in the shed of late, where the layout is currently sited.

Anyway, after an unusually sunny and mild day, I did venture out to do some jobs and remembered about the Class 14. As I have to pass it back to Hattons soon, I thought I’d take the opportunity to pose it on the layout. Not least as I’ve been wondering whether to invest in one of the models for myself – preferably a BR green livery one. As my review in the latest Model Rail will show (out on Feb 25), I was highly impressed with this model, especially after seeing it work around my test track and indoor layout. However, I don’t part with £115 of my own cash easily and collecting limited editions has never really appealed to me.
Can I justify the price of a green '14' for myself?
Anyway, after seeing 14029 pottering around Maudetown Colliery’s sidings, I’ve started thinking of numerous justifications as to why I NEED one of these. So, I think I’ll be coming home with a Class14 when I go back to Liverpool to take this Rail Blue version back... We’ll see!
Have a look at the short video clip to see the loco in action at Maudetown...

Monday, 15 February 2010

Old Layout Memories Part 1

An aerial view of Dent Jnc c1993 when it was almost finished

I had thought most of my pre-2000 photo collections had been lost when we left Liverpool but I recently found a small album of prints showing a pair of layouts that I built between the ages of 16 and 22. They were both quite different in many aspects but marked my first forays into building everything myself (ie without my Dad’s expertise in baseboards, wiring and planning etc). Neither was 100% successful, I must admit, but the problems were more to do with space than anything else.

One of my old favourites: a Lima Class 27 stands at Dent Jnc station

Here is Dent Jnc, built between 1991 and 1993 and based loosely on a CJ Freezer track plan on a 6ft x 4ft board that slid on mini castors under my bed. This was a source of frustration as my bedroom was only really big enough for my bed, not a bed AND a layout! Thus, the board had to be pulled out and lifted onto the top of the bed in order to use it – not a good idea, not least as it was hard to level it out. I suppose it introduced realistic gradients!

The hidden sidings allowed trains to pass each other but uncoupling could be tricky!

Bizarrely, I soon dispensed with my bed and took to sleeping on the floor. Yes, seriously! No one can say I’m not a dedicated modeller! A Metcalfe card kit of Dent station formed the fictitious terminal station and the location was christened Dent Junction. The track plan allowed for trains to run continuously around the oval, or be diverted into the station. A couple of hidden sidings allowed for variation and Lima Class 33s, 26s and 31s, plus Hornby 25s, 37s and 47s were the staple traction, along with the odd DMU.

The track plan offers a lot of potential and I’d be willing to revisit it in a different context, maybe in N gauge in the future. However, using a mix of second hand (some very aged) points and track, was never going to be a recipe for smooth running, however, and the points for the MPD at the far side were tricky to reach (point motors were beyond my budget at this time).

The terraced houses behind the station were my favourite as the interiors and gardens were fully detailed. The access road down to the station has been demolished here - I can remember dropping a football onto it!

I never finished this layout scenically – I’d gotten too frustrated with too many aspects of it and, upon moving away to Art College, I had other priorities. However, I did decide to spend a bit more time planning the next project. It was a nice surprise to find these images. Just a shame that I lost virtually all my other photos - family snaps, 100's of train pics, etc. Oh well...

In its early days. Note the old Lima controller - a survivor from my childhood trainset. It had only 2 speeds: fast and supersonic

To be continued...

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Remembering a lesson in wiring

Caina Guitars Model No.1, 1993 Vintage!
Just spent most of my Sunday repairing one of my guitars, which should have been a fairly swift task. However, the wiring inside is a legacy from my late teen years when I was (a) skint and (b) not known for my careful planning.

Anyway, although the way that the two pickups were connected was quite nifty, with a 5-way switch but also coil taps and series-parallel shifts (serious guitar geekdom!), none of the cable was remotely colour-coded (red, green and blue for the various earths, for example) so making any repairs or mods is far from easy.

None of the wires are colour coded - but it all works! The copper lining, by the way, screens out interference

Still, I was only 17 and the guitar was part of my A-level work, so I shouldn't be too hard on myself. What was worse was the model railway layout that I built about the same time also featured some complicated wiring - point motors, switched frogs, colour light signals with route indicators linked to the points, lots of isolation sections and plenty of power feeds, plus lighting in every building, etc etc.

