By Simon Fletcher

As an avid follower of Model of the Month and noting an appeal for new material, I thought I’d write something in response.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I am always inspired by the ingenuity of the contributors; every article has something that piques the interest. My modelling background is in boats, but the thought of building a scale model of Victory terrifies me.  So I guess I’d just describe my ability as ‘average’, so please bear this in mind as you read on: my aim is to inspire, not infuriate! And to reinforce the point, my hands shake badly and always have done: I model as a kind of challenge and to do the best I can.  All you need is a healthy dose of patience!

Firstly, I guess I ought to frame what follows as my approach to modelling is.  I’m not a ‘rivet counter’ (although I have been known to, on occasion), but follow the ethos that the end product captures the spirit of the original: a kind of ‘modeller’s license’ if you will.  My approach to kits is that they form the basis from which to work, saving much time and effort.  In truth, we have a symbiotic relationship with kits: the kit suppliers put a great deal of effort and pride into what they do, and it is up to us to convert that into the best finished article that we can. My aim is to end up with something that looks ‘right’ to the casual observer (which is most people who get to see our work, which far outweighs the number of people who have intimate knowledge of the real thing).

So now to the subject of IP Engineering’s kit of FR brake van No 6.  For this, I had photos of the real thing, snapped a couple of years ago at the FR Victorian Weekend.  I know it looks like a shed on wheels, but it has an esoteric charm.  As I’ve since found out, it was a modified quarryman’s coach, so guess the ‘shed on wheels’ isn’t a bad description!  When I started on this one, the first part of the build caused me a headache: the chassis floor was warped.  I pondered soaking it and coercing it flat, but then concluded it’d be quicker to make one. I raided my boat strip wood box and found some walnut rectangular section… aha! Longits (longitudinal members).  Then a bag of coffee stirrers from Hobbycraft, cut to length, became floorboards.  These were just superglued to the longits on a flat surface and I could carry on with the build. Phew!  A quick tip on superglued structural joints: 5 Star Adhesives do something called Kapow. They are tiny beads that you can make a fillet in the joint, and then drip (do NOT put the glue nozzle into these) superglue onto the fillet.  The joint is way stronger than just gluing the wood.

Looking in through the roof of van 6

I wanted an interior, so raided boat stripwood again; ¼” x 0.6mm lime and reference to my photos guided me in planking the interior. The eagle-eyed will notice that, when painted, the paint doesn’t get into all the joints of the planking… so what?  The real deal exhibits this same characteristic anyway. I also decided that I’d have a functioning door… more on this grave error of judgement later.

Similarly for the windowsills inside and framing strips outside (see photos).  The window frame beading was very fiddly and is represented in the laser etched detail, but I felt the character of the real thing needed this to be done.  Coffee stirrers made the bench seats and fiddly fretsawing the seat supports.  Sanding sealer and 400 grade wet and dry multiple (2 or more) times is my method of prepping wood for paint.  I built the seats onto the sides and end before assembling, mainly because painting would be impossible when assembled!

Inside the van is a brake wheel on a stanchion.  I turned up the stanchion from brass on a lathe, but plastic tube, dowel or biro body would do.  The hand wheel was made from 2mm plastic… and a whole lot of fiddly needle filing.  Memo to self; buy whenever possible!  I’ve done a few handwheels and it really is a pain, so I only do this as a last resort.  The assembly could then be bolted through the floor by means on an M3 stud and nut when the time came.

I’d cut out the door aperture in the end panel and fitted strips for the door to close against. This makes the door panel less strong, so needed handling with care. The door itself was just made from stripwood and sanded to fit snugly.

I assembled the van end and sides to the chassis and left off the door end, on the basis that fitting door, hinges and window bars would be easier than when assembled to the chassis.  This was the plan… but plans have a habit of changing!

The balcony end

The balcony handrail was a real trial.  The laser cut one in the kit was a bit ‘clunky’ for me, so I wanted a more delicate version.  This would have to be in brass.  Having cut down some ¼” brass strip and annealed to try and bend the stagger ‘in plane’ of the original, I was not happy with the result.  Rethink needed!  Plan B was to cut the brass strip including the stagger.  Lots of measuring and care with the Dremel cutting wheel produced the desired effect.  I had to make sure my bends were accurate – I was not making another!  Stanchions were brass tube with annealed and flattened ends, soldered into the hand rail. Again the result was more elegant and well worth the effort (and swearing). I also fitted the vacuum pipe support.  This isn’t a slavish reproduction of the prototype, but some cunningly bent brass strip with a strategically placed modelling pin to simulate the clamp bolt.  This is an example of modeller’s license, but the effect is none the worse for it, to me.  I used my trusty modelling pins to fix it all in place on to the chassis.  I turned and milled buffers to look a bit closer to reality than those supplied. Vacuum pipes are Slaters parts; the very curvy one at the non-balcony end being an involved modification that I’ll describe in another article…..

Now I must confess to a small hiatus in build at this point: progress was slow and irritating, so I took a break for a few weeks.  I have learned enough about modelling to realise that such a break can help, rather than trying to press on… usually ending up with mistakes, or something you aren’t happy with.

Returning to the build, I went against Plan A and fitted the door end.  I hadn’t done the window bars, or made the door hinges, but figured the progress was worth the pain later.  This may be true, but in hindsight…..don’t do it!

I made the roof up next.  I like the roof to be removable (in case I need to insert figures, for example), but there are only two roof formers in the kit, so I used these as a template and cut out a couple more that would be fitted just inside the carriage ends. On the outside of the roof, I stuck a piece of handkerchief to give the impression of canvas before painting; the real thing has this feature and seems to have beading around the edges, so the hanky was cut back about 3mm from the edge.  I stuck the material in place at the corners with a spot of superglue and then drowned it in sanding sealer, before attempting to prime and paint matt black.

