February 27, 2014

"Great British Locomotives - conversion of Mallard - Bachmann A4 Chassis"

A recent magazine release seriously piqued my interest, and that of the rest of the modelling world it seems. Yes, Great British Locomotives Collection (or GBL as we'll call it now) has hit the new stands with a 1:76 scale model of the Mallard. It's not working model, but it has great potential in my view...

Straight away, I knew it would have modelling potential and proceeded to buy up a few body shells to experiment with. Looking at the model closely, it is clearly based on Hornby's super detail A4 model, and in fact exhibits a few of the same flaws. It is a much simplified model, with moulded handrails throughout (still separately applied mind!) and simplified fittings for the non working chassis under both locomotive and tender. 

So, as requested elsewhere, here a few pictures of my first conversions using the GBL body shells.

The first one uses the latest Bachmann A4 chassis (originally a William Whitelaw model) and the idea is to use the locomotive chassis in conjunction with a set of Hornby A4 non corridor tender frames, and the GBL body shell, to make a much improved "Bachmann" A4. This will be known as Prototype 1.

As you can see, at this stage I had simply removed the tender and locomotive body shell and fixed them loosely to the tender frames and locomotive chassis in order to see what needed to be done. Under the body shell, in the firebox area, is a screw point which needs removing in order for the body shell to sit down on the locomotive chassis.

The Bachmann chassis has a single attachment point at the front, and two small ones at the rear, so I modified the body shell accordingly to match this.

Fitting a new buffer beam to the Hornby tender frames, and carefully working on the fit of the body shell and tender body shell, we're at the stage before the real modelling starts effectively.

Just ahead of Prototype 1 is a previous modelling project, no.32 Gannet. This uses a super detail Hornby A4 and one of my A4 Pacific conversion kits. I plan on using spares from these kits in a similar fashion on the GBL body shell.

On the subject of the kits, anyone who has not as yet been invoiced for a kit and knows they had a kit reserved, PLEASE EMAIL as soon as possible to the company address so I can sort them accordingly.

The tender from the GBL model showcases a few manufacturing problems, but these can be put right quite easily with filler and sanding paper.

A few days later, prototype one has had its handrails removed. On the right is Prototype 2 awaiting its new chassis. Prototype 2 differs from Prototype 1 in only one respect: it will be using a Railroad Flying Scotsman chassis instead of the Bachmann alternative.

All the handrails were removed at this point, and the tender sides rubbed down. I had made a start on removing the nameplates. The chimney does come off very easily as it happens, and it will be replaced in due course with a single chimney from Graeme King's range of resin components.

Overall, replacing the handrails on the tender and locomotive body are going to be surprisingly easy: most of them simply pop out and a small handrail will sort the rest.

The bulk of the valve gear on the Bachmann chassis is the main reason for my decision to make two prototypes using different chassis. I want to eventually make a standard range of A4s for my new layout, and all other non standard A4s - including Gannet, depicted earlier - will be sold off to pay for the standard range. I just want them all to match and having such a hotch potch of A4s in my locomotive stud was rather depressing at times.

One improvement I am looking to make is at the front end with the buffers, and after gluing on, and filling the gaps in the buffer beam "apron", holes will be drilled for Maygib double spencer buffers to be fitted, thus fixing one aspect of the Hornby and Bachmann models I absolutely detest. A new front coupling will be fitted too!

So, bringing the story up to date (March 2nd 2014) here we have Prototype 2, which as promised uses a Hornby Railroad Flying Scotsman chassis. This is the one with the flywheel and three pole motor, and I've been rather taken with this chassis.

One modification I made to an earlier conversion using the Railroad Scotsman model that I will repeat is for the coupling between the locomotive and tender, as seen above. This means I can retain the commonality of parts between my entire locomotive fleet, as the coupling bar is on the locomotive and not the tender!

Here's Prototypes 1 and 2 together, the differences and similarities between them quite obvious at this point. Prototype 2 is not as far along as Prototype 1 but both will have their valances removed and a few other jobs too before the end of this coming week.

