Saturday, 12 June 2021

June 2021 FCAG meeting

Nigel, Alisdair, Alastair, Andy, Jim, Simon, Graham, and James attended our June meeting on a sunny summer day at the Almondell premises of the Edinburgh Society of Model Engineers, thanks to the good offices of Alastair, who likes his live steam. It was nice to see everyone face-to-face again and to be able to inspect each others' models close up rather than rely on Zoom. A quick round-up:

Jim had brought along a row of buildings from Kirkallanmuir. It was quite a surprise to realise that they are in semi-low relief. I should have made more of an effort to photo the very finely detailed shop windows ... next time ...)

 Alasdair had his Yankee Tank and Highland Railway Director's saloon:

 Simon had rakes of fish vans, insulated and otherwise:

Nigel was working on a brick workshop with northlight roofs:


All in all a hive of industry, with social distancing and open doors and windows (not always very practical in Scotland, but no problem with today's fine weather). Several group members worked on turnouts, trying to master Laurie Adams chairplates without going cross-eyed.

Meanwhile, outside, the ESME permanent way engineers were working in a somewhat larger scale. Presumably they lost all their chairplates in the carpet and were obliged to solder the rails directly to the sleepers. However they get extra marks for doing mixed-gauge turnouts.

It’s a strange feeling, coming out of the lockdown period and back to physical meetings. I was in two minds whether to turn up, having done so little modelling during the long winter ... but after an afternoon’s chatting and wielding a hot soldering iron, motivation returns. Good old area groups! Or maybe it was just the sunshine? Does it matter?

We hope, health rules permitting, to meet at Almondell again next month.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

May 2021 FCAG meeting

Our May virtual meeting had the theme of "scenery". Alistair, Alisdair, Alasdair, Simon, Jim, Roy, Tony, Richard, Graham, Nigel, Mick and Andy attended.

First up was Andy, who for historical interest showed us how he'd created the hillside for a viaduct on his previous layout with layers of expanded polystyrene in the traditional way.

More recently he hit on a good technique to represent birch trees: trunks from a wire armature, coated with PVA glue which is then dried with a heat gun. Foliage from commercial sources is then added with a spray of glue:

The end result looks very convincing. Ignore the pins, the glue was still drying! The wall in this diorama is simply made from a photo of a neighbour's garden wall stuck down on card, and looks fine at normal viewing distance.

Simon showed us progress with Glenfinnan. The substructure for scenery is built up with high-density foam which can then be carved away as required.

The backscene will be painted onto a continuous roll of vinyl salvaged from a discarded pop-up marketing banner (no, not the one from the 2mmSA roadshow!) and will be supported on uprights which will slot into the gap of the beam (two skins of ply with softwood separators) at the baseboard edge.

Simon uses thin neoprene rubber sheet as a track base, aiming to get some sound insulation. This led to some discussion ... the consensus was that good running is far more important than a noisy baseboard, and that a soft track base material is likely to lead to trouble which can only be remedied by ripping up the track.

Mick showed us how scenery for "Callaton" had been built up from scribed board for retaining walls:

and strips of Weetabix packet (now we know where he gets his muscles from) glued into a grid with PVA as a landscape former.

This is then covered with a single layer of paper towels, glued down with more PVA:

which is then painted.

To replicate sidings where the ballast is covered with a layer of earth, oil and general muck, he used slivers of cardboard between the Easitrac sleepers, trimmed off neatly then edged with a larger piece of card:

This works nicely when coloured and the gaps filled (adding weeds as you go). However it's best planned before tracklaying commences; it's somewhat awkward to retrofit.

Mick also showed some pointwork for the "kip" on his latest project, "Pitt Hill".

He also showed us a video of it working ... but it has not yet been approved for general release by the British Board of Film Censors, so for now you will have to wait.

Jim showed a few photos to illustrate his approach to scenery. In his first layout "Connerburn", developed in the 1980s, he paid careful attention to distracting the viewer as a train left the layout for the fiddle yard, placing distractions such as trees, signals, road vehicles and shrubs to catch the eye:

Scenery on Connerburn was built up with papier-mâché made from old egg cartons over card formers:

Paint and tree-planting completed the scene.

