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Midland Great Western mail train

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David Holman

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 Those who have been following my Belmullet and Workshop threads will know I am moving my modelling back to the early 1900s. These will still continue, but am about to embark on a new, long term project, to build a Midland Great Western mail train. This will comprise the D16 4-4-0 'Wolf Dog' and three six wheel carriages - a TPO, a brake third and a third. I already have an Alphagraphix etched kit for the third, plus a card kit for the TPO from the same source. May need to scratch build the brake, although it too is in the Alphagraphix catalogue, but not available at the moment. The D16 will be scratchbuilt, though [somewhat mysteriously] Roger Cromblehome did kindly give me some etches, clearly labelled for a D16, which makes me wonder if a kit might be available one day?

 Whatever. The purpose of this new thread is hopefully to both chart progress and draw together ideas, research, answers to questions etc in one place, rather than pose separate questions in that thread. There are some very knowledgeable people out there, who have been extremely kind and helpful in the past, so am hoping you can do it again!. Please!

 So what have I got thus far? Well, it all started with Jonathan Beaumont's excellent book - Rails to Achill. In it is a fantastic photo of Wolf Dog - a handsome 4-4-0 of simple lines, although the GSR locomotive 'bible' strongly suggest its capabilities did not live up to its name. Nevertheless, it was love at first sight. It carried a livery of bright, lined green, which must have looked wonderful and though no colour photos exist, there is a print of a painting in the Lord O'Neill's album, which shows a D16 hauling a train of brown six wheelers. Put the two together and I've been smitten ever since...

 First jobs will be to produce some 7mm scale drawings of the loco and tender. Jonathan's book has a nice outline drawing of both in 4mm scale, which is a start, but if anyone can point me to anything more detailed, then please let me know.  Cab, especially backhead, details will be especially useful.  As you can see from the photos below, I've got etches for the cab sides, bogie, coupling roads and a couple of other pieces, though am tempted to follow my usual path and start with a set of profile milled rods from Precision Models.

 One thing's for sure - this will not be a quick project, but will aim to report as things develop.








Edited by David Holman
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Excellent news! I very much look forward to following this thread!

The mail train was indeed typically three to four six-wheelers in the period you have chosen. All three classes were catered for - at the least, a 1st / 2nd compo, a third and a full brake or brake 3rd. The Achill line, in early days, usually had a full 1st, full 2nd and full 3rd, with either a full brake (birdcage) or brake 3rd.

If you move forward into GSR times, a branch LIKE Belmullet would very often have a single bogie composite and a six-wheel brake 3rd.

The Alphagrafix kits are, I feel, very nice items for budget and they "look the part" for many prototypes which have no other alternative to total scratchbuilding. As can be seen with their CIE green stuff, though, with its WHITE lining and "snails" instead of light green, livery details on these are unfortunately only correct on about 50% of their catalogue, and some are complete flights of fancy! The birdcage brake in the above catalogue seems to be in Isle of Man loco green, with (British) Southern Railway gold numerals, not remotely close to anything that ever ran here......anyway; rant over;

Your "D-bogie" or "D16" will, given its provenance, be a great delight to behold, especially in lined Midland green.

The Midland also had some very fine 60ft full brake parcels coaches which were used on mail trains. They were bogies built about 1901/3, as far as I can recall without access to archives as I've all my stuff packed up in the process of moving house!

Edited by jhb171achill
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There are three colour plates of MGWR interest in the Railway Magazine...

A nice loco portrait of 129 "Celtic" in MGWR blue livery, Vol 11, 1902

129 again, this time in Green, hauling a train of brown coaches on the Limited Mail in Vol 31, 1912

no 6 "Kylemore" locomotive portrait, in very dark blue/black, Vol 41, 1917

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Hi David,

4mm sale drawings for the D16s were printed in the April 1976 edition of Model Railways magazine as part of the Irish Miscellany series.

I tracked down a copy a while ago as a 2mm scale D16 is on my to do list.

I've PMed you a copy.

Whilst being a long way from a works GA drawing I hope they might be of some use, I've not checked the accuracy of the drawings mind.

