I’ve had a bit of time this week to get the brake gear applied to the chassis of the (Z)20. This required me to make a couple of cranks for each side of the loco and to hook these up to some brake shoe castings that are from a ModelOKits 19 class kit. This kit will be supplying a few parts for my 20 class project but not as many as one might imagine, considering that on the prototype quite a few of the (Z)20’s started life as 19’s. I began by getting the parts for the brake assemblies made over the last few days and yesterday I was able to solder all of this gear into position. This morning I cut out the parts for the suspension rocker bar that sits between two of the axles and then soldered these into position.

This afternoon I sat down and made a survey of the jobs left to do to the chassis. I have quite a bit left to do, not the least of these being the manufacture of the four sets of steps. These have to be attached to the chassis sides and I’ve planned out how I’m going to make them. I also have some pipe work to apply, some angle braces need to be made and attached on each side, a bit of rivet detail and the pickups to run power from the wheels to the DCC decoder I’ll be fitting also need to be installed. I also need to cut, bend and fit the four rail irons. So with all of these jobs left to do on the chassis, I did none of them and instead started to cut and fit the footplate! 🙂

These parts of the footplate are still individual pieces at this stage. If fact I haven't even cut the parts for the front end yet. That's the section sitting on the ground in front of the chassis.

These parts of the footplate are still individual pieces at this stage. If fact I haven’t even cut the parts for the front end yet. The three parts of the front section of the footplate will be cut from the blank which is sitting in front of the chassis.

This afternoon I was toying around with starting work on the steps but I must admit that the temptation to cut the footplate out and make a start fitting it was overwhelming. I was at a stage where I needed to start to see what the footplate needed to clear things to fit properly, but in reality this was just an excuse: I was a bit sick of working on the chassis and wanted to do something different and the chassis is the real start of the bodywork.

When I had thought about reaching this stage in the project I had envisaged simply cutting out a single piece of mental, chopping it to length and Bob’s Your Uncle! Well things didn’t work out quite so simple in the cold light of…this afternoon. My inspection of the photos I have on hand this morning threw up something I hadn’t noticed before. On the locos that had been converted from (Z)19’s there is a distinct joggle in the footplate where the old 19 class steel had been bolted to the new front end. I present exhibit A:

This photo shows the edge of the footplate looking from the front, down along the right hand water tank. You can see the difference in the width of the footplate sections quite clearly in the bottom right quarter of the photo. How did I miss that? :-)

This photo shows the edge of the footplate looking from the front, down along the right hand water tank the bottom of which is the line of rivets. You can see the difference in the width of the footplate sections quite clearly in the bottom right hand quarter of the photo. How did I miss that? 🙂 You can see where the two plates are bolted together behind the round air reservoir.

Now it doesn’t surprise me that I missed this detail: I’m no expert on the bodywork of the 20 class. However it does need to be included in the model and any idea of making the footplate from one single section of nickel silver was fast becoming a pipe dream. The slight rise on the rear of the loco under the coal bunker (which I’ve written about in previous posts) had meant that this section of the footplate needed to be a separate section, now the bolted on front end of the prototype loco was making that end look like it would need to be a separate section too. As it turned out I’ve decided that the simplest way to make the front end of the footplate is exactly how the prototype did it: I will cut three separate, long sections from the blank you can see in the first photo that will be attached to the main footplate with bridge pieces and the front edge will be secured by soldering them up to the front buffer beam. There’s no need for the buffer beam to be attached to the chassis, the footplate needs the stiffness that making this one piece will provide.

I marked and positioned the NS sheet in my metal sheer and took this photo just before I made the cut. The blank was actually too long to fit into the machine so I had to chop 2cm off one end.

I marked and positioned the NS sheet in my metal sheer and took this photo just before I made the cut. The blank was actually too long to fit into the machine so I had to chop 2cm off one end.

I got out a fresh sheet of .5mm NS and marked this for the correct width of the footplate. I made the chop with my metal guillotine and the piece came out perfectly. I’m getting better at this with some practice! 🙂 I then cut two lengths for the rear and middle sections from this long blank and sat them on the chassis. I worked out that I should have added a bit of extra to the small rear section of the footplate (the part under the coal bunker) as the original method I’d worked out to connect this section to the middle, large section wasn’t going to work out too well. So I recut this section with 2.5mm added and then bent a small step into the plate. You can see this in the first photo of the model above. I then did some calculations and cut out some segments of the plate to allow a bit of daylight through and to ensure that the wheels weren’t fouled. I’m not pretending that this will reproduce what was on the real loco but after my experience of building the inside motion into the 19 I’m convinced that no one will see that there are rather large “slab” cross sections that weren’t there on the real thing. Once the tanks are in place you’ll be hard pressed to see anything down below. I’ll probably have to make some adjustments to the middle section of the footplate to clear things like he tops of the wheels and other protrusions but this will be small adjustments rather than major surgery.


In many ways my NSWR Z20 project is a test bed for something I’ve been building toward for a number of years, building an O-scale steam locomotive. I’m not a complete beginner when it comes to scratch-building: I built a diesel many years ago using an Atlas O locomotive chassis as the base of that project. I’ve also built quite a few kits of steam locomotives over the years and the skills developed in doing so are a great basis for building a locomotive from scratch.