There is the potential, of course, for someone who does want to keep the valances on, using the Railroad Scotsman model as a quick way of producing an apple green A4...

Overall, the great thing about the GBL body shells is that, being effectively cheap but accurate knock offs of the Hornby A4 model, a large number can be bought to model with (at £2.99 for crying out loud - and a few I bought in bulk at £1.50 each come to that!) and it doesn't matter particularly if you damage one as it was only £2.99. Further editions in the series are more expensive and obviously this will affect our buying habits.

Nevertheless, good value for money and hopefully will produce a few unique silk purses from some not so sow's ears.

Last update: I had Prototype 2 fitted properly onto its chassis and running happily. The only thing I have noticed is that the valve gear tenders to be too low into the body shell - this is down to Hornby's design of the valve gear, in a way, so I will have to find a way of compromising on this issue once the valances are removed.

That said, it's entirely possible that this issue won't be noticeable when the valances are removed!

Prototype 1 will end up as 60006 Sir Ralph Wedgwood, Prototype 2 is likely to end up as no.25 Falcon.

Until next time!

February 20, 2014

"A4 conversions…getting out of hand?!"

Things may have got out of hand a bit with the A4 conversions…more on this later this weekend!

Until next time.

February 10, 2014

"A4 Etches Updates"

Every time I think I am getting somewhere with the A4 etches, another problem is throw up. Previously the first full sold set went to a valuable customer, and some issues were found. I have now spent three weeks on and off, examining every set and preparing them for dispatch.

The latest issue is the packaging - a complete rethink was required - and finally, the packaging I have ordered in specially to send the etches in has arrived.

So Paypal invoices will be with customers in the next week or so.

I apologise profusely for the delay, however I think you will agree that you'd rather have decent quality etches, decent quality instructions (shipping with the etches, as of now) and decent packaging to make sure there are no issues on delivery.

Until next time!

February 08, 2014

"Bumper modelling post! Hornby Duke of Gloucester, Bachmann J11"

Hornby's Duke of Gloucester. Long awaited, here at last in its Railroad form.

So, is it worth it?

The reason I pose that question is that of late, much criticism has been heaped on Hornby. Executives have left the company, arrival dates for models in the locomotive ranges have slipped and slipped and slipped…all the while, those that do arrive exhibit some curious design decisions, and 71000 is no exception in this case.

Let's start with the tender. There's a perfectly reasonable set of Britannia tender frames available from Hornby's stable, used for both the aforementioned Brit and the Clan models. The older and more detailed tender frames - component X9602 - can be seen here, a spare part I purchased with a mind to fitting under a new BR1C body. 

The Duke's tender body shell, however, shows its incompatibility with the new frames. The one piece plastic body (which is a nice moulding, if simpler than all previous main range locomotives) 

Tender wheel sets appear to be identical and indeed will fit in both frames.

The bottom plate of the DoG tender looks identical to the Brit's, however uses shorter screws (so longer ones will be required to fit this bottom plate onto the Brit tender chassis). Brake rigging and nem coupler are identical.

The tender frames themselves - well, which do you think is which?

Those shown above are the Duke's, top, and the Hornby super detail Brit, below. Both are extremely similar, except that the Brit frames hold the wheels in plastic axle boxes whereas the DoG frames are metal (this is potentially better than the Brit's), however you can see that the Brit tender has all wheel pickup and a plug for DCC. Otherwise they're almost identical.

In my view the Duke's tender is directly based on the Brit one but extremely simplified - so why oh why did Hornby make the coupling on the Duke's tender twice the size of the Brit tender? There seems to be no easy way to change the coupling bar on the Brit or Duke's tender so it remains a problem for me to sort currently.

The Brit frames have sprung buffers and, I would argue, nicer representation of the springs and axle boxes, but there is extremely little between them as the Duke's tender is so clearly designed to be as close as possible. The Duke's frames are also very weighty, being a one piece mazak casting and in my view this is better for running as it sits better on the track I find.