Looking forward to seeing this train develop.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Making a start

 First of all, many thanks again to everyone who has offered help. The last week or so has been spent poring over drawings and photos, plus having a good read of Geoff Holt's two books on scratch building locomotives, again. As an all round layout builder, I find it can be very useful to remind myself of basic techniques when you start again on something you haven't done for ages.

 So, the first job was to make an outline drawing of loco and tender. Wheels, chimney, dome etc are not included, as this is all about working out basic things like the frames and, in particular, how to fit a motor and gearbox. Being a small, light weight loco, this hasn't proved easy and is almost certainly going to be expensive.  The only thing I can find thus far is an ABC 'Mini', which with one of their 16/26 motors is going to set me back around £120. However, this is a real Rolls Royce of a mechanism, which despite its small size packs quite a punch and has been used in things like a Franco-Crosti 9F 2-10-0 - so should be enough for my three coach mail train, especially as it will leave plenty of room in the firebox for ballast. You can see the unit shaded in on the drawing.

 Reading Geoff Holt's first book on building the chassis, decided to copy his recommended method, so Wolf Dog will have a fixed rear driving axle, sprung lead drivers and an equalised bogie. Geoff also suggests splitting the frames so that those above the bogie are inside the driving wheel frames to allow a bit of extra side play. The brass strip I've used is about 36 thou, meaning I can overlay a bit of 10thou plastic later to help avoid shorting if the bogie wheels did touch the frames. The choice of thicker material [28thou is the norm in 7mm scale] is partly down to what I had in stock and also because the cut outs for the horn blocks mean there are a couple of areas where the frames could be quite weak. 

 Construction basically involved soldering two strips of brass together, marking out the frames with a scriber and then laboriously fretting them out with a fine saw and the filing to shape. Used one of the etched coupling roads to mark the axles holes and drilled the fixed one out with the pillar drill.

 Four small bits of metal doesn't seem much for four days sawing, filing and polishing, but I now have my driving wheel frames and a couple of spacers. You can see the cut outs for the Slater's sprung horn blocks, along with their drawing and a second photo of a test fit of one. Scratchbuilding is not something to be rushed!





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1 hour ago, David Holman said:

 Four small bits of metal doesn't seem much for four days sawing

As Galteemore said, that's quite a bit of work.  Vrey nice looking frames, and I'm very interested in the split frame idea.  I have always made frames as a single unit to maintain strength, so I'll be watching this with interest.

I note from your drawing, it appears the rasied frame under the smokebox is part of the front frame?  I have tackled this in two ways in the past.  For 458, frame extensions were added afterwards, which made for a large flat footplate to work with, whilst 670 was built with raised frames with infill pieces.  Once things are complete it is very diffictult to tell the difference, howver I felt the work load on 670 was greater as it was necessary to install supports to carry the footplate at the correct height & level with each other.  Doing it again, it would follow the flat footplate and faux frame extensions.  Just my tw'pence worth.


Looking good, and I'll be following this with interest.


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 Well, a little anyway, but no matter how many locomotives I build, there is always something intrinsically satisfying in creating a working chassis. Everything else after that is just 'cosmetic'! OK, still requires a lot of work, but it is really nice to know that the model is going to work well.

  Getting there has been 'interesting' shall we say. The extended frames above the bogie were a straightforward bit of cutting and filing, while soldering everything together with the frame spacers went reasonably well. The main issue was ensuring everything was square and level, but apart from a bit of tweaking, everything seems to sit nicely.

 However, the horn blocks proved a right pain - though it must be said it was my own fault in not reading the instructions carefully enough and when combined with my latent ability to assemble anything that is 'handed' back to front, resulted in three hours of bad language yesterday afternoon, culminating in me thinking for a while that the frame spacers I'd made were too wide and the chassis would need dismantling. I'd already had to file down the fixed, 'tophat' bearings, as the new driving wheels were very tight. The hornblocks were likewise fouling the other pair of drivers so it was a case of either leaving things alone for a bit, or chucking the whole lot in the bin!