Recently I’ve done a few modelling tasks that were a bit of a test run for this project, the chassis rebuild of Pioneer being one of these. I wrote about this project on this blog earlier in the year. This small chassis building project acted as a great primer for building the much bigger chassis of the Z20 I’m working on now. I could have built the Z20’s chassis without tackling Pioneer’s much-needed upgrade first, but it did allow me to try out a few ideas and build up my level of courage to tackle the bigger locomotive. I also tackled a few simple milling projects earlier this year that allowed me to develop skills with this machine. I discovered that while you can buy the machine, read some books and watch any number of YouTube videos, nothing beats actually doing a few jobs to test your ambitions. A bloke by the name of Luiz Ally from South America is absolutely phenomenal and well worth a look.

This locomotive may be a scratch build in many ways it’s also a kit bash as it’s going to include quite a few parts from the Century Models 19 class kit which is still available from ModelOKits, So in this sense it’s still not a fully fledged scratch building project and still qualifies in my book as a stepping stone toward a fully scratch built locomotive. While a half-dozen or so modellers have told me over the years that the Century kit could act as the basis of a 20 class loco I must admit that I don’t know of anyone who has done this scratch/bash project. After getting this far with it I can understand why. There are some parts from the 19 class kit that can be used above the footplate in the construction of a 20 class locomotive, however unless you’re really up to scratch building a new chassis the conversion is not in the category of what I would describe as “easy”. Aside from the scratch built chassis I will need to build a cab, the main tanks and the coal bunker from scratch. The only parts I can use directly from the kit are the smokebox, boiler and firebox assembly and even here I might do my own thing because the boiler supplied with the kit is a smaller diameter than the real thing.

After my riveting experience with the bogie side frames I decided that I really needed to put some work into improving my riveting skills. As is usual with me I blamed my tools and decided to get a rivet press from the UK that I’ve had my eye on for a while. This new rivet press is from GW Models and it comes with an X-Y table, unlike my NWSL riveter I already own. I can’t provide you with a link for the GW Models web site because they don’t have one, and they don’t have an email address or credit card facilities either. However I’m assured by a friend in the UK that the tool is well worth the fuss of getting it and as such I’m waiting with bated breath to get it in my hands. This s likely to take a couple of months as it needs to be manufactured. Because this press will allow me to rivet lines square to each other using the X-Y table, and it also has a proper way to hold the work piece securely as the riveting is carried out (rather than holding the work piece with masking tape as I do now on my NWSL riveter) it should make approaching the riveting of the side tanks on this loco project a lot less stressful.

However, in spite of throwing more money at acquiring new tools, something I rarely need very much encouragement to do, I can’t wait till December to get on with building if I’m going to have any chance of getting a free lunch, so I looked at the next step I wanted to take in building the 20. The logical next item would be to build the pony truck at the front of the loco, however I need some brass tube of a particular diameter for this and it will be a week or two before I can get to Brisbane to buy what I need. In the interim my brass supplies from a couple of Melbourne model engineering companies arrived in the mail this week so I decided to make a start on some of the bits and pieces that hang off the side of the chassis. I spent most of today making the small air tanks that sit above the rear bogie I made last week.

The tanks seen in this shot look a bit like wings however this is prior to the installation of the footplate which will cover up the vast majority of my carefully applied rivets. Such is life :-)

The tanks seen in this shot look a bit like wings however this is prior to the installation of the footplate which will cover up the vast majority of my carefully applied rivets. Such is life 🙂

The tanks I built today are really the first “scratch built” detail parts I’ve made for this project. The reason I’ve made them is that they aren’t available as separate items from a supplier and there’s nothing in the 19 class kit that would work as a stand in. What I’m most pleased about is the straightness of the rivets. Each tank is built up from five separate pieces of brass and covered in a thin sheet of brass shim (.003″) that has had the rivets applied prior to being soldered in place. I’ve made them a little narrower than the prototype (by about 1mm) quite deliberately, so they don’t stick out quite as far from the chassis as they should, because I’m more concerned about them sticking out too far than sitting a little bit further in than they should. I can live with them being a little too far in from the edge of the footplate but I couldn’t abide them sticking out like the proverbial. In my mind I toyed around with several different methods of retaining the tanks to the chassis but in the end I went with soldering them in place. A tricky operation, with the possibility of everything separating into a small pile of constituent parts, but it all worked out fine in the end. They both need a couple of little parts added (a top bracket and a spigot underneath) but these can be made and applied later.

Horn-guide Straps

A feature of this scratch build is that I’m trying a couple of things that are new to me. One is a coreless motor and this has been sourced from a company in the UK. When the motor and gearbox arrive in the post I’ll write more about it. Another element that is new to me is the use of tiny ball race bearings that sit inside CNC machined horn guides. If the words horn guides, horn blocks and sprung bearings are all a bit of a mystery to you, never fear: all this refers to is a small track that is fixed to the inside of the locomotive frames that allow the bearing that holds the axles in place a small degree of movement up and down. This is often accompanied by a small spring that is intended to provide some degree of suspension, although the action is somewhat reversed in a model loco compared to a car or a real locomotive in that the system is designed to keep the wheel in contact with the surface of the rail rather than provide a smoother ride to passengers. Small white metal people rarely complain about the ride 🙂

The Hobby Holidays horn guides are the large chunks of brass in the centre of the photo. My hand cut frames are at the top and the short length of brrass strip with holes in it and the small 12 BA crews can be seen at the bottom of the photo.

