New Protocraft Coupler

A while ago now the US P48 manufacturer Protocraft released what I feel is probably the best prototype coupler available to the O-scale modeller. It was a Type E coupler and, while 1:48, it was a good fit for the needs of an Australian modeller working in 1:43.5 who needed a coupler that was closer to the prototype than KD’s but was reliable and easy to install. The coupler box provided with these couplers was a drop in fit for a space provided by a piece of rolling stock to suit a KD.

This is a photo from the Protocraft web site of the original E Type coupler they released a couple of years ago.

This is a photo from the Protocraft web site of the original E Type coupler they released a couple of years ago.

I was very happy with these couplers: they came pre blackened, assembled, had self centering and were supplied with a coupler box that dropped into a slot intended for a KD. In addition they can be either magnetically operated using a wand available from Protocraft or using a coupler lever attached to the body of a wagon. I was in Heaven and thought these couplers were the bees knees.

However I have found they have a couple of small issues and I’ve been doing some thinking and experimenting to overcome these. Firstly these couplers are designed to be bottom operated, a situation that is fairly rare on NSWR rolling stock, examples can be found, but not too often. As I had every intention of using the magnetic feature I had decided not to worry too much about this and not hook up the coupler levers. Secondly the shank on these couplers is exactly to prototype length and while they look great nice and close to the body of a wagon this causes real problems with rolling stock that has buffers installed. We may like the look of the prototype but our layouts have far tighter curves than the real railways and this can’t be scaled away. So I’ve been avoiding the issue by not putting buffers on my rolling stock with auto couplers. Eventually this was going to become a problem as I would want to put a coupler on a piece of rolling stock or a loco that had buffers. This is a problem unique to NSWR modellers BTW as the Americans don’t use buffers so I’m not blaming Protocraft, they design their products for the US modeller.

Today Protocraft announced a new auto coupler that may address some of these issues.

This is another photo from the Protocraft web site of the new coupler. The thinner box and the ability to cut the front part of the box away might solve some of the problems I've encountered with using the Prorocraft couplers.

This is another photo from the Protocraft web site of the new coupler. The thinner box and the ability to cut the front part of the box away might solve some of the problems I’ve encountered with using the Protocraft couplers.

On initial viewing of the photos from the Protocraft web site it would appear that there isn’t a great deal of difference between this new coupler and the older one. This is not a replacement of the previous coupler BTW, it simply extends the range. For me the differences apparent in the photos make it a likely candidate to address some of the issues for NSWR modellers trying to utilize these couplers. The first and most obvious difference is the narrower draft gear box. This should allow easier installation into rolling stock that has narrow, closer to prototype coupler pockets. The box also appears to be a much easier candidate to shorten, thus allowing the modeller to push the coupler head out and away from the body of the wagon. This is essentially the same effect as the coupler having a longer shank. While I would love to have all my rolling stock fitted with couplers that have their couplers nice and close to the body, in the real world (and in the prototype I work in) I really need to be able to push the coupler out from the body slightly to overcome the effect of buffer lock on less than prototype tight curves. Another difference is that this coupler is specifically designed to be bottom operated for those who want to use coupler release levers. I have tended to avoid these as I’ve found they interfere with the magnetic coupler action, but for those determined to install working levers, this should be a bit of a boon. Finally the self centreing design appears to have been improved. Norm from Protocraft agreed that the earlier type of coupler could be slightly sticky at times and the spring needed to be shortened somewhat. Still, a slightly sticky self sentring mechanism is better than none.

I’m going to order some of these couplers to see how they stack up and assess whether my initial reactions to them are borne out. Look to a future issue of 7th Heaven to see the results of these researches.

Paint and Decals

This is a very preliminary shot of the new coal hopper with paint and decals applied. In fact the decals have been applied to only one side. The paint is a gloss coat which will be dulled down when all the decals have been applied.

This is a very preliminary shot of the new coal hopper with paint and decals applied. In fact the decals have been applied to only one side. The paint is a gloss coat which will be dulled down when all the decals have been applied.

To test the look of the coal hopper with paint and decals applied I decided to apply a coat of terracotta red paint and some home-brewed decals. The O-Aust kit for the hopper is not supplied with decals however even if they had been they wouldn’t have been any use to me as I was building a private owner wagon that was hauled by government locomotives and crews. Therefore they had air brakes but these were a hold over from the lever applied brakes which only existed on one side of the wagon. I hauled out the Alps printer today to print the decals I’d done the artwork for on my computer. To get this old printer to work I have to use an old laptop I purchased well over 12 years ago which has Windows XP on it. Anything much later than this and the Alps printer driver doesn’t work. It’s a bit of a performance to get the decals to print properly but they are beautiful when they do eventually emerge from the printer and I still don’t know any other printer that can print white. The decals as applied are a very close representation of the way they were applied to Muswellbrook Colliery wagons. When the wagon is dulled, weathered and has its hook draw gear installed it will look a million dollars.