 Fortunately, sanity prevailed and this morning saw where I'd gone wrong. Reversing the hornblocks provided the necessary clearances and though the frame cut outs needed enlarging a little, this time everything went together nicely. I'd used the Poppy's Woodtech jig to assemble the frames, but went old school for the hornblocks by just using my tapered, extended axles to align them. The coupling rods go over the ends and then hair grips hold the hornblocks in place while they are soldered to the frames. So, with mounting excitement, it was then a case of adding the wheels and coupling rods to check everything rolled smoothly, which it did! Big sigh of relief, hurry in from the workshop to show the missus [usual underwhelmed response, but hey, I know how important this bit is] and celebrate with a cuppa.

 There now followed a small bonus as Roger Cromblehome [Alphagraphix] kindly gave me a handful of etches, which included bogie side frames and spacers, so it was only half an hour's work to put these together. The frames include a slot to enable some side play to be included, so once some new materials arrive from Eileen's Emporium, that will be the next step. 







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Chassis complete [ish]

 Awaiting the motor and gearbox, but the loco chassis is reasonably complete. Latest work has focussed on the following areas:

  • Bogie - made an equalised unit similar to the ones on my Sligo tanks. A block of 6mm square brass was drilled through the middle to slot on to the 6BA bolt which acts as the pivot. The brass block then had 1.2mm holes drilled in each end to take short pieces of brass wire, over which are slipped two small coil springs [same as the ones used on the hornblocks]. The brass block is then encased in the centre of the bogie by a bottom plate with a slot in it, same as the top plate. A large spring, the same as used for couplings, gos over the 6BA bolt and then a nut and two washers hold the whole thing in place under the frames. Turning the nut adjusts the height of the ride against the drivers.
  • The splendid photo of Wolf Dog in Rails to Achill shows some nice detail on the bogie - essentially the springs and equalising beams. These are dummy on the model, but were made from a mixture of brass strip and plastic, glued in place, with white metal springs chopped out of some wagon W-irons.
  • Brakes - had to make up four brake hangers from brass sheet and these were drilled each end to slide on to 12BA bolts. The top bolts are soldered into the frames, while the bottom ones are soldered on to spacers made from more flat sheet. Using bolts mean I can eventually fit the brakes in place with 12BA nuts. The actual brake blocks will be glued in place later and be cut from plastic sheet, which will reduce the risk of any shorting. Was pleased to find that on the frets that Roger gave me were the four brake rods - a real bonus as cutting these from sheet would have been a right pain!
  • Coupling rod bosses - the etched rods looked a bit light weight, so I soldered squares of 28 thou brass to each end, filed them to shape and then drilled through for the bearings again, so they now look much more substantial, as per the real thing.
  • Behind the front brakes on one side is what appears to the the regulator rod, so made this from some plastic strip. It goes behind the front driver and space is tight here, so again plastic was important to avoid any shorting.
  • Finally, made up an overlay of 10 thou plastic sheet to go on the frames above the bogie. Another piece of insulation, this time with some large rivets [made from 1mm rod] welded on, though I see in the photo that one of them has gone walkabout!

 So, decent progress. However the next step is probably the biggest challenge as it involves making the valences and running plate. It would be so much easier if the latter was straight and flat, but it's not, so will have to go very carefully.







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Useful stuff David especially as I am planning to build a MGWR 4-4-0 most likely a C Class at some stage.

The large bogie wheels and lack of frame cut outs are significant challenges especially if the loco is expected to run on anything less than prototypical curves, GSWR 4-4-0s with their smaller bogie wheels and frame cut outs are a lot simpler!

I used to crank the leading end of the frames on 4-4-0s  inwards to improve clearance and avoid shorting on curves, but the plastcicard overlays look like a good solution to the problem.


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[Lots] of rude words

Thought the footplate and valences would be a challenge and I was right, though I didn't really help myself. Never mind 'measure twice, cut once', the moral is really just 'measure, measure, measure...

 Started by soldering two strips of nickel silver together for the valences, after which came the laborious task of marking and then cutting out with a fine bladed fret saw, followed by carefully filing to shape. The footplate was done the same way, but to follow the curves of the valances, it needed a lot of trial and error to work out the dimensions and I eventually resorted to a piece of thread. The footplate is 10thou nickel silver, the valances are 18thou.

