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.

Brisbane Train Show

I spent some time with a friend at the AMRA’s Brisbane model train exhibition yesterday. This is about the fifth or sixth of these shows I’ve been to as either a visitor or an exhibitor and I must admit I’ve watched with interest the problems the organisers have faced with venues over the last few years. It was held at Doomben race course for the last couple of years and, as is the way with these things, this venue seemed to have suited some and not others as it was on multiple levels reached by escalators. I only attended the shows at Doomben as a visitor, I didn’t go as an exhibitor, but I can’t say I envied people having to lug their stands to the 2nd storey of the venue. This year the exhibition was back at the exhibition grounds but it was held in what is essentially an enormous tent. I kid you not. A few friends I spoke to who did have exhibits there said that access was fantastic as the venue allows the walls to be rolled up and you can drive your can/van right into the interior for unloading. However the floor is essentially a car park and as such, is very uneven. One layout owner I spoke to had his layout choked up on small blocks of wood he’d cut up on Friday afternoon after visiting Bunnings! The drop from one end of the layout to the other was something like 250mm! And it wasn’t a very big layout. In spite of this all the layouts had trains running and there was a long of people outside waiting to get in so I reckon the show is likely to be considered a success. It was busy! For me the two stand out layouts at the show were Rob Ritchie’s Gilbert Sidings and Bullenburg Creek. Rob’s layout is a small 7mm SG shunting puzzle and he’s made explicit use of the ideas I first saw used on a Tasmanian layout that appeared at an AMRA Sydney show a few years back. The layout has a black backdrop and it’s lighting is focussed on the spots the builder wants the viewer to see. Rob started building this layout in February this year and has brought it to a fantastic level of completion in that time. I know he’s been busy with it because it’s been ages since he’s rung me to talk on the phone 🙂 Allen Tarrant’s Bullenburg Creek is a beautiful HO NSWR layout set in the Riverina district of NSW. It reminded me a lot of the fine work by that master modeller Rodney James and also had a passing similarity to Graham Holland’s 1:43.5 scale layout Binnabri. It’s the first time I’ve seen either of these layouts and they were well worth the drive north, even though my navigator got us lost on the way back south! 🙂 I’ve done a little more work on the coal hopper this week, adding couplers and picking out the metal strapping in black paint. This painting was an experiment to view the effect as this colouring appears in the prototype photos of Muswellbrook colliery wagons. I’ve also have a suspicion that I got the load decals wrong with these wagons holding a lot less than 16 tons, but I can always fix this later.

I still need to finish off this wagon with some weathering and rust but I do like the strapping picked out on black which more clsely matches the prototype photos I have.

I still need to finish off this wagon with some weathering and rust but I do like the strapping picked out in black which more closely matches the prototype photos I have.

I met Ian Phemister yesterday who was working on Bullenburg Creek. He’s building a layout based on Muswellbrook in HO. He and I had a natter about Muswellbrook coal hoppers and he mentioned he has a plan of the longer wheel based version of the hopper that carried 12 tons. He promised to send me a copy of these plans at some point. As I would like to investigate scratch building at least one of these wagons this information will come in very useful. Thanks Ian.

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! 🙂 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.


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?

Milling The Floor


Milling The Floor

This photo shows the floor screwed to its MDF support base and clamped in the mill. The tool I’m using here is a 6mm end mill which came in a set. As these tools are designed to mill steel, working on a polyurethan casting is hardly going to cause it much trouble. The mill’s table is shown at just about the end of its travel, this is why I had to stop half way through the job and shift the casting down so that I could mill the other end. Once this side was done, I unscrewed the casting and simply turned it around and milled along the other side.