Switching the prototype locations of my modelling focus from a sleepy branch-line to a reasonably heavily trafficked mainline has had some interesting effects on my thinking about my hobby direction. As I can’t actually start building the layout I’ve been posting plans about yet I’ve been making some evaluations of various aspects of the plans I’ve been developing in my head and on paper. It’s been a fairly long while since I’ve had to contemplate the prospect of assembling multiple examples of a single type of rolling stock: modelling a branch has allowed me to avoid a large program of rolling stock modelling over the last decade or so. However if I wish to see the types of trains running on the layout I’m planning to build – read for that longer trains with multiples of the same vehicle – I’ve decided that it might be time to take a serious look at some of the kits available for some of the types of vehicles that will be running on the layout and to do a bit of preliminary test building.

There aren’t many types of vehicle I’m not going to need on this new layout and while I have lots of unbuilt kits in my cupboard I only have one or two examples of them. If I’m going to be outlaying serious amounts of money and time on longer rakes of rolling stock I want to make sure that what I’m building can be put together in a timely and efficient fashion. I’m going to need passenger, coal, wheat and stock trains for this new layout and in numbers that dwarf what I currently own and have operational. I can’t seriously imagine that I’ll be running multiples of these types of trains, Muswellbrook had something like eleven passenger trains in a normal 24 hour period in the 50s/60s and I simply can’t reproduce this. But I would like to have a representative sample of this traffic and that means at least one of each of these types. What fun! ūüôā I’ve been assembling and painting a few items of rolling stock over the last few weeks and finished off two wagons yesterday. So as there appeared to be an opening in my schedule I thought I’d get out an O-Aust kit of an LCH coal hopper I have on hand and take a look to see if it will suit my need for a “coalie”.

This prototype photo shows the type of vehicle I want to represent (approximately).

This prototype photo shows the type of vehicle I want to represent (approximately).

It turns out that the O-Aust kit is a reasonable starting point for the type of hopper wagon I want to model. It’s an extremely simple kit to assemble, with very few parts, but in putting together some prototype information I’ve discovered that the type of wagon I want is just one of dozens of this style of wagon that ran in the Hunter Valley and, as the kit is not an exact representation of the vehicle I require, I need to decide whether it’s close enough to suit my needs or whether I’ll need to come up with an alternative. The starting point in this evaluation process is that I imagine I’ll want to run at least 15-20 of these wagons in a train. Anything less than this (and I may end up with more) running behind a 50 or a Garratt will look pretty silly. At $140 per kit this is going to be an expensive exercise and if I’m going to invest anything like that amount of money in a single train the results better be worth it!

This wgon is the test build I'm undertaking to evaluate the suitability of the kit for my needs.

This wagon is the test build I’m undertaking to evaluate the suitability of the kit for my needs.

I started assembling the kit yesterday and managed to get the wheels under it by this afternoon. The bucket is a reasonably good representation of the prototype however I found a problem with the cast white metal side frames/W iron assemblies. The frame is supplied as 6 parts that need to be assembled with solder or glue. I found that one of the W irons/axle boxes is about 1mm lower than the other and this is of course repeated on both castings because they have been cast from the same pattern. As there is no simple way of fixing this (I checked the other kits I had on hand and the two I looked at are both the same) I had to solder the frame up with a deliberate twist in it to ensure all four wheels had a reasonable chance of touching the rails at the same time. I had approached this kit assembly with some trepidation: I’d resolved that I’d give assembling this kit a go straight out of the box, no sprung W irons or other third-party upgrades. This was in part due to the fact that I can’t see an easy way of installing springing onto such an open vehicle. However I will need to convince myself that the deliberate twist I’ve soldered into the frame is not going to cause major problems on a long string of these wagons.

What assembling this wagon has shown me is the desirability of putting a bit of time into making up jigs and custom-built holding devices to aid assembly. The white metal W irons on the kits I put together in this scale invariably need axle bush holes drilled into them and this can be carried out using a cheap pillar drill. However the workpiece needs to be held 90 degrees to the bit and as such a holding jig is a must.

