By Alan Regan

Our Web Master, Tim Gregson, invited me to describe the evolution of my Merlin W&LLR #14 (SLR #85), which appeared on the web site as Weekly Photo Number 24 some weeks ago.  I bought the loco at least 18 years ago, when Wendy Davies was running Merlin Locos.  I knew it was really new when Wendy confided that she had just glued the cab roof ventilator on before I arrived to collect the engine.  This was my first new engine but my joy at its final acquisition was tempered slightly by disappointment with the rudimentary nature of the pony trucks.  I always knew that it lacked cow catchers, sand boxes and other pipe work which are prominent features on the real McCoy, but headlights, again such a feature, were simple turned brass lamps.  I resolved to correct all of these shortcomings.

Tim and I share a mutual, regrettably late and much lamented friend and model engineer, Adrian Gill, formerly of Maidstone MES.  Adrian and I were work colleagues and he helped me correct the first problem: those pony trucks.  Having studied the loco at Llanfair, I drew up what I thought was needed.  Adrian and I built the frames from 3/64th and 7/64th sheet steel in his workshop.  We used a jig to ensure that they were square, held the pieces in place with rivets and silver soldered them together (my first such lesson).  The rivets were filed flush afterwards.  The wheels were turned from steel bar, secured with grub screws to silver steel axles (which make the trucks regaugable) and press-fit bearings were made from gunmetal.  A sprung plunger was fitted to both trucks bearing upwards on the chassis cross members.  Dummy axle boxes came from Ron Grant and were carefully epoxied over the bearings (thus preventing the axles moving or for that matter ever being removed).  Finally, a small hole was drilled into the swinging arm behind the pivot point of each truck and a piece of steel rod inserted into each hole, effectively providing compensation between the trucks, i.e. each turn in the same direction as the truck enters a curve (see picture).  Once painted, the pony trucks not only looked the part but also performed well, leading the loco into curves as opposed to lurching into them.

The next job was the sandboxes and pipe work.  I think I discussed what I was doing with Ian Pearse at a show and he offered to sell me a detail kit which he had manufactured years ago.  This comprised sand boxes, operating arms and brass frets for the cow catchers.  I was very pleased with the former and fitted these to the appropriate place on the tank tops.  Along the way I noticed that the boiler sloped backwards, so I shimmed this level.  I fabricated the levers to go between the operating arms from N-gauge rail, filed flat.  I made and fitted the blower pipe from brass rod at the same time, along with a little collar to simulate the flange between the pipe and the smokebox.

My confidence was growing so I turned to the headlamps.  I reused the turned lamps and fabricated front and rear brackets from copper sheet (what I had to hand).  The lamps were soft soldered to the brackets and the resultant assemblies were fitted to the bodywork.  I also included the lighting conduits which again are fairly prominent on the prototype.  I wish I’d included lamps or LEDs – maybe in the future…

This left the buffer beams and cow catchers.  The buffer beams are solid, stepped affairs on the prototype.  I fabricated these from steel plate with a double thickness across the centre where the step exists.  I made a jig to build the cow catchers (they are identical front and rear) but did not use the frets supplier by Ian and I felt that these didn’t capture the look of the prototype.  Soldering was a combination of silver (for the basic structure) and soft (for the individual vertical bars).  Although they look frail, they are in fact quite strung, as a collision with a point lever once proved.  The final job in this area was to add vacuum pipes, which I didn’t get completely right as they are both on the same side of the loco.  They came from Brandbright and nicely finished the job off, even if prototypically slightly wrong.

There are also a number of alterations designed to improve running or appearance, one of which was cribbed from an article that Tag wrote (‘Chippy Joe’ was the name of his SLR #85 I think):

  • A baffle was fitted to the chimney to reduce the amount of condensate thrown out on starting.

  • The lubricator was turned through 90 degrees to allow a drain to be fitted under the cab floor (this was one of Tag’s modifications) and move it away from the door opening.

  • The brackets holding the servos were strengthened to make servo movement more precise.

  • The loco was converted to 40 MHz and a servo smoother fitted to reduce Rusty Bolt (source of smoother: Brandbright).

  • Finally, the upper half of the cab was painted off-white and the lower half painted black.

All of this was done in stages over several years, which is why I describe this as an evolution and not a conversion.  And the journey doesn’t end here.  It is currently fitted with LGB pattern couplings (source: Pearse) but these will shortly give way to Accucraft W&L hook and bar couplings at 33 mm above rail height, to match the W&L stock which I’ve recently converted.  This may not be prototypical but I think it will make for a very nice, closely coupled train.  As ever, you’re never done in this hobby.

Alan Regan