Modelling Projects Blog

My past, present and future modelling projects. What has been, what might be, and what probably won’t

Some rolling stock additions

There is little progress to report on the layout, so to fill the game, some of the rolling stock I’ve acculumlated over the past year ir so.

Dapol Class 33

The most recent purchase, the new and long-awaited Dapol class 33, a locomotive always associated with the Southern Region. In the days of the 1955 Modernisation Plan, the SR management concluded their motive power needs were quite different to other regions. With all their main lines scheduled for electrification and relatively little heavy industry they had no need for an express passenger or a heavy-haul freight locomotive. What they wanted was a one-size-fits-all locomotive suitable for passenger work on non-electrified secondary routes and for general freight work across the network, able to operate in pairs on what little heavy traffic their was. They rejected the Modernisation Plan type 2 designs as underpowered, came up with their own specification for a medium-power machine, and Birmingham Carriage and Wagon were the successful bidders.

In later years these versatile machines spread their wings as declining freight traffic made more of them available for other work. They worked on the Western Region in Devon and in West Wales, on the cross-country route from Cardiff to Manchester, and even into North Wales. None were allocated outside the Western Region, instead working complicated cyclic diagrams that took them back to their home region for maintenance. The majority were withdrawn in the 1990s, but even today a handful remain in traffic. Several more survive in preservation.

Minitrix Cisalpino

Something completely different, an addition to the Swiss-outline fleet. It’s the Minitrix Re484 in Cisalpino livery with matching EC coaches. Cisalpino was a joint venture between the Swiss Federal Railways and the Italian State Railway operating through trains between the two countries, using dual-voltage trains to avoid needing to change locomotives on the border. The rolling stock was a mixture of Italian Pendolino multiple units and Swiss locomotive-hauled trains. As ought to be obvious from the picture, this train is one of the latter. They were a common sight on the Lötchberg main line during the mid-noughties.

Dapol Grange and Farish Hawksworth

And next, a couple of kettles for when the layout is running in transition-era mode. This one’s the recently-introduced Dapol Grange class. The GWR had several classes of mixed-traffic 4-6-0s, and the Granges combined the smaller driving wheels of the Manors with the larger boiler of the Halls. The result was a locomotive with the same overall power as the Hall class but with a greater tractive effort at the expense of reduced maximum speed. This made them especially useful for fitted freight work in the west of England, the sort of versatile machine that would work freight during the week and heavy holiday trains at weekends. The coaches are Farish Hawksworths in the older blood and custard livery, since Farish have yet to released them in 1960s BR maroon.

Dapol 2884

And finally, another Dapol model, this time the Collett 2884 class. These locomotives were were the Great Western’s equivalent to the LMS Stanier 8F. The GWR didn’t build eight-coupled freight locomotives on the scale of the LMS or LNER, preferring to use mixed-traffic 4-6-0s on much of their freight traffic, but despite this the 2884s were found all over the system, including a couple based at St.Blazey in Cornwall for china clay traffic. The china clay wagons are made by Farish as an exclusive model for Kernow Models.

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Class B Tanks

No, Revolution Trains crowdfunded model is not the first ready-to-run example of the 1955 Class B tanker in N. That honour goes to these beasties, made by Lone Star in about 1960.  Though extremely crude by the standards of even a decade later, they’re clearly not based on the older steam-era short wheelbase tanks. The 1955 long wheelbase tanks look like the more likely inspiration.

This trio resulted from my making a speculative low eBay bid and turning out to be the sole bidder. I only really “needed” one…

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Black Bridge

This will be the prototype for the first of the photo planks, a short  section of the famous sea wall berween Dawlish and Dawlish Warren. The modelled section will be a slightly telescoped rendition of the secion where the train is on the picture, with the footbridge marking one end of the scebe.


Here’s the same location from Google Earth, and with a 12″ module depth it looks as though the buildings on the upper level on the left of the picture are close enough to the tracks to be part of the scene.  Not that my photo is taken with a telephoto lens shooting parallel to the coast, and those buildings are, as the above image shows, directly behind the train.