This jig is made from a sheet of 1.5mm styrene and some lengths of styrene strip. The strip is Evergreen and is part #188, .125x.188".

This jig is made from a sheet of 1.5mm styrene acting as the base plate with some lengths of styrene strip used to hold the side frame in place. The strip is Evergreen and is part #188, .125x.188″. The .188″ is a nice slip fit into the side rail of the white metal assembly.

Drilling Jig With W Irons

This is the same jig but with the white metal side frame in place.

Using styrene in this application is fine: there are no strong pressures placed on the styrene while the drilling is taking place and the styrene is more than strong enough to hold the part securely while the operation is carried out. If I end up assembling 20 of these kits the jig will get plenty of use.

I don’t know about you but I only have two hands. As such, when I’m trying to hold four separate parts square and level while I apply a soldering iron to the joints between these parts, I need some sort of holding aid. Investing about an hour to make an assembly jig for such a job is well worth the effort. I started the day by cutting up a small square of 9mm plywood that I used for the base of a second jig, this time one for soldering/holding the frame parts square and level to each other while they are soldered.

This simple jig is made up to hold the kit parts in correct relation to each other. The rails are some US sourced switch ties that are surplus to requirements.

This simple jig is made up to hold the kit parts in correct relation to each other. The rails are some US sourced switch ties that are surplus to requirements.

After spending a bit of time fiddling with the arrangements of the rails I glued these in place using PVA and some ME small rail spikes. The whole operation took about an hour and again, if I assemble a lot of these kits, this will come in very useful. It’s time well invested. You can see the small pads of strip wood I glued at a couple of locations to put the “twist” into the frame. It works but it’s not a terribly elegant solution and sure beats trying to twist the frame after it’s been soldered. I always write a label on these small jigs so I can work out what they’re for years down the track when I have the same job to carry out next time.

Soldering Jig With WagonAs is usually the case in these situations, making the jig took a lot more time than actually soldering the model together. I used Carr’s 70 degree solder and green solder flux to fix the parts together. I imagine you could use superglue but this is not a method I would seriously consider using. All in all I found assembling the kit to this stage a breeze but having to deal with the fault in the casting was a bit off-putting.

Paint My Wagon

I managed to finalize the painting and applied to decals to the FRH wagon I was working on late last year. I applied a coat of etch primer and then a coat of grey enamel over that from an aerosol can. I can’t remember applying the top coat to many models with an aerosol enamel in my time modelling. The paint was full gloss and the reason I used an aerosol can is that at the moment using my compressor and air brush is a bit difficult, especially at night with only limited time to set up. I purchased the cans I used for the top coat from Bunnings and looking at this photo my judgement is that the colour is a couple of shades lighter than that which is on the cap. I need a dark charcoal grey and this is a mid grey and not really dark enough.

This photo shows the FRH prior to weathering.

This photo shows the FRH prior to weathering.

Other than the shade of grey this test was reasonably successful. The paint covered well, it was convenient to use, retailed for about $8 a can and there’s probably enough left in the can to do about two more wagons. I used a full gloss which provided a great base for the decals (available from O-Aust) and then I dulled this down with Dullcoat. This also came out of an aerosol can. I’m not all that concerned about the lightish colour, I can darken it down with some Weathered black and powders. I’d like to track down a darker full gloss spray enamel in an aerosol so anyone with a suggestion is welcome to post a comment.

This is an O-Aust CV painted in the same colour as the FRH.

This is an O-Aust CV painted in the same colour as the FRH.

Coupler Heights

When working in HO what height to set your couplers is not something you really have to think about. I was a pretty dedicated HO modeller for something like 15 years and I can never remember having a serious discussion with anyone in the hobby about whether couplers should be some height other than that which was normally accepted, namely the height of a KD coupler height gauge. I have no idea whether this gauge is set at a prototypical height for NSWR practice, the topic just never came up. And why would it? Everyone that I knew set their couplers at that height, including manufacturers, that was that!

The situation could hardly be further from this happy state of affairs for those of us working in 1:43.5, but following the NSWR as a prototype. KD height gauges might work ok for those following Victorian and Queensland outline, as these modellers work in the same scale as those in the US. For this reason the height of the O-scale version of the KD gauge comes out at something similar to the height of couplers in these states. However if those of us who work in 7mm (1:43.5) were to use these gauges the couplers would come out a couple of millimeters too low because of the difference in scale. So what’s the answer?

