Locomotive "Canute" - adapting a cheap battery toy!
A build blog (last updated Sunday 6 December 2009) Jump to latest post on page
1) Start point - 3rd October
At the Severn Valley Railway today (Kidderminster) and found the station shop had some really cheap plastic battery powered trains to go round in a circle on sale. Crude but for about the price of a beer (£2.75) I got one as might be able to hack it to something. I would normally have ignored these BUT recently on the Gnatterbox internet forum David, from Taipei in Taiwan (AKA dieselwater), and others have posted details of several cracking little layouts and locomotives based on this type of toy.
This page on a wholesaler's website is the right range but the one I got from SVR has a different colour scheme and the loco a slightly different body shell shape. Even if I fail to get anything out of this I will get more than my money's worth out of trying. Not run it yet, got back too late tonight, but gauge looks to be 12mm.
2) 4th October
Back from second railway trip of weekend (Fareham Mod Ex and Eastleigh Lakeside diesel day) so have got new toy up and running this evening, as is. Surprisingly it does work!
Initial observations -
1) Contents = Circle of track approx 4 1/2" radius (9" dia across the inside rails) plus crude tank loco, coal/water tender and US style caboose.
2) Did it run straight out of the box? Loco, yes once single AA battery in. However had to dismantle one of the trucks and trim some flash off the coupling. An inexperienced person would probably have broken the part forcing it instead.
3) Runs quite quick but does stay on the track.
4) Agree with dieselwater the on/off switch is very awkward to use.
5) Battery gets very hot (current draw?) is it a fire hazard in prolonged use? Is this why covering notes say don't use rechargeable batteries in it?
First impressions, overall fun buy for converting to something. Even running now in cheapo little toy mode, watching it running round is soothing. However too flimsy and fliddly for use by the child market it is presumably aimed at so may be not good for bringing kids into the hobby
I found also that the battery was getting very warm. (However this later cured itself)
Open mind on loco body shape and what the two trucks can be modified into so happy to design round any suitable battery.
There is one slight snag with one (perhaps both) of the the two trucks as far as adaptations are concerned. Nothing insurmountable but when I dismantled the tender to fix the coupling problem i found that the small self tap screw that holds the chassis bits to the top fits into a column of descending plastic (stalactite); therefore any body top design modification has to incorporate either a bolt or self tap screw to hold the chassis together.
I had ideas of slider switches too, perhaps using the silencer/muffler if opting for a diesel or a clicking on/off switch using the safety valve if going for a kettle!
3) 5 October (Part 1) - Film of similar sets found on line, battery problem progress
Quote on the Gnatterbox forum from John in South Alabama (aka route29) That's basically the same set I used to build my Life's a Beach Railroad except that mine didn't have a tender. I've built a couple of layouts using this set, but had not made any modifications other than repainting. I've considered doing one with a modified loco and maybe building some more cars. They're fun to build.
Life's a Beach video -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNZoEZAN2Ik and the Squarefoot Christmas video -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyJ37l1VNLE
I particularly liked the cowboy hoe down mini layout idea (Square ft Xmas). On the Gnatterbox various suggestions were made about shifting the battery position, perhaps into the trucks and also fitting a C or D type battery to add weight. I did think about a vertical boiler lash-up. The pimple on the battery top fitting up the funnel and replacing the existing crude on-off switch with the lever of the reverser quadrant. Keeping the battery in the loco does make sense for the weight aspect but making it vertical would also raise the centre of gravity too high.
The hot battery issue is odd. Giving it a quick burst again this morning and it hasn't done it. A thought is perhaps there was something sticky in the mechanism that running has freed up.
4) 5th October (Part 2) - design issues resolved
Looking at the engine as is with the stickers off it resembles the 0-6-0 USA tanks as used in Southampton Docks I watched as a kid. 12mm in 1:24 scales out to 11.3" gauge. Therefore the model is likely to be fettled up a bit and represent a freelance, 10 1/4 gauge USA Tank adaptation with the caboose used as a "sit astride" driving truck as per John's Life's a beach.
The tender, as supplied, is hopelessly undersized for any engine you could make out of the chassis given the fixed "in cab" lump of the vertical motor block. The tender will be put aside and used in another way later. Having now decided the engine "to be" is of the miniature railway type, the pizza will be some form of miniature railway. Thoughts now turning to that setting and what I have in 1:24 already in hand.
Photos of the chosen prototype
Above 30075 (A Yugoslavian import) at the Mid Hants Railway. The number is fictitious.