The Hobby Holidays horn-guides are the large chunks of brass in the centre of the photo. My hand cut frames are at the top and the short length of brass strip with holes in it and the small 12 BA screws can be seen at the bottom of the photo.

I’d first heard about using small ball races for the bearings of model locos from a friend in the UK by the name of John Birch. He’d installed these into a model of NSWGR 50 class locomotive he was building from an O-Aust kit. He hasn’t finished this loco yet but his early reports about the ball race bearings had been very positive so I purchased a set of these for my own use when I finally got to the point where I was building another loco. I’ve recently done some thinking about whether I wanted to use these in my 20 class project and today I came to a final decision that I would in fact use them. The horn-guides, ball race bearings and some other parts come as a small kit from Hobby Holidays in the UK. This small hobby and holiday business make and sell lots of useful kit, their website is well worth a visit. There are two types of horn guides available from HH, plain and detailed. As these items will be on the inside of the loco frames and barely visible I decided to go with the plain, CNC milled variety. These are what you can see in the photo.

This week I essentially completed the cutting and filing of the new frames, so today I decided to make a start on preparing the horn guides for use in the loco chassis. The guides are basically 6 horseshoe-shaped blocks of accurately CNC milled brass. They will be positioned and soldered into the chassis later. These guides allow a degree of movement to the wheels which improves adhesion and power pickup. Any properly installed system of springing or compensation via the use of moveable horn-blocks will provide this. The ball races are just an addition to the normal arrangement of using machined brass bearings. The guides I’m using have one hole let into the top to allow the positioning of a brass bolt to allow for the height of the wheels to be adjusted, however there is no provision for some way to retain the bearings in the guides from below. When I contacted John and asked him what he had done to stop the axles and bearings dropping out of the guides, he said he’d soldered a strip of brass across the opening after installation of the wheels.

Huh? I’ve got precision milled hornguides and tiny, high-tech ball races acting as bearings and I’m going to hold all this together with a strip of soldered brass. Not likely! 🙂 I like to be able to get at things for maintenance and repair and while soldering a strip of brass across the opening would certainly work at holding the bearings in place, it would make removal at a later date not impossible, but difficult. So today I drilled some small holes into the base of each leg of the horn-guides and tapped these 12BA to allow the insertion of small cheese head bolts. I then cut and drilled some holes into some lengths of 16mmX3mmX.25mm brass strip to be held in place by the bolts. These will hold the axles in place but will allow me to remove them if needed without the use of a soldering iron. You can see the result in the above photo.

Two Steps Forward…

When you build a kit of any sort – locomotive, rolling stock or structure – it’s incredibly easy to be critical of the designer and/or manufacturer when something doesn’t go quite to plan. We pay our cash, read the instructions, make a start and if something goes wrong then we all know who is to blame don’t we? So who’s to blame when something goes wrong with a scratch-built model? The person who drew the plan? The goose who sold me the nickel silver I’m building it from? 🙂

This photo shows the parts of the chassis after I'd decided to start again. The spacers are salvagable but the rest is land fill.

This photo shows the parts of the chassis after I’d decided to start again. The spacers are salvageable but the rest is land fill.

After I had reached the stage shown in the photo I posted last week I decided to assemble the side rods for the loco. These were a set of very nice NS etchings. I was already unhappy with a couple of elements of chassis V1, not the least of these being the thin projections on the frames I mentioned in my previous post. After I’d assembled one set of rods I realized that I had measured the wheel spacings incorrectly, a mistake that was too serious to overlook – I would either have to shorten the rods (which were actually the correct length for the loco I wanted to build) or chop up the frames and lengthen the distance between the slots to match the rods. The rods are a set I purchased from DPMS which is no longer in business, so there was no replacing them if I stuffed up as I was altering them. However there were also a couple of other features in the chassis that I’d left off V1 that really would be better included and this was pushing me in the direction of starting over.

I have decided that the main culprit in this tale of woe was yours truly: I didn’t read the plans correctly, I tried to fudge a couple of elements clearly shown on the plan (the fact that the bottom of the coal bunker sits slightly higher than the height of the rest of the footplate is one of these) and the fact that I’d failed to assemble the rods before starting on the frames were all contributing factors. However what really made this an unmitigated “learning experience” is the fact that I had rushed things. And I can’t even blame that on other people: there’s no pressure on me, not even the great 20 class challenge 🙂 I don’t want a free lunch so much that I’d waste quite a bit of metal and about a dozen hours work to get the project finished. It was simply that I was enjoying myself immensely as I dug the hole I was in ever deeper.

I made a half-hearted effort to alter the chassis. I pulled it apart with the application of a good dose of heat from my 80w iron and chopped the frames in half, but it was at this stage I made the decision to salvage the spacers, go back to square one and cut some new frames becasue straight away it became apparent that I was simply throwing more effort at am already doomed venture. To make the new frames I needed a sheet of .7mm stock long enough to let me cut two new blanks. In trying to make the now abandoned alterations I had cut two short blanks I was planning to use to repair the chassis from the end of the only sheet of .7mm NS I had on hand. When I came to measure what was left it turned out that this sheet was now too short to provide the material I needed. At about this point I decided to give up model railways and join the local scrap booking circle! 🙂

This photo shows the new frames in an early stage of development.