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Photo Plank

A small modelling prohect that can hopefully be completed in relatively short period of time, a so-called “photo plank”. Given that my main layout remains devoid of scenery, this diorama-like scene provides a background for photos of rolling stock.

While it’s primary purpose is as a photographic prop, I’m building it to the dimensions of T-Trak’s standards, so that it could be incorporated into a working layout.

I don’t trust my carpentry skills to build the thing entirely out of ply and get the whole thing square. So I’m using a 2″ Woodlands Scenics subterrain foam board as the base with a 3/4″ riser to bring the height up to the 2 3/4″ specified in the T-Trak standards. The track is Kato Unitrack double-track. The completed module will be faced in 4mm ply which will bring the length to the 618mm of a T-Trak double mddule. I’ve got the material to build two, the plan is for one to be British-outline, the other Swiss.

This close-up without the edges of the module visible ought to hint at the way it will be used. Now I need to decide whether to build the British or the Swiss one first.

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EC91 “Vauban”

To some people, this picture captures the appeal of the railways of continental Europe. It’s Euro-City Train 91, carrying the name “Vauban”, which at the time ran from Brussels to Milan, and seen here at Kandersteg in in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Like a lot of international trains at the time, it’s a heterogeneous mix of coaching stock from different national systems, the leading coaches from the Belgian state railway SNCB, the rear ones from the Swiss federal railways. And the train is running on the metals of the private Bern Lötchberg Simplon.

Over the years I’ve managed to accumulate a fair few N-gauge SNCB coaches from Arnold and Roco in assorted liveries with a view to modelling this train, most recently some unboxed Arnold factory clearance stock for a fiver each! I can’t recreate the exact formation of this train because no manufacturer has ever made the newer I11 coaches (second, fourth and fifth in the formation). But a few Google image searches have brought up pictures from a few years earlier showing formations I can represent with the coaches I’ve got.

To the uninitiated it looks like a random jumble of coaches. But every coach is there for a reason, and once you get your head round the carriage workings it starts to make sense. Like many long-distance trains passing through Switzerland it’s made up of an international portion plus a Swiss portion for local passengers within the country. I don’t know the exact reason the Belgian through coaches are a mix of types, but the more modern I11 coaches were used predominately on internal Belgian services rather than longer-distance workings. Perhaps there weren’t enough left over for international use for a complete train? Likewise the Swiss portion has one first class EWIV coach, and three much older EWIs for second class.

Researching train formations for a prototype-based layout can be as interesting as building and operating the actual model. Any parallels with software testing or analysis is left as an exercise for the reader.

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More Lone Star Treble-0

To accompany those Lone Star coaches and wagons I blogged about a while back, I’ve now managed to obtain a pair of British outline locomotives to go with them. Both of them came via eBay, advertised as factory clearance, unboxed but in near mint condition at what appeared to be a very reasonable price.

They’re both models of the then very recently-introduced Modernisation Plan diesels. The upper model is an English Electric class 23 “Baby Deltic”, of which just ten of the real life version were built, and lasted little over a decade in service. My childhood train set included one of these, and I remember the Ian Allan ABC books for 1969 and 1970 showing just two remaining in service. I never saw the full-sized locomotives in action.

The second loco is a model of the Derby/Sulzer class 24. The full-sized versions of these were far more numerous, and I always associate them with 1970s family holidays in mid-Wales, when they appeared on freight and mail working on the Cambrian lines.

Since production ceased in the mid 1960s, these models have persumably been in storage somewhere for something like fifty years. They are complete, but giving the length of time they’ve been stored they may take a bit of work to get them running.

By comparison, the middle locomotive is a far more recent Graham Farish model of the class 24, painted in the later BR Blue livery I remember from those Welsh holidays. Considering there’s something like fifty years separating the two 24s, it suggests Lone Star were a long way ahead of their time when they introduced the range.