Originally I thought the buffers on the Duke's tender were plastic - they're not, they're metal, extremely durable and part of the mazak casting which amazes me. Overall, I'm having second thoughts about "upgrading" the tender frames as sprung buffers suddenly don't look like the be all and end all if the Duke's tender runs better. However I suspect it's not too difficult to cut these off, file away the excess, and drill suitable location holes to fit a spare set of Hornby sprung buffers to bring the Duke's frames into line.

The bottom plate fits on both but you'll need different length screws to fit the same bottom plate to both frames. Holes are in the same place for the screws too.

Mixed bag with the tender, some things surprisingly better in my view, some things a retrograde step but it's not looking as bad as I originally thought by any means. Just the tender coupling and the buffers that has really that has put me off replacing the frames on mine.

This to me makes sense in terms of tooling up a new tender - should a new Brit appear with the latter tender frames in the Railroad range, you'll know why!

In anticipation of changing the driving wheels, I've had a go at fitting the Brit coupling rods.

The coupling rods fit like a glove, everything is as it should be and everything seems to work to the same standard.

All of the crankpins and screws are identical to those on the Brit, so the Brit coupling rods were a straight fit on.

A couple of rolling road sessions later checking everything is okay and the Duke is running much smoother as a result, the slight slackness in the coupling rods removing the extreme stiffness my Duke exhibited.

The next stage is to fit Britannia driving wheels, complete with brass bearings. 

So the big question, is it a bad model?

There are many things I think Hornby got right with the Duke of Gloucester model. The Railroad version, externally, looks very good and is very accurate to the prototype. Yes, it is simpler than its previously very detailed Britannia model, but that was then and this is now, and the previous Railroad Tornado set the precedent and hit its market spectacularly well.

The let down in the model lies entirely under the body shell. The chassis is not brilliant. Never mind the solitary six pickups on the driving wheels, the plastic Caprotti gear (easier to damage when picking up than anything else I've encountered) or the extremely simplistic tender to locomotive drawbar, it's the lack of brass bearings, the square cut axles and the one piece connecting rods which disappoint.

The overall chassis design gives you a locomotive model which could be very hit or miss. Will it be the one piece driving rods today, the wheels out of quarter due to strangely shaped axle boxes or it will be that neither of these was well manufactured in the first place?

Hornby's model of Tornado has many parallels with the Duke model and indeed also has a simpler, mostly moulded plastic body shell, and the chassis has only six pickups on the driving wheels and the tender to locomotive connection is very basic too.

However, this model does have brass bearings, inset into a well designed mazak chassis block, and my Railroad Tornado has given many thousands (yes, thousands) of hours service over the last three (or is it four now?) years.

Three weeks of struggling to get my Duke of Gloucester to run anywhere near half as well as the Tornado model has convinced me of the excellence of Hornby's previous design, and question the retail price for 71000 when compared with 60163.

It's a shame as Hornby gets it so right in other areas, as my forthcoming blog on British Railway Mk1 coach models will demonstrate next week.

However, do I like the model? Yes I do, very much so. it captures the prototype for shape, proportions and detail very well, the Railroad model is nicely finished, and whilst the mechanism isn't to my liking, the simpler components are and it shows what Hornby can do when they put their mind to it in certain respects.

However, I plead with you Hornby - no more plastic buffers. They are naff: awful, easily broken and just look poor in comparison to everything else on the market. Unsprung metal buffers please.

So from the big express passenger Pacific to the humble goods engine, and Bachmann's model of the Robinson designed J11 locomotive touched down in the Copley Hill works a few days after 71000 did. 

It is a little stunner. All wheel pickup on locomotive and tender, lots of separately fitted (and well moulded too) details, a half moulded/separate fitting smokebox door dart, and a superb running chassis with (wait for it) brass bearings inset into shaped axle boxes.

I bought one Bachmann J11 and somehow have ended up with three now…they're that good! (Of course I did have to sell a few models to fund them, but it was worth it…)

Until next time.