This photo shows the new frames in an early stage of development.

Luckily, in anticipation of just such a “learning experience”, I had ordered a batch of NS from Eileen’s Emporium in the UK to replenish my quickly diminishing stock. The only problem was that I had placed this order almost three weeks ago and the package still hadn’t arrived. So you can imagine my reaction when I got home from work on Friday to find a thin but exceedingly heavy parcel in the mailbox. I have a feeling that parcels with my name on them are diverted directly to customs for checking: not because they think what I order is suspicious but more because it allows them to have a laugh and ponder what the heck I might be up to 🙂

This time I decided that I was going to do what I should have done in the first place; take my time, utilize my mill to accurately cut out certain sections of the frames and ensure that I incorporated some features of the prototype frames into the model which had been missing from the first version. In the photo above you can see the slight rise in the top of the frame on the right hand end. This part of the the footplate is under the coal bunker and is a feature of the batch of 20s converted from the 19 class, one of which I am modelling.

This is a photo of 2029, a preserved 20 class at Thirlmere. The slight rise in the footplate below the coal bunker is clearly discerned above the tank.

This is a photo of 2029, a preserved 20 class at Thirlmere. The slight rise in the footplate below the coal bunker is clearly discerned above the tank.

The front and middle axles now have the correct placing of 7′ (exactly 49mm) and this exactly matches the rods. As I have now finished assembling the rods I could check this before I made a single cut, what I should have done on V1. The cut lines are in red to make them stand out but there is a mistake in one of these lines on the right hand end. I’ll fix this before proceeding.

Even at this early stage I’m happy to have scrapped V1 of the chassis. I don’t like wasting time and effort any more than the next person, but this is intended as a learning exercise: you don’t learn unless you work to correct mistakes when you make them. Well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it! 🙂

Early Frame

Just a very quick post to show the progress of the chassis on the 20 class.

This photo shows the chassis in its very early stages of construction. Not too much detail yet and without some intermediate spacers but it gives the general idea of what it's going to look like when finished.

This photo shows the chassis in its very early stages of construction. Not too much detail yet and without some intermediate spacers but it gives the general idea of what it’s going to look like when finished.

Today I sat for about 2 hours and plotted out the width of the spacers then cut and bent them. Tonight I made up a simple wooden soldering jig to help me solder the chassis to this stage. After all my calculations I decided to cut the spacers at a width of 26.25mm. This is a lot wider than I think I mentioned in my previous post. I do these sorts of calculations in a spiral bound booklet I keep for the purpose. I enter date and title info so I can refer back to it later and sometimes find out why I made a silly decision 🙂 I tend to do a drawing (very rough) and label this and then I start measuring materials and components to arrive at a figure I can transfer to the metal. I’ll take metal stock (in this case NS sheet in both .7mm and .55mm thicknesses) and mark these with a black Artline marker pen. I then scribe my lines into the black marking to enhance the contrast. I used my little shop metal guillotine to chop up the pieces. I actually cut off two blanks of 26.25mm wide material. The first came out at 26.39. As I knew I was making these frames almost as wide as possible in this gauge I made the decision to cut another blank. Interestingly I narrowed the scribed line I drew to 26.15mm, scribed the new line and cut the new blank in exactly the same way. It came out at almost exactly 26.25. You learn something every day 🙂

After cutting the frames and now soldering them together I’ve begun to realise just how long this loco is. The Z19 chassis (from which some of the 20’s were constructed) is stubby by comparison. I had a lot of fun today. I may not be turning out the world’s most accurate 20 class but I’m learning a lot and building on my meagre metal working skills. I’m also having a lot of fun! 🙂

More Frames

Things have been fairly busy for me over the last couple of weeks but I have managed to make some progress on my NSWGR (Z)20 class in 1:43.5. While things are moving more slowly than I’d prefer, I thought it would be worthwhile to do a blog update as I’ve now taken what I consider to be an important step. Before getting down to a detailed description I feel I should mention the range of Greg Edwards Data Sheets available to local Australian prototype modellers. Without this resource I’m not too sure such a project as my scratchbuilt 20 would be achievable. While the sheets are made available as standard in HO scale, they can be purchased in 1:43.5 if you contact Greg via the link. Buy the sheets if you’re building models and support Data Sheets. It’s an extremely worthwhile service.

This is a fairly low quality scan of the plan I'm using from the extensive Greg Edwards range of plans. I've overlaid this plan with some basic dimesions that I've used to order parts from UK suppliers to give them an idea of the spaces available.

This is a fairly low quality scan of the plan I’m using from the extensive Greg Edwards range of plans. I’ve overlaid this plan with some basic dimensions that I’ve used to order parts from UK suppliers to give them an idea of the spaces involved.

After making some slight adjustments to a slice from the above plan and using this as a cutting guide to allow me to produce the frames, I glued the appropriate part of the plan to the .7mm thick nickel silver sheet I’m using to make the frames and cut them out. I detailed most of this in my last post. I completed the cuts over a week ago and then I started doing some evaluation of things like the motor/gearbox combination I’d planned to use and what other materials I wanted to use in this part of the project. I had a Slaters motor/gearbox combination on hand but I came to this conclusion that this was too big for my 20 class. I visited the website of the UK firm ABC Gears and made contact with them to see if they could provide me with a motor and gearbox to suit my needs. I sent them the above plan with the dimensions overlaid on it and the proprietor got back to me and recommended one of their Mini-S gearboxes and I chose to go with a Maxon coreless 2.5W motor. I’ve read rave reviews of ABC’s products and the slow speed running of the Maxon motors is second to none, so I’ve heard. So I can’t wait to test these claims out and decide for myself. I’m assured that these motors are suitable for DCC. I also purchased some more NS sheet in various sizes from Eileen’s Emporium, purveyors of all things useful for the model railway hobbyist.