I won’t go into the arcane reasons why there are no recognised standards for coupler heights for 1:43.5 modellers following NSWR practice: it might be a topic that fascinates some but it really doesn’t fascinate me. However I do think it might be worthwhile explaining the method I have settled on to set the height of the couplers I use and perhaps take a quick look at some of the reasoning behind this.

This photo illustrates the simple track platform I made to provide myself with a reliable datum to compare the heights of the couplers on my rolling stock and locos. Nothing more sophisticated than a length of flex track attached to some plywood with s small rectangle of marine ply at one end with its top surface set at the same height as the top of the rail height.

This photo illustrates the simple track platform I made to provide myself with a reliable datum to compare the heights of the couplers on my rolling stock and locos. Nothing more sophisticated than a length of flex track attached to some plywood with s small rectangle of marine ply at one end with its top surface set at the same height as the top of the rail height.

The first thing you need to determine the height of the couplers on your rolling stock and locos is a way of reliably determining the height of the coupler above rail head height. I started by laying a length of flextrack on a section of ply and then laying a small piece of thinner ply at one end of this with the height of the top surface of this small piece of ply very carefully set at the same height as the rail head of the flex track. I got close with a piece of 6mm ply and then raised this with some thin card. I attached the ply rectangle with countersuck screws.

After you have a place to set your rolling stock so as to reliably compare the coupler heights above the rail head you need some way of measuring the height and I carry this out with a woodworking saw blade height gauge. These can be had at retailers such as Hare and Forbes and McJing and from many other sources. The reason I use this particular piece of equipment is first and foremost because I already owned one and secondly because it is perfectly suited to this task. If you so desired you could make up a gauge from styrene or metal but the ability to move the saw gauge to whatever height you want is a great advantage.

This photo shows the saw gauge sitting on the ply platform.

This photo shows the saw gauge sitting on the ply platform.

After getting these pieces of equipment arranged it’s easy to work out whether your couplers are too high or low. For the record I work to the prototype dimension used by the NSWR to set my couplers. The NSWR used a height of 2’11” between the top of the rail head and the centre of the coupler head as its standard and I use the same. This dimension works out at 20.4mm in 1:43.5. I use a set of digital calipers to set the height of the gauge (I don’t rely on the dimensions printed on the gauge itself) and then place this on the wooden block. I place the rolling stock or loco on the track to determine whether the coupler needs to be lowered or raised.

This photo shows the dimensions I work to on my rolling stock.

This photo shows the dimensions I work to on my rolling stock.

Ok so we’ve got a way of checking the height of the couplers, how do I go about getting the couplers the height I want them if the gauge indicates things are too low or high. Well I fiddle about with packing and milling out bits of the coupler pad until I get it close to where I want it. It’s a bit of a pain really but then it was the same when I worked in HO so these’s no advantage or disadvantage working in one scale rather than another.


Recently on the 7mmAusmodelling Yahoo! Group there was an exchange of views on track and wheel standards and how these should be communicated to Australian O-scale modellers. The question was specifically directed at modellers who model standard gauge and who are members of the Aus7 Modellers Group. Before I go any further I should declare my interest: I am the moderator of the above mentioned Yahoo! group and the President of the Aus7 Modellers Group. A couple of modellers who do not work in the same gauge or prototype as many of the members of these groups asked the quite valid question: why isn’t there a published set of standards for those working in 1:43.5 and who model an Australian prototype that address some of the basic questions they might have about things like curve radii or coupler height? Well the simple answer is that there is a set of published standards and they are available when you join the Southern Cross Model Railway Association. While these standards are quite valid it could be said that they could do with a bit of updating and I have to be honest, I haven’t consulted them in years. The reason is that I already know what they contain and the tools and techniques I use conform to the published standards and those they are primarily derived from: namely the UK Finescale standards for 7mm modellers which are readily available to members of the Gaguge-O Guild. I am a member of both of these organisations.

The questions that arose from this debate were: what is the minimum radius curve any particular locomotive will go around and what height should couplers be set at for modellers who model the NSWGR and work in 1:43.5. Neither of these critical questions is answered by the available standards from either of the above organisations. The final and again equally valid question posed was: if the available standards don’t answer these questions why doesn’t the Aus7 Modellers Group do something about it? For me there is one very simple reason why the Aus7 Modellers Group hasn’t set about establishing standardised answers to these questions: the GOG has 6000 members and is into its 6th decade of existence, the Aus7 Modellers Group has just turned 10 and we have just over 100 members. Time and resources are a factor.