Below - Painted as WD 1959 a USA tank based at the Bluebell railway. This is one of the engines used in Southampton Docks and was withdrawn carrying BR number 30064 (Built 1943 - Vulcan Iron Works No 4432).
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5) 8th October - little physical progress
Hardly any progress this week due to design constraints giving me a mental block. Although the lump of 3/4" plywood I had ideas on using for the base was found lurking where expected it to be in my shed, now found it is not quite the right shape! Also if sticking with my first idea of using the supplied body shell adapted into a miniature loco based on an ex Southampton Docks USA tank the scales to match the figures etc I have in stock would be 1:43/8, 1:32 or 1:24. BUT to make it look even vaguely convincing with a ride behind truck 1:12 would be better. As the ratio decreases the tighter and more ludicrous the track curvature becomes. I will keep thinking on it.
6) 20th October - physical progress on the locomotive
Progress on the loco today although the plastic is very brittle and one part snapped where it shouldn't but I don't think irrevocably. Unlike David's (dieselwater) conversions this first one is staying as a steamer.
I have gone for an open back cab with the backhead from an old Airfix L&Y Pug 0-4-0 glued to the motor housing. Windows on the cab side opened out. Used part of the now scrap plasticard removed from the cab back to put on a shovel plate to aid firing. Those few things in themselves make it a bit less toy like even without a re-paint.
General clean up of the moulding flash and opening out of the area around the cylinders. Also in connection with the cylinders used some spare sprue to make up two steam pipes from smoke box to cylinders. Finally on the loco cut the injector off an old scrap Airfix BR Standard 2-6-0 and glued that under the cab on the opposite side to the on/off switch. More to do before it hits the paint shop but a start.
Tender - this is the bit that broke! Did some cutting, shaping and sticking on the tender front to make it a bit less box like. Totally freelance. In tweaking the chassis a bit to better fit the modified body it snapped.
Prospective driver- he will need some tweaking to bend his legs closer to 90 deg but the Italeri truck driver (1:24) is penciled in for this sitting on the tender on a cushion. Not sure where the fire irons will go when I make them, probably just resting on the tender top.
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7) 21st October - more physical progress on the locomotive
What I like on the existing body shell is the riveted side tank detail and the smoke box rivets. Proportionally the rest of it is a dog! However for a £2.75 toy it ain 't bad. I aim to see how this survives the month and if it is still running OK then when I go to SVR next month if the shop has some more I will buy a few more. I enjoy the planning for these projects as much as the doing and many more get planned than built! None of our local stores have them. As a result of the experience to date with this thoughts on options for future conversions:-
1) Remove most of the body except for the tanks, slice off the smoke box and raise it removing the overseas style moulding. Run back a parallel boiler, add a dome and cab and there is a Heywood style miniature.
2) As above but also remove the side tanks and run with the tender from the set and there is a River Irt style option available.
3) Rip off all the bodywork above the running plate and do a Secundus style steamer.
4+) A whole raft of industrial/miniature diesels as done by dieselwater and posted to the Gnatterbox.
What I like about these is that for the price of a pint of beer there is a challenge. If it goes t**s up at the end chucking it away and buying another one hasn't broken the bank. It brings affordability back to modelling and obviates the worry over how much what you are working with had cost to buy in the first place.
8) 22nd October - more physical progress on the locomotive and it gets a name!
More adaptation on this today, time will tell whether it is progress!
Importantly the engine now has a name, "Canute", after Canute Road adjacent to the Docks in Southampton.
The cab window cut outs using the moulding marks of the toy to my eye were a total failure and looked nothing like any engine I have ever seen. So out with the piercing saw and file and open them up to something resembling the USA Dock tank design to fit what the rest of the engine is closest to. (The USATC “S100” Class which eventually ran to around 400 original or derived locomotives)
Based on some photos I took by chance earlier this year at the Bluebell and Mid Hants Railways I have added a few more extra pipes and bits. None are exact replicas of what is there on an actual S100 but they make Canute look closer to a typical "Yankee". It now has a whistle, safety valve. regulator rod (I think that was that bit is) blower feed pipe and ?? (a whatever the thing with a wheel on it on top of the boiler does! ) The latter bodged up to fill the unrealistic change in the boiler on the plastic moulding just behind the chimney. I also added a lubricator box using a scrap computer plug/wires. The lubricator should have a wheel on it but I can't find anything small enough to fit currently. I need to fit some micro strip around the windows and to form cab handrails but not planning to do more than that.
It really needs some paint on it to cover the awful blue/gold livery. Various prototypical choices including WD Grey, Southern & BR Black, BR Green and several weird colour combo's the KWVLR used on 30072 after preservation. Photo's below of today's changes. Tender modifications with the figure balanced on top did not work visually so a new tender top (driving truck) will be made.