Over the last few days I completed the frames by drilling a series of holes where the brake hangers would be located and the Slaters plunger pickups.

This photo shows the frames separated and cleaned up: I've removed the paper plan overlay, filed off any stray solder and cleaned up the surfaces with wet and dry paper (600-1000 grit).

This photo shows the frames separated and cleaned up: I’ve removed the paper plan overlay, filed and scraped off any stray solder and cleaned up the surfaces with wet and dry paper (600-1000 grit). The large holes are for the pickups.

After some measuring and figuring I finally cut out the rectangular slots for the horn guides I plan to use. I have decided to stick with the Hobby Holidays ball race guides but found that these need a 10.5mm wide slot to allow the ball races to move up and down. This amount of gap is considerably wider than the prototype slot and in spite of being careful I seem to have miscalculated the amount of material I cut from the surrounding area of one of the slots (the one on the right in the photo). As a result one of the slots has thinner projections at the base of the slot than would be ideal. This will be behind the wheel and really won’t be apparent on the finished model, but I’d have preferred if they all looked the same.

Before separating the frames I decided to mill out the edges of the slots. All three were slightly under width (from .5mm to 1.2mm too narrow) but this was deliberate as it’s easy to remove material, much harder to add it back on after you’ve cut too deeply. I could have done this final removal and clean up with a file but it was a simple matter of attaching the frame sandwich to a block of wood using self tapping screws (utilizing the holes I’d drilled for the pickups), bolting this to my mill bed and accurately milling them out. It took all of five minutes to do this job whereas removing 1.2mm of material (about .6mm either side of the slot) from just one of the slots would have taken considerably longer.

Once I got this work completed it was finally time to separate the frames. In my last post I seem to remember saying that I’d “tack soldered” the long, straight, top edge of the two frames together. I used just a little flux and a small amount of solder. Well I also used my 80W soldering iron and I’ve discovered that solder loves NS! In past projects, after cutting out the shapes needed in the frames, I’ve been able to separate the frames using a bit of simple pressure from a Stanley knife. Not this time! The solder had migrated wonderfully well between the two halves and the only way they were coming apart was with plenty of heat, applied with the same 80W iron, and a bit of heavy pushing with the Stanley blade. In the end the halves separated but I’ll be a little more judicious with the solder next time 🙂

After applying some rivet detail to the frames the next step will be the cutting of the frame spacers out of more NS sheet. I’ll probably use some more .7mm sheet but I may decide to go with something thinner, say .55mm. This will make the bends I’ll incorporate into some of the spacers easier to make. I’ll do some testing and decide what I want to use when the time comes. I also need to check all my calculations around what width the spacers need to be before I make the cuts. At this stage my calculations say they need to be 19.2mm wide but I may vary this ever so slightly. I’ll make those checks as the time for cutting approaches, possibly over the coming weekend.


About 12 years ago I was in the early stages of planning a layout based around the Morpeth line. I was looking around for things to run on the layout and I decided that I’d purchase a kit from Agenoria Models. This firm makes a wide selection of 7mm scale locomotive kits of the smaller, “industrial” type and one of their offerings, a Manning Wardle class “L” 0-6-0 saddle tank loco, bore more than a passing resemblance to Pioneer, a MW loco that seemed to be involved in helping build most of the lines in New South Wales in the mid 19th century and ran in revenue service down most of the rest. This included the Morpeth line.

This is the most recent shot I have of Pioneer prior to her entering the works for a complete rebuild. She's pretending she's in running order in this shot. The truth is she hasn't turned a wheel in well over 7 years.

This is the most recent shot I have of Pioneer prior to her entering the works for a complete rebuild. She’s pretending she’s in running order in this shot. The truth is she hasn’t turned a wheel in well over 7 years.

I made a trip to the northern hemisphere in the 2003 and picked the MW kit up at Guidlex when I attended this splendid GOG event. The kit was stowed away in my bag and when I got home I bashed it into something approximating Pioneer and that should have been the end of the story but I did something rather silly. The Slaters wheels that were supplied with the kit had 8 spokes and Pioneers wheels had nine. Slaters happened to make a wheel that more closely approximated the arrangement of the spokes on Pioneer and were of the same diameter, so I made the fateful decision to order a set and installed them on the loco. Up until then she had run like a dream and was happy to chuff up and down my first Morpeth layout. However after the new wheels were installed the running got gradually worse till she disgraced herself completely at an exhibition where QW was appearing and after that she was packed away in her box. For 7 years!

I had essentially forgotten about her till recently when I was planning the next phase of Morpeth’s construction. There are a lot of small jobs to do on Morpeth to get the layout ready to show publicly again but once these are completed the next big construction jobs will commence. The biggest of these will be the construction of the fourth and final scenic module, the pier. This pier module will butt up to the existing layout and will incorporate a wooden trestle pier with one (or possibly two) ships tied up along side it. The pier will have track laid on its surface to allow a small loco to run on it and there should be enough room to allow a small, motorised crane to shuttle back and forth as well.