I occasionally get asked by a new entrant into the scale what the minimum radius of the curves they should use on their layouts. The simple answer is whatever radius your locomotives will go round. I know this doesn’t really answer the question but I would contend that there is no one answer to this sort of question when you consider the huge range of different locomotives and rolling stock available, to say nothing of the varying level of skill brought to the hobby by any particular modeller. If I put on a web site somewhere that the minimum radius that should be used on a layout is X, along would come half a dozen modellers ready to declare that they followed said advice only to discover that such large curves were a huge waste of precious layout room space. Alternatively another group would appear saying that they had built their layout to the same curves and nothing they own will run around such tight radii! Both would declare that Hodges is a dill! And they would be correct.

Quite a number of years ago I corresponded with a manufacturer about what type of wheels should go under a locomotive kit he was producing. I was adamant that whatever the source of the wheels that they should conform to the FS standards as published by the GOG and the SCRMA. A few years later I was accosted by a rather large and fairly irate individual who remonstrated with me that I was a dope for insisting it be produced with FS wheels because his loco, derived from the kit, wouldn’t traverse an Atlas switch. My response to his accusations of my evident stupidity was to patiently explain that Atlas points are made for a different scale and with the commercial eye on essentially a mass, toy market and not a scale modelling market. To produce a locomotive that is designed for a scale modelling market with wheels that conformed to a set of fairly coarse toy standards (if calling them this isn’t a misnomer in itself) would be a real mistake. I don’t think he was convinced but it taught me the lesson that people get very passionate about these things, even if when the topic is raised, they seem completely uninterested. All he wanted to know was why I’d provided an opinion to the manufacturer that prevented his loco working with a particular commercial track component: he wasn’t interested in the finer points of track and wheel standards. The point is that the necessary track and wheel standards do exist and are readily available if the modeller wishes to access them.

I feel that the late UK modeller David Jenkinson, one of my modelling heroes and sources of inspiration, has probably set out the clearest explanation of what attitude the 1:43.5 finescale modeller should bring to the vexed issue of curve radii on their layouts in his series of articles in Model Railway Journal (issue 85, 86 and 88 et al) called The Last Great Project. Of curve radii he wrote:

“Obvious though it may seem, it is vital that you know the minimum curve around which all your models will run…You can do it the practical way by setting out full size curves on a spare piece of baseboard material then trying out the model. But my preferred alternative is to decide the minimum curve from the outset and make all models capable of traversing it…my usual minimum radius is 5’3″ [approximately 1545mm]…I ease this out to 6′ [1800mm] in cases such as the above mentioned point complex [he’s referring to point work that didn’t operate the way he had hoped]. For the record this radius has never caused me problems and it has the useful benefit of saving about 18″ of width for a full semi-circle of plain track compared with the more customary recommendation of 6ft for gauge O.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself so I haven’t tried. There is no one minimum radius of curve that every modeller should or must conform to:¬†as Jenkinson suggests, the radius of the curves you use should be determined first and then you modify and build your stock to traverse these curves. However it is pretty clear that going much below his suggestion of 1600mm is starting to ask for trouble.However 5’3″ (1600mm) is more than likely the dimension I will use as the minimum radius on my new layout and I will use precisely his suggested method of getting my stockj to go round these curves: a totally practical road tested method of getting things to work. Not a theoretical set of “standards” or “recommendations” that no one really uses and far less likely to get my head punched in ūüôā

Whether your stock will go round such curves is determined by a range of factors, not the least of these being the way you set up your couplers and buffers. While couplers and buffers are a topic that probably need to be dealt with on their own I might pass on what I have settled on as my own standard for coupler height. Height alone is not the only determinant in the application of standards to our modelling but it is the most frequently discussed topic among modeller new to the scale. I use a simple standard for the height at which I set my couplers: the NSWR set the centre of their auto couplers at 2’11” above rail head¬† height so this is the height I work to. This prototype height scales out at approximately 20.4mm in 1:43.5. A 7mm scale inch is .583mm and to get the height you multiply it by the number of inches: .583mm X 35 inches = 20.4. I determine the centre height of the coupler by use of woodworking saw height gauge and a simple wooden platform with a short length of flex track with a small wooden block at one end of the track the top surface of which sits at rail head height. I sit the gauge on the block and set the pointer of the gauge at 20.4mm and then place the model I’m working on next to this. Adjustments are made until I get the wagon or loco to the height I need. I did just this on the current BWH project I’m working on. No matter how much I tried I couldn’t get the wagon high enough to allow the centre height to match 20.4mm. So over the weekend I clamped the wagon in my mill and shaved 2mm from the top of the coupler platform on the wagon.