Sounds great. However, it was virtually ALL wired up with red cable. How stupid that soon turned out to be! But, I could only afford one drum of wire at the time! Never again.

Back to the guitar and, after an hour or two's head scratching, I decided to simplify the setup, replaced the volume control (that was the reason I started poking around in the first place) and - believe it or not - kept the eccentric colour coding of the wires. Well, it's lasted nearly 20 years, so it seemed a shame to change it now!!!! At least the guitars that I later built as a semi-pro luthier were much better thought out....

Tuebrook in 'OO', c.1995. I miss this layout but the wiring was haphazard to say the least!

I shall have to dig out some more images of this and other old layouts and post them here. Watch this space...

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Hattons/Heljan Class14 on test

Heljan's new Class 14 14029 (D9529) in post-preservation BR blue

Being the official ‘Our Man in the North’ for Model Rail magazine, I hot-footed it over to Hattons of Liverpool this morning to pickup a review sample of the exciting new Hattons/Heljan ‘OO’ gauge limited edition Class 14 diesel hydraulic.

I’ve been watching progress of this model for some time as I’m seriously tempted to treat myself to either a BR Green or NCB blue one (both would be nice, but I don’t earn enough!). After a train ride into Lime Street and a cab to Allerton Road, I met a jolly nice young chap at Hattons’ store who brandished the magic blue cardboard box. After relieving myself of a few notes of the Queen’s currency (a bag full of late BR-era Bachmann wagons), I mooched down to Auberge cafe for an all-day breakfast and a good look at the new model.

The new Heljan Class 14 being put through its paces

Carefully avoiding getting greasy fingerprints on the lovely thing, I kept it in its clear plastic sleeve while managing to jot down my first impressions. With press day on Thursday, the review will be just in time for the March issue (out Feb 25), so look out for it! I shan’t give too much away here...

Maude takes a close look at that impressive chassis

Gosh, I do miss Liverpool. Me & Mrs D used to dream of moving to Allerton from our bijou terrace in Wavertree and spent many a Saturday carousing up and down Allerton High Street. With a visit to Hattons, naturally. Mind you, I miss the old shop further down Smithdown Road, with Norman Hatton himself in his shop coat, wrapping models in brown paper to be sent out. I’ve been a customer there for 25 years and my Dad a decade or two longer. I even used to pop in on the way to band rehearsals, at a mate’s house just off Penny Lane – I can remember buying a Regional Railways Lima Class 101 3-car DMU. There was just enough room for it inside my guitar case. ROCK N’ ROLL!!!!

Anyway, here are some images of one of the many preserved ‘Teddy Bears’, D9555 at Lydney Junction on the Dean Forest Railway. I was passing when I realised that there was diesel gala on, sometime in 2008 (I think).

Note the Jerry can on the running plate. Emergency fuel? Extra Coolant? I wonder...

Monday, 8 February 2010

Take a bow, Mr Jones

Mr David Jones - Engineer extraordinaire

After making good progress on the HR ‘Jones Goods’ kit over the past few weeks, it was a happy coincidence that, over the weekend, I found an interesting article entitled ‘In Memory of Highland Locomotives’, by the distinguished railway author Hamilton Ellis.

Appearing in the June 1957 issue of Trains Illustrated, it seems that the withdrawal of the last Highland Railway locomotive from BR service in ’57 (a Dornoch ‘Puggie’) had prompted Mr Ellis to write a eulogy to the various steam loco types built by the HR.

Although a ‘small’ railway company in some respects, the HR did own and operate over hundreds of miles of track - mostly single lines - between Perth and Wick and economies were made within the loco department. A variety of ‘new’ machines were turned out using scrap components (including chassis) and spare boilers while ‘new new’ locomotives also appeared, some of which were way ahead of their time, especially compared to the HR’s near rivals. The ‘Jones Goods’ was one example: the first mainline 4-6-0 to operate in Britain.
June 1957 issue of Trains Illustrated

An enjoyable read, the feature also has a rather fetching portrait of Mr Jones himself, looking dapper in his middle age and sporting a very impressive moustache! The son of an engineer, David Jones (1834-1906) was apprenticed to the LNWR under Ramsbottom, working his way to Loco Superintendant under William Stroudley at the HR in the 1860s. Succeeding Stroudley in 1870, Jones was responsible for the design of numerous successful locomotive types, described as ‘robust and simple’. The ‘Loch’ 4-4-0 passenger engines were also impressive and served the HR (and LMS) well for over 40 years.