 So far, so good and the initial soldering went ok too. Taking a tip from Geoff Holt's book, I made a template/jig of the valance curves from a thin piece of hardwood, then clamped this to a piece of MDF and the workbench. A strip of cereal packet card was stapled on as well, so as to ensure the footplate has a small overhang. Indeed, it was all going far too well, but when I tried the footplate against the chassis, it became clear that all was not as it should be. The cut outs on the footplate top needed a fair bit of adjustment, while I also discovered that the spacers on the frames weren't consistent in their width. Hence a profusion of bad language followed by having to dismantle parts of the chassis and file everything down to the correct dimensions.

 Geoff Holt has a novel way of joining the chassis to the loco body, which involves the front of the former fitting into a slot behind the buffer beam, then the rear of the chassis is bolted to the drag beam with two 10BA bolts. This avoids using nuts and bolts under the footplate, but required a bit of thought, not least to ensure that everything lines up properly before drilling the bolt holes. Needless to say, what I now have is the mark two version.

 On top of all this, I also discovered that cutting the front frames to the prototypical shape meant the bogie wouldn't sit properly, so have hard to carve a chunk off them.  Fingers crossed, am hoping I've now got these issues solved and can now move on to things like splashers and foot steps while I psyche myself for the boiler and smokebox.








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Looking excellent, David. 

I have been steering away from those raised footplate details for the reasons you allude to.  The most tricky I will attempt at the moment are the steped footplate detail with the curve between the two.  Think GSR 670 Class.

Just a quick note on the tab type retainer for the front footplate.  I like this arrangement, however on 458 I ran into a problem when adding the hook to the buffer beam - it was impeded by the tab holding the chassis which needed a slot cut to allow the hook through.  Bit difficutl to explain, but hopefully the photos may explain better.





Superb work, and a fine looking locomotive so far.


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More progress, less swearing!

 The next step was the splashers over the front drivers. A case of more cutting and filing for the two sides, [18thou NS], with 10 thou brass for the tops. The latter is easily cut with a pair of strong scissors with little distortion - much better than using a fret saw. As with the coupling rod splashers on the footplate, I made a simple jig from a piece of hardwood to support the top while soldering on the sides. Used 240 degree solder for this, so that my general purpose 145 solder could be used to solder the finished articles to the footplate. 

Once again, am grateful to Roger for some more Alphagraphix bits and pieces - in this case to 'top' frames [above the footplate] and the cab sides. Unfortunately, the latter were both for the same side, so the etched bend line which acts as the roof support had to be bent the other way on one of them. As have said before, it would be interesting to know how far Roger got before deciding not to progress with a kit for the D16.

 The cab sides also needed a bit of fettling, as there were no cut outs on the bottom to fit over the coupling rod splashers, though it didn't take too long to file these to shape. The etched holes for the various handrails look way too big for the usual 0.8mm wire used for these things in 7mm scale, but have decided it was easier to use them as is, with some filler later,  rather than cut two new sides. Time will tell...

 The fiddly bit has been the cab front. I soldered the sides in place, then did some more careful measuring in order to cut out a piece of 18thou nickel silver. This was made harder because the front curves outwards to make part of the splasher over the rear pair of drivers. All in all pretty awkward & am wondering if I should have used thinner sheet metal as forming these curves hasn't gone too well, so will be needing some more filler. Also needed to mark where the exact centre of the boiler will be, so I can use a bolt to align the latter accurately, with the same idea at the smokebox end. The cab spectacle windows are only partially drilled out at the moment , while I need to buy some brass tube of the right diameter to make the surround.

 Speaking of tubes, the next step will be the boiler. The Chatham Club has a set of rolling bars, so hope to pick those up tomorrow. 




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 The last week has been spent making the boiler/smokebox/firebox combination and [just as important] trying to make sure this unit will sit properly on the locomotive.

 First up, it was time to acquaint myself with my model railway club's rolling bars. They are from GW Models and like their rivet punch are an extremely robust construction of mild steel. Picked them up from our club president, a lovely 90 year old man, still an active modeller who knows more about how steam locomotives work than most. Got some useful advice from him, plus there are a couple of pages in Geoff Holt's books too. Basically, there are Allen key headed screws at each end of the rollers and it is simply a case of feeding in your piece of flat sheet and then wind the handle. The more you tighten the screws, the tighter the radius produced, so with light pressure you can easily roll coach or van roofs, but crank things up and you soon get a tube. I had problems getting the sheet to curve properly either side of the seam, but it wasn't too difficult tweaking things later.