A good friend of mine by the name of Lindsay has recently been involved in the manufacture of some fiendishly tempting, moderately priced r-t-r 7mm industrial locos via the company Ixion. He’s done his level best to tempt me to buy one of his locos but I’ve managed to resist the temptation mainly through a sense of guilt over Pioneer. You see one of Ixion’s little locos would fill the role of Morpeth’s pier shunter very nicely but every time I get close to buying one of Ixion’s products I hear Pioneer calling me. “Fix me” she says. So I’ve decided to do just that. The reason I’ve decided to go down the route of fixing a loco I already own rather than buy in a r-t-r replacement is that, in spite of the fact that there’s going to be some real work in getting Pioneer to run properly, I’ve come to really love this little loco and she deserves to stretch her legs a bit after such a long convalescence.

I’ve been thinking about what I want to do to get Pioneer running well again over the last year or so and in the last 24 hours she’s gone from looking like the loco in the shot above to something resembling a Meccano set, one that hasn’t been assembled into anything yet.

I took a bit of determined persuasion with my biggest soldering iron to get the chassis of Pioneer broken down to this state.

It took a bit of determined persuasion with my biggest soldering iron to get the chassis of Pioneer broken down to this state.

I had made some unsuccessful efforts to fix Pioneer’s running in the past but I knew that to really sort out the problems I would need a better system of power pickup, improved contact between rail and wheel and I really needed to sort out the problems the new wheels had caused. To do all this really properly I needed to start from scratch and completely dismantle the chassis. After getting the frames separated and taking a really close look at the parts supplied with the original kit I’ve decided that to install the new components I want I’m going to have to scratch build a new set of frames and spacers. I was always going to install a new set of pickups (I’ve chosen to go with Slaters plunger type, ref 7157) on all six wheels and I’ve also made the decision to install sprung horn blocks on the two leading axles. The hornblocks I’ll be using are from a company by the name of Fourtrack which I suspect are no longer in business but I’m pretty sure you can pick them up from other sources. Upon close inspection of the chassis frames this morning I determined that the etched ones that came with the kit really won’t stand the sort of abuse I’m about to inflict upon them and as such I’ll be cutting out a new set of frames and spacers from NS sheet. This might sound radical but in actual fact it’s really quite easy to do, a lot easier than it sounds anyway. A far bigger and more complicated job is to alter the Fourtrack horn guides to get them to fit into the confined space between the frames of such a small locomotive. However I’m convinced it can be done and when the work is complete she will run like a Swiss watch.

The body of Pioneer is in for a makeover rather than a complete rebuild. The loco already has a DCC sound decoder and speaker installed. What I really want to do with the body is fix a slight lean on the tank and install some much needed animation in the form of lighting. She won’t be getting a headlight but I think a couple of two colour marker lamps on either end and a better firbox flicker will do her the world of good.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Getting What You Want

Am I alone in growing up in a family that believes it builds your character to put off getting what you want until you can afford it, that saving for something is preferrable to borrowing and that no one ever died from having to wait a little while to get some of the personal possessions they want? I talked about and planned on getting a woodworking router for over 15 years before finally making the purchase. Ok, I’ll concede that putting off the purchase of a tool for 15 years is possibly taking my parents’ dictum a little far but at least no one can accuse me of rushing decisions 🙂

Last week I achieved a long-term goal when a small Sherline metalworking lathe arrived by courier from the US. For me the interesting feature of this purchase is that it was  originally prompted by my consideration about whether or not to purchase a 1:43.5 brass model of a NSWR (C)38 class Pacific from Precision Scale about 2 years ago. At least it didn’t take me 15 years this time! 🙂 At that time I decided to put a bit of money aside in a savings account and add to this when possible to allow me to make the purchase if and when I decided I wanted one of these locomotives. To be honest, I couldn’t in any way justify such a purchase on the “operational” needs of my current layouts or any I’m likely to build in the foreseeable future. They just didn’t run Pacifics up the Morpeth branch! But this was never going to be about practicality and the operational needs of my layout: it was about the purchase of a model of a favourite prototype from a company that produces outstanding products.

So if this decision was about the owning of a beautiful thing, as opposed to the practical needs of my hobby, how come I ended up with a lathe, which I’ll admit is a fairly practical purchase? Thinking about whether or not to spend so much money on the loco actually clarified for me that the area I really wanted to take my hobby was into the scratchbuilding of O-scale locomotives. Perverse I know, but our needs and desires rarely run along straight tracks. The reality is that the needs of my career has required me to move all over the state over the last quarter century or so and to some degree this has prevented me from settling in one place long enough to accumulate the machinery I’ve always wanted to allow me to get into scratch building in a big way. So to summarize, my thinking ran along the lines that: ok I’d like a 38 but what I’d really like to do is build one myself. Result? I decided to buy a lathe and a mill! Simple ain’t it? 🙂

Luckily for me PSM took a lot longer than expected to release the 38 and so my savings accumulated to the point where I could easily purchase the lathe I wanted with some left over. Well ok more than some, I have enough to buy a 38 as well. Am I going to buy one? You’ll have to wait on that, I’m yet to finally decide. The real point of this post is not to boast about my capacity to follow my mother’s advice and save for what I want but to emphasize that you should aim to follow your interests in the hobby and not apologise to anyone for making the choices you do. You only get one shot at this, life is not a rehearsal. Don’t let the fact that you know nothing about a topic stop you from going out and getting involved in it: I know virtually nothing about metal work and workshop machines but that’s probably the main reason I’m so interested in this side of the hobby.