They certainly had to be robust as the HR network featured some formidably graded routes. Upon retiring from the HR in 1896, Jones continued to design locomotives for overseas railways and, as well as having the honour of introducing the 4-6-0 arrangement to these shores, he’s also credited with designing the first bogie sleeping carriages in Britain.

The assembled DJH kit of a 'Jones Goods'. It has now been dismantled for painting

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Bus Matters

Between the ages of 9 and 13 I was convinced that my future lay in buses. Well, only if Liverpool decided not to sign me as the successor to Alan Hansen, that is. I even went as far as to approach British Leyland and Dennis to ask about apprenticeships and, to my delight, both firms sent me tons of stuff to adorn my bedroom walls: bus catalogues, specification sheets, even full-size laminated servicing charts for bus engines, gearboxes and air brake systems!


As a source of free entertainment, my Dad encouraged me to write to any person or business that I could think of in the hope of receiving something interesting in return and this certainly paid off (even NASA sent me a huge box of Space Shuttle-related material, all the way from the USA!) but the best ‘result’ came from Warrington Corporation Transport who invited me to spend a day in their workshops at Wilderspool. After negotiating a day out of primary school, I shadowed the fitters, drivers, inspectors and office staff before being given my own private tour of the town in a 1930s rear-entrance double-decker, being dropped back at school bang-on chucking out time, to the envy of all! A goody bag of old uniforms, caps, tickets, Leyland Atlantean chrome fittings, tools, you name it, weighed me down on the way home. I even made it into the Warrington Guardian!!


Anyway, my bus obsession continued for a while longer before I realised that it was mostly due to feeling the need for a slight rebellion against my Dad and older brother and their railway fixation. Today, I avoid buses like the plague, although the notorious ‘192’ from Manchester is not the best advert for public transport, but nor are the crazed drivers that have taken me around the estates of Peterborough at break-neck speed, accompanied by frenzied shouting of abuse at those idiots who have the temerity to actually want him to stop and get on... As a result, when I’m down in the ‘Big P’ I always opt to walk to the office, despite the distance from my digs – it’s safer.


Oh, I digress. What I’m meaning to tell you is that I found a couple of issues of Buses magazine (Ian Allan) in a box of old stuff the other day, from the early 1980s and one issue (May ’83) includes an interesting feature on the rebranding of Merseyside PTE. I was still a proper Scouser then (not a plastic one as I sadly am now) and can remember the new logos appearing that looked like a string of barbed wire wrapped around a ball. Now, I take GREAT offence at negative stereotyping of Merseyside, but some of my abiding memories of growing up around Tuebrook and Anfield in the late ‘70s early ‘80s include lots of walls topped not only with barbed wire but broken bottles cast in cement.


This is probably due to living so close to two big footy grounds and with the sport being much more of a ‘man’s’ game then. Reminds me also of trying to climb over too many walls to get my ball back! Yes, that Mersey PTE logo does remind me of those days of gashed hands and punctured caseys. As well as when Liverpool was undoubtedly the best team in Europe, although that does seem too long ago, now. I still say they should have signed me when I was 16 – me and Carra in the middle... unbeatable!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Jones Goods up and running

Poetry in motion

Another brief progress report on  the DJH 'OO' gauge 'Jones Goods'... 

The chassis is complete and has been run-in for a good few hours on the rolling road. Luckily (should I say that, or should it be assumed that a 'pro' would get it right first time...?!), all was well from the off, with no tweaks necessary. After a quick photo session of the assembled loco in 'workshop grey' - a colleague suggested it was 'Tornado grey' - the chassis has been dismantled completely, ready for the painting stage.

Hopefully, it will all go back together again without issue and run as well as it has been under test conditions. The assembly of the chassis and mechanism will feature in detail in the next Model Rail (MR141 March issue).

Progress on the intricate livery application will follow...