 I used 15thou nickel silver for the boiler. The other key pieces are the formers, which I cut and filed from 18thou. There is one circular piece for the front of the boiler, with a second profiled to the shape of the firebox, to go at the other end. I had to cut a slot, a scale 4'3 from the back of the boiler [and half way up the side], so I could then straighten the nickel silver to the shape of the firebox. I piece of brass strip then fills the slot to make the firebox front. The third former was shaped to the profile of the smokebox and a 10thou strip of nickel silver rolled and formed to go over the end of the boiler.

 So far, so good? Well, no... Trying the assembly on the footplate showed the firebox was too wide to fit between the splashers and somehow, I'd created a 'flat' on the smokebox front. Rude words? You bet!

 Ended up spending an hour or so measuring everything & discovered that I'd made the boiler diameter too big - only a scale two inches, but enough to throw the whole thing out, so the was no option but to make another boiler and smokebox, along with filing a bit off the splashers. The boiler is currently fixed to the cab front with a 10ba nut and bolt; I'm considering bolting the base of the smokebox to the footplate, in the hope of making painting [and especially lining], easier.

 Earlier in this little saga, managed to roll the first boiler the wrong way [despite studying and marking everything carefully [more rude words] and came pretty damn close to doing it with the mark two version as well, but consulted the missus [who can work such things out far better than me], thereby saving a possible meltdown.!

 Fingers crossed, the basic shape of the loco is complete, so what follows is all about the detailing. Plenty of challenges ahead mind, not least signature items like chimney, dome and buffers - commercial items of which I have thus far been unable to source. If I had a lathe [and more importantly, knew how to use it], then it would be less of a problem. We do have one at the club, but Kent and Medway are a proverbial plague pit at the moment, so can't see me getting down there any time soon. Still, there are plenty of other things to look at, so the next job will be making a list of what needs doing. Plus there is also the tender of course. Thank goodness for model railways in these challenging times!






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For a "big birthday", now over a DECADE ago (!), I decided to have a little "Happy Birthday to me!" time, and got one of the then-just-released SSM kits of 800. Having had this built for me, it has a pride of place in my collection.

With my own interests in things Midland, and the Achill branch in particular - a beastie like this would be very much alongside it! Absolutely superb work all round, and it'll look great in Midland livery too.

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That is terrific David. Looks like an illustration from one of Geoff Holt’s books. Your honest posts are most encouraging for those of us muddling along in your wake (Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Follower’ somehow echoes in my head). I have a set of GW rollers which I tried out last night, as I will need to make a boiler soon. I have heard that pre-curving the ends helps make the curve continuous. But you’ve achieved the result!

Edited by Galteemore
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Think you are right about pre curving the sheet metal. I found I had to slacken the rollers enough to get the sheet all the way through or the rollers wouldn't grip. Hence the flat sections on the seam I guess. Obvious when you think about it!

 As for soldering, my new temperature controlled iron, with a pointed bit has certainly helped, not least because it helps getting into tight corners when soldering from the inside. Cuts down significantly on excess solder too, which then means much less cleaning up.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Bits and pieces

 Have had some fun with various bits of detailing over the last week or so, though also spent a fair bit of time simply making sure that the boiler unit and footplate/cab sit nice and square with each other. The latter is important at this stage, as experience tells me that once the details go on, it makes any corrections so much harder. The boiler/smokebox/firebox unit has a 10ba bolt to fix it to the cab front while another bolt is screwed into the base of the smokebox from underneath. Anyway, the various additions are as follows:

  • Inside motion: decided to make this from plastic strip and used the working motion on my SLNCR Sir Henry as a guide, though for the D16, it is only dummy because the low pitched boiler means that you can't see a great deal of what is going on between the frames. The motion stops short at a frame spacer, but this isn't really noticeable either as it is between the big front splashers.
  • Then decided it was time to tidy up the wheels and coupling rods, filing down the latter's bearings and trimming the fixing bolts. The chassis is remarkably free running, so much so I have to be careful when carrying it around on my work board as the slightest tilt will set it rolling.
  • Next up was the cab floor, which is a piece of 10thou nickel silver & then was able to build up the splashers inside the cab floor from the same material. You can cut thin nickel silver with strong scissors, which speeds up the process, especially for simple rectangular parts like these.
  • The cab interior came next, starting with the back of the firebox. Cut a piece of 15thou NS to shape, then wrapped a 5mm strip of 10 thou brass which was formed and soldered in place to make it look like the firebox extends into the cab.
  • This was where the fun started as I now had to make the main controls and gauges. I must admit they are more generic than anything, but include the two water gauges, two injectors, the firehole door, vacuum and boiler pressure gauges, regulator handle and the brake valve, plus associated pipework. The boiler pressure gauge is a brass casting from the scrap box, while the vacuum gauge is a 1/8th inch wheel bearing. The injectors and water gauges were cut and filed from square and round brass strip, carefully soldered together, by using first 240 solder and then 145 for the later additions, also using various clips as heat sinks to stop bits falling off as fast as I was attaching them. These were all attached to the 'backhead', along with the firehole door, this a circle of nickel silver with some added strips for detail, hinges etc. The driver's brake valve was made in much the same way and is fitted to the right hand side of the cab front sheet, as MGWR locos were all right hand drive - or so I read.
  • I'd been intending to make the cab spectacle windows from brass tube, but while rummaging through my spares boxes [there are many], was delighted to find an unused cab front with two etched circles still in place. What's more, they are exactly the right diameter too, thereby saving me quite a bit of work. I carefully soldered these in place and the opened the holes in the cab front with a combination of a tapered reamer and rat tailed files.

So decent progress, helped no end by the fact that, unlike the Sligo tank that Galteemore is building, this little 4-4-0 has very few rivets, though there are quite a lot of handrails now awaiting attention.












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Thanks Ken and everyone. The possible plate you mention is, I think, a support for a cross shaft, supporting the reversing mechanism to the inside valve gear. The reversing lever itself appears to go below the frames, but as I understand it, in most cases this joined a cross shaft above the frames on which was a lever/link to moving the valve gear. I assume there would be a top and bottom cross shaft, but hopefully knowledgeable folk on this forum will clarify.

 The GSR Bible has a nice side on photo of this, though the same photo is much more clearly produced in JHB's Rails to Achill.

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More details

 Not much in the way of distractions over Christmas round here. Tier 4 severely limits who you can meet, and as for the TV, unless you like soaps, reality nonsense or cookery, there's not much to tempt me away from the workshop before food and wine take over! So a tour round the loco reveals the following:

  • Cab beading was made using 10thou nickel silver strip - am learning from Geoff Holt's books and made a basic former from thin timber. After tinning with solder it was fairly simple to sweat into place
  • Cab hand rails next, from 0.8mm brass wire, plus what I guess are holders for single line tokens - 1.2mm wire this time
  • Boiler hand rails will go on later, but fitted a run of short knobs down each side. Struggled to solder these neatly, so rather more cleaning up needed than I would have liked. In the early 1900s, D16s had a single handrail running round both sides and then over the top of the smokebox. Two more knobs here, but can't fit them yet, as the handrail won't go on until after painting.
  • Smokebox front - this is the loco's 'face' and therefore very important to get right. I made the door from three separate circles of nickel silver. The outer one was made slightly larger, so I could create a dished shape, by using the rounded end of a file handle on the metal while held against a computer mouse mat. Once the three layers were soldered together, they were drilled through the centre for the 'dart', in this case an adapted lost wax casting with one handle clipped and filed off, then a hand wheel soldered on to the centre. Strapping is more NS strip, with a short length of wire for the hinge.
  • Couldn't decide whether to just use transfers for the boiler bands, or metal strip. In the end, have gone for the latter, in the hope of making lining simpler - though this really will be a major challenge. The bands are strips of 5 thou phosphor bronze.







Edited by David Holman
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This is really excellent David and the good old MGWR was such a fine, though neglected by modellers, railway company. So all power to your arm!

I am deciding on my next project, either Athlone MGWR in S, or Ballaghadereen in 7mm. I cant decide whether I want a small 'big' layout, or a big 'small' layout if you get my drift!

Best wishes and good modelling for 2021, Paul 

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