So to the lathe itself: why Sherline and why this model? After research, talking to people who know about these things, looking at endless YouTube videos, working with my Chinese manufactured mill and agonizing over the final decision for ages I came to the following conclusions:

– If you’re talking small, table top lathes the choice really comes down to three options: cheap(ish) Chinese machines, extremely expensive (but gloriously accurate) German machines and middle of the road US machines. In the end I didn’t feel I could justify the cost of a German lathe (even though I was sorely tempted) as my first machine. In addition I’m not convinced that the quality of the readily available Chinese machines is worth the money charged. If you have to spend the purchase price again upgrading the thing then where’s the price advantage? The Sherline seems to me to be a good balance between price and quality. I haven’t turned a single piece of metal on it yet and I can already tell it’s quality knocks the quality of my Chinese mill into a cocked hat!

– The Sherline has the great advantage of being light enough to allow you to mount it on a base and lift it off the work table for storage. I built the workbench you can see in the photos specifically to house my mill and lathe but this doesn’t mean I can’t use it for other purposes when I’m not using my lathe. None of us has unlimited space in our workshops so this is a feature that should not be overlooked.

– The packages available from Sherline make it easy and cost-effective to get into this area of the hobby. The company seems very aware that many of the people who buy their machines are just like me, they know bugger all. I bought a package that included everything I need to start turning metal. This does not mean that I won’t have to buy lots of accessories but at least I can use the machine. My mill arrived with nothing but a chuck and some spanners so I spent weeks researching what I needed and buying a wide range of expensive parts and accessories.

– I was able to get a lathe with a factory installed digital readout. Take my word for it, if you’re thinking about buying a lathe or a mill, get one with a DRO no matter what the brand.

So there you are, another item ticked on the bucket list. If you want to track down Sherline the company, just Google the name but if you live in Australia can I suggest you contact Ron Sher, the original founder of the Sherline company at My advice would be to make your purchase through him and not some of the more “sexy” online retailers. I saved a considerable amount of money buying my lathe from Ron and I highly recommend the service he provides.

The Case For Tools

Ok, I admit it, I’m a tool junky. I don’t buy every tool that is available but I like tools, I have a tendency to buy fairly specialist items (in addition to the standard ones most modellers have in their toolboxes) and I tend to like good ones. In my opinion there’s no point in having a tool if you’re not going to use it so I tend to spend a long while thinking about and considering a purchase. In the case of my mill, I spent something like six or seven years tossing the idea of getting one about before I actually made the purchase. If this seems like a long time, don’t ask how long it took for me to decide to get a woodworking router?

These days you can go onto YouTube and see videos of people doing all sorts of things and tools are no exception. I watched a bloke unpack his mill in one video before I got mine: I’m not exactly sure why you would post a video of unpacking a metalworking mill but I watched it right through so maybe that says something about both me and the guy who posted it! One thing I learned as I researched the purchase of a mill and other pieces of metalworking equipment is that, these days, the buyer seems to be faced with a choice between either a fairly cheap Chinese item or a top of the line German machine. There doesn’t seem to be a lot in the middle. If you’ve ever looked at the prices of Wabeco machines you’ll know that the Germans don’t just charge top dollar for their cars! 🙂

After the purchase of the mill I went about purchasing some items to allow me to use it and a milling vise was top of the list. I received a vise as a gift a couple of months ago of the same manufacture as the mill. I had assumed that a vise produced by the same company which produced my mill would be a pretty safe choice; this assumption turned out to be mistaken. It was immediately apparent, after unpacking the new vise from its box, that it was a pretty inferior item. It seemed to display all the faults I had read and heard a milling vise should not possess: the jaws lifted from the bed as they closed, the opening and closing action was sloppy and the design seemed too big for my mini-mill even though it was recommended for my particular mill. I decided I could live with this until I was using the vise and one of the retaining bolts sheered off when I was snugging it down. “That’s it”, I thought, “I’m taking this back”.

So yesterday I took a drive up to Brisbane to Carba Tec where I had bought the dud vise. What I had decided to do was use the money I would get on returning the vise and put it toward the purchase of a metal working break/roller/guillotine. I’ll post a photo of my new toy when I finish writing this post. In my opinion this piece of kit is pretty mandatory for anyone considering scratch building locomotives at home. I do have access to a metal shear at my school, but I like to have this sort of tool at home so I can potter and fiddle about with the pieces of metal I want to cut. This tends to be a bit difficult with a metalwork teacher hovering in the background worrying that his crazy deputy principal (and one he knows is an English teacher) will cut a finger off. The small guillotine I bought yesterday was purchased at a considerable discount and will be used in the first step I take in building my first steam loco.