The way the wagon is clamped may seem a little over the top but I need to keep the wagon still while the mill head does its work. Usually I would have done such work well before I got to this stage but the wagon was already partially complete when I bought it.

The way the wagon is clamped may seem a little over the top but I need to keep the wagon still while the mill head does its work. Usually I would have done such work well before I got to this stage but the wagon was already partially complete when I bought it.

You don’t need a mill to carry out such adjustments but the reason I acquired it was so that jobs like this were easy. It took about 10 minutes to complete this task and the coupler now rides at the perfect height.

Soldering White Metal

I had a little time today to work on my BWH wagon and the step I’d reached was to apply some under-body detail to the hopper chutes. The chutes themselves are large, triangular, white metal castings that I had previously glued into position using some quick-setting epoxy glue. Before I glued them on I’d scrubbed them with a glass fibre brush and removed any casting flash with files and wet and dry paper. I wanted them nice and clean because it makes keeping them clean much easier as the wagon comes together. It also means that the glue, paint and solder I intended using on them will adhere better. Dirt is the enemy of good adhesion (Trev’s modelling rule number 37)! ūüôā

This photo shows the white metal shutes in place and the hopper release levers soldered to the side og their respective shoots. These are all "handed" so it helps to have them all lined up and ready to apply in a logical sequence.

This photo shows the white metal chutes in place and the hopper release levers soldered to the side og their respective shoots. These are all “handed” so it helps to have them all lined up and ready to apply in a logical sequence.

The instructions suggest affixing the release handles with glue but I decided that using low melt solder was the way to go. I marked the position of each handle with a pencil line on the chutes and then applied a small dab of Carr’s 70 degree solder to the chute. This was done with my variable temperature soldering iron set at about 300 degrees. There is no chance of melting the chute with a much hotter iron than would be suggested by the melting temperature of the solder as they act as a heat sink. To get the solder to take means you need to use more heat than would at first seem wise. However be warned, when you come to apply the small white metal handles you MUST reduce the heat or you’ll end up with small blobs of white metal instead of details. I found that reducing the iron to about 220 degrees worked well. I positioned the handle castings and then ran the solder round the edges of each part. When happy I removed the iron to allow the solder to set.

The next step was to bend up the u channel beams that run across the gap between the hopped doors, These come as three brass etchings that must be folded. I used a small hold and fold to achieve a straight fold and then soldered along the fold line using normal electrical solder with the iron set on 450 degrees. I then tinned one edge of the u channel with Carr’s 188 degree solder and the spot where they were to be attached on the hopper doors with Carr’s 70 degree solder. With a bit of fiddling and diddling I got the three u channels to sit where they needed to be. A bit more work but much more satisfactory than gluing these parts into position and if you get them in the wrong spot it’s a reasonably easy job to reposition them.


A couple of years ago I was at the Liverpool exhibition when I walked past a stand with a box of bits sitting on the counter. It turned out that this box contained a collection of kit bits from a deceased estate that the stand owner had been asked to sell for the widow. I bargained the price down and happily carried the box over to some friends, some of whom immediately bought the kits I didn’t want from the box. We all got a reasonable bargain and I assume we all went home happy.

When I’d spoken to the owner of the stand at that exhibition, Trains, Planes and Automobiles (from the upper Blue Mountains) he told me that I could contact him and chase up another box of stuff he had from the same source but when I did try to make contact my emails went unanswered. I’ve since been told that this second box was on the stand the following day and must have been purchased by someone else. I didn’t go to the exhibition that day.

What I ended up with were parts of an O-Aust BWH (bogie wheat hopper) wagon. I was missing one vital part but I paid Peter Krause, the owner of O-Aust, a visit and he kindly provided me with this missing part. The bits I ended up with were still essentially an unbuilt kit however some preliminary work had been done to assemble the main body components and the bogies had been attached.

I've never built an O-Aust BWH so I can't be absolutely sure, but I feel I have enough parts for a complete wagon and a mix of parts from at least two other kits, possibly three. The parts for the kit I'm building are on the right and the extras are the pile on the left.

I’ve never built an O-Aust BWH so I can’t be absolutely sure, but I feel I have enough parts for a complete wagon and a mix of parts from at least two other kits, possibly three. The parts for the kit I’m building are on the right and the extras are the pile on the left.