On his current project "Kirkallanmuir", some areas have been built up with expanded polystyrene rather than paper over card formers, to give solid material into which tree-trunks can be inserted. This is covered with a thin slurry (aim for the consistency of double cream) of DAS modelling clay, coloured with powdered poster paint. The advantage of using DAS is that it can be reworked once dry - when moistened it becomes pliable again, and can be re-sculpted with fresh material blended in if required.

Jim's approach to modelling sidings with sleeper-level muck is to use a sand-plaster-Cascamite glue dry mix, spread into place, then moistened with water with a drop of washing-up liquid added to destroy its surface tension. The best way to apply the water is using an eye-dropper drawn along the railhead - this soaks into the ballast mix and hardens after a couple of days.

We had a short digression about track, which led Tony to mention the advantages of buying rather than building pointwork in order to put a trouble-free result in place quickly. As ever it's a question of saving time by spending money, but if trackwork is not your favourite task, it's worth considering seriously. Tony shared an image of some pointwork he commissioned from Keith Armes and very nice it looked too.

Now that most of us have had a second vaccination, after 15 months of Zooming we plan to have a Covid-compliant physical meeting on 12 June, as long as it remains permissible. Thanks to the generous hospitality of the Edinburgh Society of Model Engineers, this will be at their newly-completed Almondell Model Engineering Centre near Livingston in central Scotland.

To ensure we stay in touch with some of the further-flung group members, however, we won't abandon the virtual part entirely. It will be interesting to see how this new format evolves. Each member must remember to bring their all their own modelling kit, facemasks, lunch, crockery and utensils ... everything except the kitchen sink, which is already available at ESME.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

April 2021 FCAG meeting

Our virtual meeting this month had the snappy theme "Uses, Misuses, Advantages, Disadvantages and Frustrations in the use of DCC". Nigel, Jim, James, Stephen, Chris G, all three Al(i/a)s(d/t)airs, Graham, Simon and visitor Andrew participated. Most are already using DCC, or planning to use it, so there was plenty experience on tap and the discussion was wide-ranging. Some noteworthy points: 

  • retrofitting DCC to small prototypes is difficult, it's much easier to plan it in the design phase.
  • DCC doesn't eliminate the need to clean track! (and Roco track rubbers are much preferable to Peco, since they don't crumble)
  • it's important to try a few controllers to discover your personal preference before deciding which to buy, because there is no consensus on whether rotary, push-button, or variations on these themes are best for speed and direction control.
  • Although a home-brew DCC controller based on an Arduino or similar board can cost as little as £30, the best starting point for many is a capable but extendable main unit from Zephyr or Digitrax in the £170-£200 bracket.
  • The Railcom system (allowing controlled entities to talk back to the controller) comes into its own on club layouts since it allows locos to inform the controller of their details, reducing confusion when other peoples' models are being operated
  • a SPROG (dedicated hardware allowing programming via a graphical user interface on a PC/laptop/tablet) is much more convenient than programming via a DCC controller
  • for locos which do a lot of shunting as well as hauling trains, it can be helpful to set up a "yard mode" with finer control and firmer braking as well as the normal traffic settings
  • "power districts" (subdivision of the layout into sections, with individual switched  power feeds which can be isolated) are recommended to ease fault-finding, since they allow a short-circuit to be localised much more quickly
  • coupling designs requiring a "shuffle" to uncouple can have the shuffle action programmed into a single key, where the DCC chip supports it (typically European designs)

We spent a couple of hours talking through all that. There were a couple of progress reports from individual layouts. Chris G showed us how trackwork, earthworks and structures are progressing on Bosalek:

Simon is at a similar stage with Glenfinnan:

He is less happy with the running gear for his observation saloon: the 3D-printed body does not make sufficient allowance for the wheels and rides too high: some excavation will be required. However, it's progressing.

Although we expect to have at least one more virtual meeting (on 8 May), we are daring to hope that a physical meeting may be possible, no doubt with masks, distancing and so on, in June.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

March 2021 FCAG meeting

Our March meeting attracted 13 participants - Alisdair, Alasdair, Simon, Jim, Stephen, Mick, Nigel, Richard, Chris M, Chris G, Martin, Andy and Graham all zoomed in for a few hours of "show and tell".