So now I couldn’t put it off any more: the dreaded door.  The hinges were just brass tube soldered to the edge of some brass sheet, then cut and filed to shape.  The pintle pins were just bent brass rod.  All easy enough, but to fit the pintles, I had to drill holes from the inside of the carriage…..what a pain!  With much more perseverance, the door fitting was achieved.  In the meantime, I’d also made a couple of brass door knobs and used small bits of plastikard for the lock mechanism and catch.  I should have stuck to Plan A.

The door hinges and catch

Now for the windows.  By this time, I’d painted the carriage exterior and had to fit the end windows before fitting the window bars.  The kit suggests these windows have frames like the side windows, but my photos show they don’t. IP provide enough glazing to simply fix along the inside of the carriage, which is more than plenty if you choose to fit each individual pane, as I did.  It’s more fiddly fitting and filing, but worth it.  Panes are fitted with Formula 500 glue (PVA based, and easy to get rid of excess with water/brush/wet paper towel).  Fortunately at this point, I realised that the side windows would really make the window bars difficult to fit, so left them out for now.

Window bars are brass rod, where I annealed the ends and smacked flat with a hammer and a flat punch. I painted these before fitting, because you will have great difficulty painting the window-side when fitted!  I measured up for spacing and then with the tiniest blob of epoxy, fitted the bars to one window frame.  I only attempted the other window 24 hrs later and this all went OK.

Alongside the window bar fitting, I’d been painting the side window frames and fitting the glazing, so these went in next.  Only a minor amount of fettling was needed to fit the frames into the carriage sides, so went quite quickly.

And this was the top side pretty much done.  One of the features of the original is a sort of bedstead frame just below the axle boxes.  I’d been thinking a lot about where to get some small brass angle, but couldn’t seem to find what I needed.  Desperation set in. Rummaging around in my stock of bits of brass yielded a length of small box section….close in dimension to what I was after.  Desperation drives desperate acts and in this case, that meant careful filing off of two corners to give two lengths of angle.  Madness! Anyway, that done, I could drill the angles to take small brass rod to make up the ‘bedstead’, which was ultimately pinned to the underside of the axle boxes with modelling pins.

The running gear and brakes

This should have been the end of it, but brake shoes needed fitting. I used the kit ones, but filed down the shoe hangers to give a bit of 3D. These were superglued in the correct position and the joints reinforced with Kapow filler for strength.  At this point, I should have called time on it, but decided to add brake rods.  These are nothing like what should be there, but what the heck! As it turns out, you can’t see these.

Finished… or is it?

So all that remained was a bit of touching up and fitting the transfers… except it wasn’t!

The last bit is sort of a project within a project, which can be done for any railway: the Last Vehicle board.  The basis for this is a piece of 1/16” plastikard, cut and filed to the approximately correct dimensions, with a small hole drilled centrally near one edge.  This was then painted with a few coats of matt red paint and left for a couple of days. Using some masking tape (the fine Tamiya stuff, rather than household) to give size and position, I then just used a pencil to lightly draw in the letters.

For the next bit, you will need a very fine brush.  If you don’t have one, buy a good quality brush from an artists supplies shop or Hobbycraft. Do the white letters first.  Don’t worry about accuracy or the white paint coverage.  I used Tamiya acrylic paints and thinners for this.  And every time I finished a painting session, I clean my brush with the thinners, followed by a rinse with acetone: you’ll be amazed how much paint comes out in the acetone wash!

Painting the Last Vehicle board

The next stage is to do the black shadowing.  Concentrate on getting the outline about right, rather than worrying about your white letters.  You can use masking tape again to get the tops and bottoms level and aligned.  Any mistakes or ‘bleed’ along the tape edges can be sorted out later (you can see in the picture, I still needed to fiddle with the alignment). Now go back to doing the white letters.  I tend to dip the brush in thinners, dab on kitchen towel, dip in the paint, wipe on the towel and then apply to the piece.  I’ve done this previously on model boats where transfers are not available, so can vouch for the method.

Completed board

Fundamentally, what you will be doing now is refining of the letter and shadow edges with the relevant colour.  All paints are matt: very quick drying.  Once happy, leave for 48 hrs and finish with a satin lacquer (I just use Halfords satin enamel: dries very hard).  Unfortunately, the weather had turned colder and damp when I lacquered and it got a bit of a ‘white bloom’. At first I was annoyed, but then realised that the effect was similar to weathering / sun bleaching, so left it as a happy accident.  Don’t worry too much about letter edges; by the time you’ve hung on your train, you won’t be looking as closely as when you made it!  How you hang it on your carriage / truck is up to you.  I bent up what I call a ‘lazy shackle’ (you could just use a ring) from 0.5mm brass and the chain is very fine gold chain (because I had some!).

Reverse of the board

Anyway, you can see for yourself if the effort was worthwhile. And remember, I have a tremor – shaky hands – if I can do it, then I suspect you can too.  It’s fiddly, but a nice characterful detail. And of note… and a surprise to me was that the reverse of the board has a number, all shadowed as per the “last vehicle” text.  I don’t know why, but captured by accident as the train trundled past.

Or you can do one on computer and print it out… but where’s the challenge in that?  The originals are / were hand painted and not by signwriters, so a bit of imperfection or wonkiness just adds to the charm.

Hopefully this will inspire others, as others have inspired me. With a bit of effort, varying degrees of patience and some downright bloody mindedness not to be defeated, you can choose how much finessing you do to your next build.  It will do you proud and the people who put so much effort into providing the kits without which our hobby would be a poorer place… and much harder!  I hope IP approve too?