I don’t like half-built kits, even when they weren’t started by me, so since getting back from Sydney the other day I’ve been doing some preliminary work on starting the assembly of this BWH. I’ve taken a good look at the parts I have, written a couple of emails to Peter, downloaded the instructions for the kit from the O-Aust website and cleaned various bits up prior to drilling some holes and filling others that had been drilled by the original owner in the wrong place.

I’ve done one or two of these “resurrection” jobs in the past: taking a partly assembled kit and either repairing or rebuilding it so that it can run on a layout. I really enjoy the task mainly because I enjoy reading the story the kit and parts tells me as I get to know them through construction. I can tell the person who had commenced building this kit was an average modeller but knew enough to do the preliminary steps. I can also tell from the way the parts from multiple kits are mixed into the collection I ended up with that he’d planned to build more than one BWH at a time. I have a feeling that after his passing that someone has dumped all the parts that were out into a couple of bigger containers however this wasn’t completely random: parts were gathered together and there was no mixing of parts from different types of kits. I can also tell from the way some of the parts are still wrapped and packaged that he was systematic and reasonably organised and didn’t pull everything out of the packing and just dump it in a container together.

So what’s the big deal? It’s just an old part built kit isn’t it? In the front of my brain I’d agree: I’ll take the parts from this old kit, put it together, paint it and run on my layout. However at the back of my brain I can’t help thinking about the other modeller who ended up with the mix of parts for the rest of these kits. I hope he has enough parts to get at least one if his kits built. I also can’t help but feel that completing the assembly of this kit in some way honours the original owner of the kit. I will probably never know who he was or anything about the railway he intended running it on: however I do know he was interested in the same scale and prototype railway as me and because of this, every time I run his BWH on my layout, I’m going to spare just a small moment to think about the fact that a model he started is doing what he would have wanted, namely to run in a train. How do I know he would have wanted this? Isn’t that what we all want when we build a kit? When we build a kit or scratch build something we invest a part of ourselves into it in a way that connects us to it. We might not all be master craftsmen who build award winning models but we all share the desire to see our creations run in a train. What better way to celebrate a very small part of another modellers life?

Passenger StockPt II: The Body & Roof

While my last posting mainly dealt with the roof of the R car I’m currently building this one concerns the fitting of the roof. The photo that accompanies this text shows the carriage in its basic form: walls, ends and roof in place and sitting on the floor/undercarriage I was discussing in my last post.

Bogies Рthe bogies that come with this O-Aust kit are of the 2AA variety that were pretty standard on NSWR vehicles of this vintage and variety. The bogies come as a set of crisp, white-metal castings and are supplied with wheelsets. I found them relatively simple to assemble with low melt (Carrs) 70 deg solder. The wheels I used were from Slaters and it is wise to scrub the bogie after assembly with some cream kitchen cleanser and water straight away. Carrs red and green flux is extremely corrosive and will start rusting Slaters wheels almost immediately, so a slightly alkaline kitchen cleaner helps to neutralise the acid flux.

Sides and Ends –¬†As with the floor I wrote about a few days ago, I milled some of these components to ensure that the¬†edges that would be glued were¬†square and straight. The sides are butt jointed into the¬†ends and the corners need re-enforcement.¬†I used some square strip styrene to re-enforce the corners on the inside and used slow setting, super strength super glue with some zip kicker to glue these pieces¬†in place.

The Roof РThe roof is supplied as two over long castings that are intended to be butt joined and glued together. To get a straight join I clamped each of the roof castings to the mill table and milled one end to square it up and ensure it was clean and parallel to the other half. When I glued the two halves together I re-enforced the joint underneath with some strips of styrene, glued with the same super glue used on the corner joints. Once glued I milled each end of the resulting roof till it was a slip fit between the end castings. I did some very light sanding of the roof to ensure it sat correctly when joined to the body and then carefully glued it in place.

The only warping I’ve discovered so far in the polyurethane castings has been in the ends. There is a noticeable bow from top to bottom. This would barely show if left as is but this model is to have corridor connectors and when these are in place you can see a gap under the edge of the castings. Filler is not really an option so I’m going to have to put some thought into how to disguise this.

The next step is to attach some brass angle inside the body to allow for the floor to be screwed into place and retained.

Passenger Stock

It might not appear to be such a big challenge at first sight,¬†but I’ve come to believe that one of the more challenging types of rolling stock to build in the hobby of railway modelling¬†are passenger vehicles. I can think of a number of¬†instances where¬†I’ve been caught out working on passenger cars. One of the first¬†kits¬†I¬†assembled in HO, many years ago, was a passenger carriage and the exercise turned out to be far¬†more challenging than I’d expected.¬†I have vivid memories of struggling to¬†get the sides¬†assembled straight and true, the floor was slightly warped so that the wheels wouldn’t sit level on the track and finally, I’ll never forget the challenge of trying to get a thin piece of decal spaghetti¬†to sit straight along the side after the carriage had finally¬†been painted.