Simon went first. He's constructing a turntable fiddle yard for "Glenfinnan", using a router on a trammel to get the radius right.

He's also working on an ex-LNE Coronation stock "beavertail" observation saloon, as modified by BR in the 1950s for use on the West Highland. He started with the basic shell from Simon Dawson's Rue d'Etropal range, available from Shapeways. This shot shows that the print is quite rough, but Simon found it cleaned up very easily, polishing it with sandpaper stuck to bits of wooden clothes pegs (apparently his neighbours are putting motion detectors on their drying greens).

It will need Gresley 8'6" bogies: these were ordered from the shop, received and built all in a week. This shot is of the prototype of course, not the model!

He's also still working on a tandem for the FCAG shed scene layout.

Mick has been implementing advanced DCC settings (with Nigel's help) using jmri decoder pro in order to get his Class 37's lights to behave prototypically - he's added the ability to switch off the red markers at the trailing end when hauling a train, and to light red markers at both ends when stationary on a running line. He showed us this using a mirror so we could see both end of the loco at the same time.

Chris G. has been moving ahead with pointwork for Bosaleck. There are guitar-string droppers (arrowed red) from the point blades which engage in the tubes on the operating units.

He'll shortly start work on an M7 loco conversion.

Nigel has been discussing the group's involvement in sleeper production. The current production line, established by Bill Blackburn, uses a heavyweight guillotine to reduce 2'x3' SRBP PCB sheets into 300mm x 18mm, 19mm or 20mm strips.

Next, the strips are gapped using a circular saw with a table and fence to remove the copper layer but not the SRBP substrate.

Finally a third machine (not illustrated) is used to chop individual sleepers.

These are somewhat inconvenient to store and transport for the proposed group sleeper-production sessions (sleep-overs?). Nigel has drawn up a design for a simpler gapping attachment to fit the vertical slide on a lathe: a jockey wheel keeps the sleeper blank firmly on the table and the saw blade, mounted on an arbor in the lathe, is kept out of harm's way under the table.

Further developments are expected.

Chris M. has been detailing his LMS 4F, inspired in part by Nick Mitchell's excellent tutorial. Boiler backhead fittings under construction, cruelly magnified:

 Reversing crank and coal-dampening c0ck: 

Smokebox detail:

Chimney, dome, water pickup dome and tank filler turned on the lathe:

Jim is continuing to add buildings to Kirkallanmuir along the road leading downhill from the overbridge next the station.

A "kit of parts" was cut out from styrene sheet. The baseplate has holes to locate on dowels on the baseboard: the little blocks of scrap styrene are to strengthen the joint with the wall. Jim runs a fillet of Easitrac glue along the joint as well.

In position:
The next building down the hill is to be based on another local nineteenth-century prototype:

The styrene shell:  

The shell in place:

Richard has been designing etches for pithead gear and for wagons. PPD must be glad he discovered 2mm modelling, he's keeping them busy!

I think I have posted shots of his build of Fencehouses Model Foundry P4 hopper kits before, but he has improved the end stanchions, which are built up from multiple layers of etch, flooded with solder.

They recently made a trip to the paintshop. This shot compares Railtec "NCB" lettering trasnfers on the left, and Fox on the right. His preference is for Railtec, both for price and for ease of application:

He has another twelve of these to build. As if that was not enough, he's also produced an Easitrac point for the FCAG group layout:

Martin has also been busy with mineral wagons, with several variants of bodies and brake gear:

and with BR Mark 1 DSO and BSO bodies from Masterclass etches via the 2mmSA shop:

Alasdair has been working on turnouts for the group layout as well:

Meanwhile his near-namesake, Alisdair, has advanced his Highland Railway "Yankee Tank" to be ready for painting.

A keepalive capacitor is hidden between the frames

and the tanks, bunker and boiler are filled with lead weight. The superstructure is built on a sheet of thin PCB, which is handy for attaching parts while ensuring electrical isolation. An 0816S 8mm coreless motor from Micromotor powers the loco, with the only reduction being the worm and wheel. The motor runs slightly fast for this to be fully effective with analogue power, but is very controllable using DCC and tweaked CVs.

A hive of activity ... .we will see if it continues as lockdown loosens! 

Our next meeting, still a virtual affair, will be on April 10th: its theme is yet undecided.