Saturday, 12 February 2011

A frustrating afternoon, or @#$%# brass locos!

I was lucky enough to be modelling in the 1980s, and also to have a reasonable income at the time, so Lambing Flat acquired a small fleet of brass locomotives to handle the traffic in the days of DC. When I went DCC in 2006, I was suddenly without all my favourite NSWGR steam locomotives and had to keep traffic moving with a few r-t-r locos, some of which weren't quite what one would expect to see on the Blayney-Demondrille cross-country line! It had always been my intention to fit sound chips to my old brass locos as the opportunity arose. Between the magazine and the other parts of my life, it was quite a while before that occurred. The first to be converted, about a year ago, was 5262, a Classic loco, fitted with the 3650 gal. tender that originally came with my Mansfield 50 class. (I have an aversion to having things as the manufacturer intended!)
The conversion was reasonably straightforward, chip and speaker in the tender, rewire the loco and fit a plug between engine and tender. Reassemble, test, program and she was soon doing what she was designed for, hauling trains!
Here she is, trundling into Lambing Flat.
About four months ago, I decided it was about time I got another of my favourite locos back into service, this time Classic Brass P class, 3324. This loco has always been one of my very favourite engines, and had given over 20 years of reliable service as a DC powered loco. I was expecting a similar trouble free conversion to the 50 class...
Boy, was I mistaken! The actual fitting of the chip and speaker was just as simple and straightforward as with the 50 class, but as soon as I got it on to the tracks... nightmare! It shorted out, the bogie wouldn't stay on the tracks and half the time it wouldn't move at all (though the sound system would merrily chuff away as if it was!) What had happened to my lovely, reliable DC loco!
After a week or two of fiddling and modifying, I finally managed to get it going reasonably well. I had managed to track down most of the shorts (amongst other things, the brakegear would touch the wheels, the bogie wheels would touch the bogie frames and the loco mainframes and cylinders). A bit of readjustment of the 'bits', some paper superglued onto parts of the frame and a bit of grinding here and there had her going most of the time and a slight loosening of the gearbox coverplate got rid of most of the stalling (but not all). However, no matter what I did, I could not get it to run with a front coupler on (which it did perfectly well for years under DC).
I had heard that locos can be 'temperamental' under DCC, but this was ridiculous! The only thing I can think of to explain it is that the shorts were always there, but DC is a lot more 'forgiving' of intermittent shorts than DCC and so the loco would hesitate momentarily, then carry on, rather than shut down as it does under DCC. the stalling issue was probably likewise hidden by the characteristics of DC (if it doesn't start, give it more juice!) I think that I had unconsciously adapted my driving style under DC to accommodate the loco's idiosyncrasies, but under DCC, where I have set up the locos to behave like the real thing (lots of momentum) and drive them like one would a full-size loco (open the throttle to where I want the loco's speed to be when it has finished accelerating and let the software in the chip take care of the acceleration, then shut off 'steam' when I want to stop and let the loco 'drift' to a stand, or use the 'brake' function to stop sooner if needed). This method of driving locos definitely adds immeasurably to the realism of the layout, but it does cause problems with locos that aren't quite right. Despite this, however, there is no doubt that the average locomotive runs much more smoothly under DCC than under DC.
Anyway, back to the saga of 3324. Today I decided to see if I could solve a few of the problems that still afflicted her, and after much frustration and head scratching, I have almost managed it! The main problem was with the front bogie, it was still very temperamental and would still short out or derail every now and then. A very close inspection revealed that the bogie wheels were moving back and forth a little and coming into contact with the front of the engine frames and the guard iron (the piece of metal pointing down in front of the leading bogie wheels). A bit of grinding with the Dremel and some paper superglued on to the bottom surface fixed that. Testing was reasonably successful, but at abrupt changes of gradient (a bit of bad track in the engine siding - it has been referred to the Per Way dept for action!) I discovered that the guard irons were momentarily touching the track! Some more filing and that problem was taken care of. Buoyed by this success I fitted the front coupler (a loco that can't shunt from the front end is a bit of a nuisance on LF). First curve it came to (1m radius!) and it was in the dirt! Another close inspection revealed that even though I had cut a notch in each bogie sideframe to clear the coupler back in 1984 when she first entered service, it wasn't enough and the bogie was fouling the coupler. Why this hadn't been a problem back in DC days is still a mystery... Anyway, a bit more cutting and filing and that problem was behind me!
State of play is that 3324 now goes around all the curves and through the less than perfect track on the layout, but still occasionally 'gets stuck' and stalls (a tap on the cab roof gets her going). If anyone has any ideas about solving this one, I'm all ears!
Here is the culprit...
Considering that she was last painted in 1984, and has had a lot of handling since, she isn't in too bad a condition, but she definitely is in need of a 'tune up' of the weathering. That is the next job on the agenda...
So what have I learnt from this? Well, had I known how difficult this loco was going to be to convert to DCC, I think I might have sold it to a rich collector and invested in a couple more Trainorama 32s! (They look great once the strange gap in the barrel of the chimney is filled and the wheels painted, they run beautifully and are very easy to fit with DCC.) However, it has highlighted that no matter how well brass locos run under DC, they can be temperamental under DCC and it pays to check them very carefully for shorts and binding.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Coal traffic on Lambing Flat and weathering the Eureka Models four-wheel coal hoppers