In retrospect, they were perhaps too far ahead of their time. The design used a large central motor that extended down into the fuel tank between the bogies, and it just wasn’t possible to motorise a British outline steam locomotive using the technology they had in 1960. So they launched an all-diesel range at a time when the real railway, though changing fast, was still largely operated by steam, long before “Modern Image” was a thing. It interesting to speculate where the range might have gone had they continued with it.

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More Layout Ideas Unlikely to be Built

Rift Valey RailwaysPhoto by Fredrick Onyango via Wikimedia Commons

Another of those layout ideas I’m never likely to build, a freelance layout based in a ficticious African nation.

The above picture of a Rift Valley Railways passenger train in Nairobi, Kenya with its American diesel and vaguely European looking coaching stock is the sort of scene it might try to evoke. The RVR is metre-gauge (and most other lines in sub-Saharan Africa are 3’6″ Cape Gauge), but a model like the recently introduced Arnold U25C and Brawa DR “Reko” coaches could represent something similar.  Some Kato Japanese-outline freight stock would not out of place either.

As for other motive power, there was an export model of the Brush 4 that ran in Zimbabwe, and might make an interesting conversion project from a Graham Farish 47. Kitbashing anything to represent the stylish English Electric export model 1-Co-Co-1s which also run in Kenya might be more of a challenge.

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Lone Star Treble-0-Lectric

When I was three years old, my parents gave me a train set for Christmas. I was probably a little too young at the time; on seeing it I’m an told I exclaimed “Oh, rails”, and promptly trod on it.

It was a Lone Star Treble-0-Lectric set, in what is now called N gauge, but then labelled as 000 gauge, half the size of the more popular 00 gauge. I had what must have been the deluxe version, with vacuum-formed scenery and buildings. The track was a looped eight which made two circuits of the board crossing over itself.

As the very first manufacturer to make ready-to-run electric models Lone Star were ahead of their time. The range descended from an earlier die-cast push-along system which used an 8mm track gauge. The locomotives used an ingenious but ultimately troublesome design with a large central motor powering both bogies via a transmission that used rubber bands. This precluded any British-outline steam locomotives, which meant the only steam locomotive in the range was an American-outline Baldwin 0-8-0 switcher with the mechanism in the large bogie tender.

The range ultimately included four different locomotives. There were two British diesels, an English Electric “Baby Deltic” and a Derby-Sulzer class 24. The other two were American-outline models, the Baldwin 0-8-0, and an EMD F7 diesel which ultimately appeared in eight different North American liveries. There was a limited range of rolling stock, again split between British and American prototypes.

Lone Star never developed the system beyond that small initial range. They didn’t have the resources to invest in a more flexible and smaller mechanism that would enable them to make anything other than four-axle diesels. The range was discontinued after only a couple of years, with some models perpetuated in a newer push-along range that used to be sold in Woolworths for another few years. Not until the late 60s did German company Arnold introduce a new range in the same scale, and what we now know as N-Gauge became established.

Most of that original train set is long gone now. A few items have somehow survived; a battered American “Mobilgas” tanker, one piece of curved track, and of all things, the controller, which survived to power a later TT gauge layout, but that’s another story. There may be more survivors hidden away in the back of cupboards. But when on holiday last summer in the Isle of Man I visited the tramway shop in Laxey, and saw a few items of rolling stock, three coaches and three wagons, and nostalgia got the better of me.

It got worse after that; I started scanning eBay for Lone Star items and bid for another pair of coaches, which I ended up winning. And then a couple more wagons from a secondhand dealer at the Maidenhead & Marlow exhibition. All I need now is the two British-outline locomotives…

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Old and New

Sir Edward Elgar

Edward Elgar’s birthday a few days ago was an excuse to give 50007 a spin on the layout. The prototype was painted in Great Western green to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the GWE in 1985.The repaint and renaming was somewhat controversial in some quarters, earning the locomotive the nickname of “Snotvac”. It survives in perservation, although it’s currently running in its earlier guise of “Hercules”.