9) 23rd October (part 1) - two steps forward one step back
This is definitely becoming a two forward and one back project!
People (model driver) problems. The Italeri bloke I had in mind to be a driver for this hadn't been made up from kit state and in offering him up to the model found he is very long in the legs. In town earlier today so bought a Slich seated figure posted about ages ago. on the Gnatterbox. (See page 11 of this thread - http://forum.gn15.info/viewtopic.php?t=238&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=250 ) He looks the part from a size viewpoint but so heavy the loco struggles to pull his weight!! Ho hum, another day another challenge
10) 23rd October (Part 2) - driver too big / heavy and tribology tests!
Following feedback on the gnatterbox after an earlier post I have tried a bit more experimentation. At the current state of the battery:-
- Loco' pulls the tender and the caboose unloaded without any apparent problem but without some form of driver visible the combo' just looks wrong.
- With Slich man for weight testing purposes, the weight of man and both vehicles as a trailing load causes severe slipping. It does just go round but obviously struggling. I suspect the tight radius of the track is a contributory factor too as pulling the weight against a very severe draw-bar angle.
- will just pull the tender plus man without the caboose but very slowly so obviously that trailing weight represents the balancing limit point of adhesion - v- horsepower.
Should be some room in the boiler above the battery and also flat against the inside of the side tanks. Another option to try tomorrow.
On the full size railway these tribology tests are a lot more sophisticated but on this model the resultant outcome shows a need for some form of lighter weight driver. It was suggested to me that the Italeri chap is probably shortenable and he is also probably lighter than the Slich man. Hopefully I can get some form of driver onto a support/driving truck as with the Slich bloke sitting behind it does look like a miniature engine.
I will just have to run with "Mr Cardboard Cut-out" for a while! Silly ideas of making the theme of the layout a cartoon film set are arising!
11) 2nd November - body modifications substantially complete. A summing up of progress to date.
Canute is now as ready for the paint shop now as it will ever be, if I add any more bits it will be counter productive, given the value of the basic starter loco.
Above - As you can see from the above the backhead fixed to the motor block now has fire hole door gear, two water gauges and a regulator (All from the original Dapol moulding), a steam pressure gauge and another gauge (Both from spare sprue), some pipe runs for the ancillary steam fittings, a manifold valve (Half a press-stud) and a screw reverser (The other half of the press-stud). On the loco section we have a water control on/off valve and various other bits as previously mentioned. The cab handrails are cut from an old plastic fence.
Below - This one shows the left hand side of the model with an extra pipe run and the tank filler cap (Old domed nail)
Finally for this update the rear/right hand side is shown to five a view of the back head details with the cab fitted. Also note that a whistle operating lever, an additional pipe run to the injector and a second injector support bracket fitted. The latter as it was vulnerable during handling.
12) 4th November - Paint shop start & observations on types of acrylic paint.
Started the paint job today but it didn't go completely to plan. I haven't got an airbrush so hand brush all my paintwork. The Humbol acrylics I had used before did OK for the black areas on the smoke box, chimney and under frame etc. I then mixed up some artists acrylics to get very dark brown for the back head and motion. Colour balance OK and that went on to a just acceptable level as smoothness was not critical factor. However it did raise doubts about using more for the main tanks and boiler.
I put on the green from the same set of paint tubes as it is close to Southern Malachite. Unfortunately that has now been scrubbed off again, it was drying like treacle and with too many streaks.
Of course now I have sat down with a coffee I have remembered what I should have remembered reading before starting - artists acrylic paints are not the same consistency as modellers acrylic.
All about learning and as this is the first non-card model I have painted for a few years I need to relearn the skills! Hopefully my other PC with the camera card reader will be fully back on-line tomorrow so I can post some photos. After a bit more work has been done on it. What is noticeable is the difference that just getting rid of most of the gold (as that is now under the black bits) and by changing the motion links from white to a dark brown has made; today's run through my paint-shop has made a tremendous visual difference.
About the livery - I did think of going garish and using the livery 30072 carried for a while in it's early days as preserved at Keighley but did feel it was too extreme for a UK perspective. That paint job was silver smoke box door, silver funnel, black smoke box and boiler top, orange tanks, orange cab side and bunker plus red buffer beams. Number carried 72 in big gold numerals. (For this livery see these photos about half way down on this KWVLR Gallery page.)