In spite of¬†all of these challenges I feel that, in retrospect,¬†I made only¬†one¬†real mistake: I blamed my modelling skills¬†rather than the kit I was building. I’ve since come to¬†realise that most¬†of the problems were in the¬†production methods used to produce¬†the kit and the way these were applied to such a long vehicle. The kit in question was injection molded styrene, however I’ve come to believe that¬†it’s not so much the materials as the process of casting itself that often presents the problems with long¬†vehicles such as passenger stock. In approaching the¬†assembly of¬†long passenger¬†stock I start from the assumption¬†that, if it’s cast, it’s likely to be warped in some way. As such I will have to address and overcome the issues this throws up as I assemble it. I’m sure there¬†is a mathematical formula to cover this but I’d wager good money that there’s a strong correlation between the length of a casting and the¬†likelihood of it being warped.

I recently¬†offered to help a friend out by assembling a couple¬†of passenger vehicles he had agreed to build for a client. These were two carriages from the R car series by¬†the Australian company O-Aust.¬†As¬†I had encountered problems with passenger stock kits¬†in the past this may encourage you to question my sanity in agreeing to build passenger¬†kits in O where everything is twice as long.¬†However I have a couple of these kits in my own collection so I¬†figured if I was going to mess something up, I may as well practice making a mess on someone else’s model rather than my own ūüôā

I’ve spent about 3 weeks dragging my heals and taking my time preparing the castings for assembly and I’ve only just assembled the¬†sides to the ends and fitted the floor. The kits main body and roof components are of cast¬†polyurethane and thus far I’ve encountered little or no warping. However this is not to suggest that there have been no challenges in assembly. I’ve found that cast parts that emerge from RTV rubber moulds are rarely of a consistent thickness and this has to be adjusted for in the assembly by a bit of judicious scraping, sanding and filing. After I had cleaned up the castings of flash I took a good look at the floor and realised that, while it wasn’t warped, that I wasn’t happy with the rough edges of the casting. The edges¬†form the main lower support for the sides and sighting down the edge, much as you do¬†when purchasing timber, it was pretty clear I was going to¬†have trouble getting the sides to¬†sit straight when the floors edge¬†looked about as straight as a dog’s hind leg.¬†This looked like an opportunity to¬†give my¬†new milling machine¬†a test drive.

The first thing you learn when you’re working with precision milling machines is that you need to start with a datum point: namely an edge or a point that you can rely on. With a casting that has wandering edges this means that you need to work out¬†the centre-line and use it because you can’t rely on the edges. What I wanted to do was mill both ends of the floor casting down to a depth of approximately 5mm and I also wanted to mill accurately along the sides to give me a square and true casting that I could use to assemble the body around.

I started this operation by making up a 12mm think MDF base from two piece of 6mm MDF that I cut and glued together. I made the bottom layer of this sandwich about 3mm wider than the floor casting and about the same length. The top layer was about 5mm narrower so that when they were glued together I had a small step along one edge to give me a slot to mill in without MDF flying about. I marked a centre-line down the length of the casting and marked a similar line down the centre of the MDF support base. When these lines were matched up, one edge of the casting sat out over the slot allowing for easy milling. I drilled three holes in the floor casting and carefully attached it to the MDF base.

I clamped the workpiece¬†on the mill’s table¬†only to discover that it’s travel wouldn’t allow me¬†to¬†mill the full length of the casting in one¬†go. This meant that, after going to all the trouble of making sure the casting was held exactly parallel to the cutting tool, I would have to¬†do half the job and then un-clamp and move it. This is a recipe for making mistakes.¬†Anyway, to cut a long story short, the operation went quite well and I now have¬†a casting that is square and true and sits neatly into the assembled¬†carriage body.

When I purchased the mill several months ago¬†I had visions of turning out scratch built locomotives and shaping metal: thus far the jobs I’ve used it for have been mainly confined to adjusting kit parts and modifying¬†castings¬†during run of the mill (pun intended) jobs I do around the workshop. In spite of this reality check I’ve¬†already come to rely on¬†the mill¬†and I am starting to wonder how I ever got along without it. I’ll post a photo of the carriage¬†when I’ve made a little more progress on it.