The model is one of the oldest on the layout, resprayed and detailed by Chris Marchant of CJM something like 25 years ago. This one’s still running on the original Farish 5-pole chassis; one of the early ones with nylon gears that therefore still runs. The coaches are very much newer; a rake of the the recently-introduced Farish Mk2as.

Farish 31 No 5826

In contrast, the newest addiion to the fleet is one of Graham Farish’s newly retooled 31s. No 5826 was one of a handful of locomotives outshopped in the late sixties in an unusual interim livery, still wearing the original green but with full yellow ends and BR double arrow logos normally applied to locomotives repainted into BR blue.

5826 was one of the locomotives transferred to the Western Region at the beginning of the 1970s to replace the WR’s non-standard diesel-hydraulic fleet. It was running in this livery in 1973, representing an earlier era to the 1980s class 50, but ideal to run alongside the hydraulics.  Here it’s pulling a very mixed parcels train, typical of the sort of duties these medium-power locomotives found themselves working during the 70s.

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Par to St Blazey in N

Par to St Blazey in N

This is another one of those draft project track plans of mine. It’s an attempt to squeeze one of my long-term ambitions into the loft space I currently have available; Par and St Blazey in Cornwall.

I started building a layout based on this prototype many years ago, in a 12′ x 8′ outbuilding when I still lived in Slough. It got as far as the main-line part, with trains running and some rudimentary scenery. It never ran that well due to the poor quality of my baseboard construction, and an enforced move for work reasons eventually put it out of its misery. But it’s an idea that never died, and of course I have all the necessary rolling stock.

Par & St Blazey

It was a fascinating prototype back in the late 1980s, when I started building the original layout, and visited the area several times. Par was (and still is) a classic junction station fully signalled by WR lower-quadrant signals. The marshalling yard and locomotive depot at St.Blazey sat half a mile along the branch to Newquay, and was the operational hub for freight operations in Cornwall. Most of the traffic at the time was wagonload, and the yard was the place where trip workings from various locations were assembled into long-distance trains for destinations outside Cornwall.

China clay was the predominant traffic, but the yard also saw cement to Chasewater, calcified seaward from Drinnink Mill, beer from Truro and fuel oil to Penzance. Freight traffic to and from west Cornwall had to reverse in Par station, usually running round in the station. It was a busy place; St Blazey yard saw up to seven arrivals and seven departures a day, including three to west Cornwall, and the main line saw a procession of passenger traffic, as well as a fair bit of parcels and mail. Most of the long-distance passenger workings were HST sets, but the local trains were four or five Mk1 coaches behind a class 47 or 50.

St Blazey Yard with an unidentified class 08 shunter in faded Mainline blue livery
St Blazay yard in 2004, by which time it was far less busy

My original layout was in a U-shape, with Par station along one wall, and St Blazey (had the layout got that far) along the other, with the staging yard for the main line behind St.Blazey. The main line was arranged as a dumbbell, so up trains could reappear as down trains, meaning you could operate a representative 24 hour timetable.

I couldn’t work out a good way of fitting that plan into my current space, which is slightly larger but a different shape, but this alternative plan seems to cover most of my “givens and druthers”. It’s still a U-shape, but with the main line a more traditional oval with the main fiddle yard behind Par, and a sexond smaller fiddle yard representing the Newquay branch tucked behind St Blazey. The plan uses Kato Unitrack, which for me is ideal for a layout focussed on operation rather than display. This will not be a finescale layout.

Single unit class 153 railcar in Cornish advertising black livery at Par
By 2004 all the local services were railcars

A few caveats. First, this is a first attempt to see if the concept can be made to fit the space; some of the track lengths in St Blazey yard have been bodged to fit, and will need some fiddling about with funny length straights for any final design. Second, the turntable is a Fleischman manual one, since I’ve actually got one available. The plan might work better with the newly-released Kato electric turntable. And finally, I haven’t designed the main line fiddle yard yet, which might be one of the more challenging aspects of the plan; exhibition-style up and down loops won’t work for the sort of operation I’m planning.

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