I've had a couple of straight-out-of-the-box Eureka Models four-wheel coal hoppers (an LCH and a CCH) trundling around the layout for ages now. One might be forgiven for asking what a couple of coal hoppers would be doing in the Central West, given the scarcity of coal mines. Surprising as it may seem, they did appear from time to time on the Blayney-Demondrille line (which is the inspiration for Lambing Flat, at least trafficwise). Apart from their use as 'match trucks' (to allow the coupling of vehicles with autocouplers only to hook drawgeared vehicles - LCH and CCH hoppers had autocouplers and buffers) they were also seen quite regularly in small numbers (as were the BCH bogie hoppers), conveying loco coal from the mines around Lithgow to the coal stages at Demondrille and Junee. They could be used for coal consigned to these locations as these stages were the large 'bunker' types and could be recharged from hopper wagons. Every other location sourcing loco coal via the Blayney-Demondrille line had the low stages, which required some poor labourer to shovel the coal out of an open wagon manually. Traffic to these coal stages mainly travelled in S and K trucks.

Here is a scan of Chris Sim's photo, published in Lawrance Ryan's 'Lines to the Lachlan - revised edition' showing 5412 standing at Blayney with the Cowra mixed on 13 January 1966.
Included in the consist are a couple of loaded BCH coal hoppers destined for the coal stage at Demondrille or Junee.
So, having established that the LCH and CCH are legitimate vehicles to run through Lambing Flat, it was time to 'scruff' them up a bit, as unweathered vehicles, no matter how well made, have no place on LF!
Ok, so let’s get out some blacks and browns and slather it all over the models... ahh... no!
When I weather a model, I don't just throw some generic paint at it and call it weathered, I try to replicate the weathering patterns see on the real thing. Each vehicle type (and the same with locos and passenger rolling stock) develops a distinctive weathering pattern, depending on its design, usage and areas of operation. So the first step is not to get out the paints, the first step is to find some photos of the prototype and establish what sort of weathering occurred to the prototype.
My collection of calendars and books stretches back to the late 1960s, so I have plenty of photos to be inspired by... the biggest problem is finding them in the huge pile of reference!
A couple of enjoyable nights browsing turned up these...
This is a section from a photograph taken at Port Waratah in 1971 by Peter Attenborough that was published in the AMRM 2005 Calendar (November). It shows quite nicely a selection of weathered four-wheel hoppers.

The NSWRTM Calendar for 1992 (June) turned up this photo by Graham Cotterall, captured near Sandy Hollow on 12 April 1969, which shows two nicely weathered CCH hoppers acting as match trucks either side of a bufferless S truck.
While these photos were taken quite late in the steam era, the weathering pattern is quite consistent with what I have observed in earlier photos. Some of the features that stand out include the rusty patina on the metal parts of the vehicles and the weathering of the timber parts to a greyish tint. As is typical of four-wheelers, there is a particular build-up of rust on the springs and drawgear.
OK, now we know what they are supposed to look like, it’s time to get the weathering paints out! For this project, I used Tamiya XF-10 Flat Brown, Tamiya XF-52 Flat Earth and Gunze Sangyo Aqueous Hobby Color H343 Soot, diluted with Isocol alcohol, applied as per my article Weathering with Acrylics - Simple Techniques for Rolling Stock which appeared in AMRM No.265 (August 2007).
First step (after giving them a very thorough wash in warm water with a touch of detergent added, then rinsing) was to apply a wash of Tamiya XF-10 Flat Brown, heavily diluted with Isocol alcohol, to the metal parts of the wagons.
The wagon springs, wheel rims and brakeshoes were then brush painted with a not quite so dilute solution of the Flat Brown and Isocol. Once that had all dried, a very light coat of dilute Tamiya XF-52 Flat Earth was airbrushed around the bottom of the vehicle and then a very dilute mix of Gunze Sangyo Aqueous Hobby Color H343 Soot was sprayed over the wagon. When that had dried a final wash of very dilute Soot was brush painted on to the timber parts of the wagons.