The real irony in this story was that a month or so after getting the dud vise I went to Sydney and picked up a smaller vise from McJing (contact details appear on the right hand side of the blog page). This is a specialist tool supplier run by an Asian family and they sell a lot of tools sourced out of China. When I got home with this new 2″ vise I realised that it was quite a good quality German tool and it’s done some sterling service since I bought it. I’m so happy with it that I’m going to go back and buy a slightly bigger one to replace the dud item I returned yesterday.

The new metal guillotine will allow me to cut pieces of sheet metal with a good deal of accuracy and with none of the distortion of the sort that would be produced using hand snips or even a saw. The tool has a set of rollers and a break that allow for a range of shaping that, at this stage, I don’t really need. However you never know what will come in handy till you need it.

Building Locomotives

As an adult I’ve been modelling for a little over 22 years. I’ve been interested in model trains since I was a small boy, however my involvement as an adult really started in about 1989, when I was browsing in a newsagent and happened to pick up a copy of the Australian Model Railway Magazine. I credit the purchase of this single issue of AMRM with the start of an enjoyable lifelong hobby, and an empty wallet. I gave up smoking in September of that same year so I was probably looking for something to do with my hands! 🙂

The sheer variety of tasks one can undertake in this hobby, and the endless list of things I’ve learnt over the years, is probably what keeps me involved. However, like most railway modellers, I have a couple of favourite things in the hobby I like to do. I really enjoy the process of designing and building layout benchwork and I have a real passion for building structures but, if I had to choose a single part of the hobby over all others, it would have to be building locomotives from scratch and through assembling kits. This may come as a bit of a surprise to those modelling friends who know I’ve only built two locomotives in the last 10 years!

There are several reasons I work in O-scale and I’ve already discussed some of these in earlier posts. However probably the most significant is the fact that I’m drawn to the weight and heft of standard gauge locomotives in 1:43.5 and the way they move through pointwork. Because the key driving force for moving into this scale was the desire to build locomotives with the volume and weight inherent in this larger scale, for me the issue of curve radii and building an empire was a secondary consideration. Building layouts in this scale has never been an insuperable barrier to me, they simply became an enjoyable design challenge.

My locomotive building career started in the same place as many other Australian railway modellers: building a whitemetal and brass kit of Australian outline produced in the UK by DJH. My first loco kit happened to be a Footplate NSWR (C)32 class steam loco, quite possibly the biggest selling Australian outline kit of all time. When I think back on the crimes against metallurgy I committed upon that poor, unsuspecting kit I still cringe with horror, wondering how I ever got it to run: but run it did and it continued to run till the day I sold it on Ebay after switching scales.

It’s been 18 years since I assembled that kit and I can say without hesitation that from that time building locomotives is the one activity in this hobby that absorbs me like no other. However, while I’ve learnt a great deal in that time and had a great deal of fun doing so, I’ve had a growing realisation over the last few years years that I want to move into scratchbuilding locomotives in a serious way and there are limits to what I can do with hand tools. I’d been considering upgrading my workshop through the purchase of some bench-top metal working machinery for quite a while, but this year I finally took the plunge and purchased a bench-top milling machine. I have every intention of getting a lathe in the not too distant future.

I can’t say exactly why I decided to splash out and buy the mill now, but perhaps turning 50 in 2011 had something to do with it: none of us live forever! After a lot of Internet price comparisons and looking at Youtube videos I ended up buying myself a Sieg X2 minimill. This model is sold widely in the US under a range of brand names such as Grizzly and Micro Mark, but it’s essentially the same machine as the one I purchased through Ebay. I joined a Yahoo! group devoted to this machine and I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know it and set it up to try getting it to do what I want it to.

I started this blog with the primary intention of writing about the building of my new layout and constructing locomotives: well the purchase and set up of this mill – and later the other machinery I intend acquiring – is a significant element in this story. Perhaps I should be up front and admit that the extent of my metalworking experience consists of one semester of high school metalwork in Year 7 in 1974. I’m a secondary English/History teacher by profession, so when I say I know nothing about this sort of machinery I mean it! Has this stopped me? Not on your Nelly! If anything, the fact that I know bugger all is a good motivator to get in an do a bit of learnin’.

The quality of the X2 mill could at best be described as fair to middling: for the price I wouldn’t really expect anything else. Straight out of the box (look on Youtube, there’s a video of a guy unpacking one) it has some fairly bad habits that make doing the sort of precise work I want to carry out pretty hair raising. For instance, it has quite a bit of “play” (the model engineers call this backlash) in the feed adjustment and this is a result of the less than perfect engineering standards incorporated into the mill. The milling head also has a tendency to drop a couple of millimeters at inopportune times that can be quite alarming, leading to damage to the part you’re working on and the very expensive cutting tools installed in the mill at the time.

But all is not lost: by working around some of the machines idiosyncrasies I’ve managed to complete a few small jobs on my mill that have come out very satisfactorily and today I completed the installation of a fairly simple upgrade kit from an outfit in the US called Little Machine Shop. I’ll set up a link in the next day or so on my blog. This kit replaces the torsion spring that comes on the mill with an air spring that is attached through drilling and tapping some holes in the mill. I have to admit that this was a very scary exercise at first because there seems so many things that I could have stuffed up! But it worked out alright in the end and you can see the result in the photo I’ll post. The air spring sticks out of the top of the mill and carries the weight of the cutting head.

The improvement in accuracy was immediately apparent and the installation was a good learning and confidence raising exercise. I’ll make some posts later when I actually use the mill to do some modelling.