Before starting to paint, I had added some interior detail to the 'hungry boards' of the CCH and fixed the metal spreader bars in place inside the wagons according to Peter Jarvis's article Enhancing Eureka's Coal Hoppers in AMRM No.274 (February 2009) with the difference that these are closer to the correct position in the LCH and the coal load (not shown) modified to sit slightly higher than Peter's article.
The CCH showing the interior. The 'hungry boards' have been scribed to represent the planks and wood grain, plus the metal strengthening strips replicated with styrene strips and the spreader bars glued in place.
The LCH had had the spreader bars added, slightly higher than in Peter's article. The plastic coal loads provided by Eureka were modified to sit down over the bars, a per Peter's article, and then real coal glued on top of them. They are still removable, as are all the loads in use on LF.

Here they are, loaded with Lithgow 'rock', enroute to Demondrille.

The wider scene shows NSWGR Standard Goods No.5262, rolling into Lambing Flat sometime in the mid-1950s with a mixed train from Cowra. Included in the consist are the loaded coal hoppers bound for the coal stage at Demondrille.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

A serendipitous discovery, or, the very belated completion of RU25241.

Back in the late 1990s I basically stopped modelling in HO scale. It was triggered by the purchase of my first 'modern' PC and then the family moved from Burwood to Beecroft in 1999 and I was able to indulge in a long supressed desire to have a garden railway. The first part of the 2000s was taken up with the construction of my 1:24 scale 'Rurr Valley Railway' and then in 2006 I suddenly found myself the Production Manager of the Australian Model Railway Magazine. Getting AMRM 'under control' was a steep learning curve and modelling very much took a back seat to everything else that was going on in my life, including playing over 35 soccer with the Beecroft Wombats! However, lately I have rediscovered the joys of modelling in HO scale and while delving into the long hidden 'down at the bottom, at the back' of my 'display' cabinet I found this...

I had built this RU wheat hopper from a Trax/Casula kit, with the addition of an ILM RU 'dress-up' kit, during the late 1990s. I have around 20 RU wagons on the layout, some constructed from modified Trax/Casula kits and some unmodified (but weathered) r-t-r Trainorama (original release), placed into service between 1983 and the late '90s. Construction on this one had been completed to the initial painting stage, but then came the sudden cessation of HO scale modelling activities, and the model was placed in the back of the display case and promptly forgotten about for over 10 years! I 'rediscovered' it a week or so ago and this is how it looked in late January 2011 when I had finally decalled it and done the first wash of Tamiya XF-10 Flat Brown. I was aiming for the 'grimy with a brown tinge' that the prototypes adopted after a short time in service. When I started painting it back in 1990-whatever I had undercoated it with self etch black and then applied a light 'colour coat' to tint to a dark grey to represent weathered NSWGR Gunmetal grey. What paint I actually used for that effect, I no longer remember! I had started to apply the next layer of weathering, washes of Tamiya XF-10 Flat Brown, using the techniques I outlined in my article 'Weathering with Acrylics - Simple Techniques for Rolling Stock' in AMRM Issue 265 (August 2007). Then it was forgotten... When I rediscovered it, I first of all added decals, using 'bits' from various decal sheets I have 'tucked away' after over 30 years of modelling in HO scale (in other words, I have no idea what they are or where they come from!) Then the whole model was washed with the diluted in Isocol alcohol Tamiya Flat Brown, letting the brown accumulate around the ribs and other protrubences of the model. Next step was to get out the airbrush and put on the final weathering layer (I allow a few models to accumulate, then I 'final layer' the lot in one hit; more on them in a future post...). First I did a very light spray of Tamiya XF-52 Flat earth around the chassis of the model, to represent road dirt thrown up by the movement of trains, then gave it a very light 'mist' of Gunze Sangyo Aqueous Hobby Color H343 Soot to 'tie it all together'. Once that was done I handpainted some flat black on the coupler trip pin (to disguise it as a brake hose) and added some semi-gloss black around the axleboxes, to represent spilt lubrication oil. It now looks like this...
I just realised, while writing this, that I had forgotten to paint in the waybill behind the wagon clip, just to the right of the number. No worries, a short break and its done in the next photo!
So, while it may have taken over ten years, another RU has finally joined the other 20 or so RU hoppers trundling around Lambing Flat, moving the wheat and otherwise generally being useful and picturesque!