End result will probably be a version of one of the liveries carried by 30064 and seen on the pages linked to following (Neither photo is copyright to me so only linked to :)-
http://www.bluebellrailway.co.uk/bluebell/pics/usa.html and http://www.bluebellrailway.co.uk/bluebell/pic2/nigel_kendall_30064.html
As you can tell from the references in the above notes both 30064 and 30072, as seen in the last of those two photos, survived beyond the scrap line at Salisbury into preservation.
12A) 5th November (Part 1) - painting continues, I'm so out of practice!!!
Not sure about this at all. I found the thread covering acrylic paint issues on the Gnatterbox so at least I now know why the acrylic. side of it didn't go as well as expected, paint too thick. Anyway I have decided to press on and regain some more of the lost skills/experience even if the model does end up in bath of Modelstrip in due course as I start again with the painting! Here are the photos of the state it had reached as of yesterday by adding the black and darkening the motion.
As you can see from the photo above the straight out of the tube green acrylic should have been thinned. (A lesson learnt for next time). Also of course the Southern Malachite colour was pre-war and these locomotives were (a) post war and (b) in black during the Southern Railway short ownership period so the green was wrong.
14) 5th November (Part 2) - add the green
This painting job is not going well but I am learning a lot*. Much wet and dry paper rubbing down to be done after it all thoroughly dries and before the second coat. The cruel enlargement of the smoke box in the update above also identifies the need for a second coat of black! I am happy that the concept behind the loco conversion is working out but giving it a dunk into Modelstrip and restarting the painting stages again from scratch is still looking a tempting possibility. On the other hand the experiment in painting over the bright work then partially scraping the paint back off has worked and is a technique I will reuse. What has surprised me as a confident painter of card models, lapsed painter of non-absorbent model materials, is how much the skills differ and how much I have either forgotten (or never knew in the first place) of the relevant techniques.
*Postscript - after writing the above I have realised that the Humbol green enamel is of course gloss and unlike the acrylics I have been using recently it should have had an undercoat - I forgot to add an undercoat first - doh!!
15) 10th November - a pause for thought!
The project is temporarily on hold whilst I debate the strip or don't strip options for the paint. At the time of writing this update rubbing down rather than a full paint strip just has the edge, as the plastic is an unknown quantity to test any paint stripper against, but still a close call. So what next? My next move will be to make up a figure for the tender and adapt the tender. I have bought some paper straws to use as the basic support structure/armature for the driver but not yet begun a build.
Setting for a layout? As it is the run up to Christmas thoughts of a Christmas layout come to mind again. A couple of weeks ago I visited the Abbotsbury Sub Tropical Gardens autumn illuminations spectacular. Bending the seasons a little for a winter illuminations spectacular is an idea I am working on. To that end a colour changing LED fibre optic mini-Christmas tree has been bought but the final decision not yet made. It is however my current favourite idea. If adopted the name will be revised to Abbotsea, to give some scope for the very necessary artistic licence, as that was Thomas Hardy's name for the real village. An authentic touch from the genuine location without the necessity to slavishly copy and "rivet count" every detail of the prototype. The four thumbnails below link to larger size copies picked at random from the set taken on my visit to show a flavour of the Abbotsbury event.
16) 15th November
Back from yesterday's trip to Kidderminster where I bought four more of these little battery train sets from the Severn Valley Railway shop (three tank engines and one of the US outline tender engines. ) Disappointingly, although I had been advised that some Poundland stores had a slightly different version of these sets, their Kidderminster branch did not yield a supply. Now I have more sets the option for a guitar or cello body shaped track base roughly like an 8 (but not with a flat crossing) is now possible and of course inserting some home made straight track sections is also possible.
As far as settings is concerned The Abbotsea Gardens idea is gelling more and more with me but this has not yet been sketched out other than in my mind's eye. With more sets of track other quick Christmas pizza options are also possible.
On the locomotive front very little has been done to Canute since the last update due to pressure on my time from organising a model railway show in Dorchester to be held on 5 December. However decision taken NOT to strip back the paintwork and start again but to persevere. Although not enough work to warrant the posting of a photo since that decision was made a coat of red has been added to the front buffer beam, a second coat of cream onto the inside of the cab and for the cab's backhead controls some red onto the valve wheels plus a touch of white to the pressure gauge. The coming week will again be pressured, as I have some short-term paid work to process, but I am sure there will be some time left over for a bit more modelling soon.
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17) 6th December 2009
In the 10th November update above the idea of a Christmas layout called Abbotsea Gardens was first mooted. The suggested project has been started and the build blog is here. On Saturday 5th December that layout, plus the part completed Canute, were running at the Dorchester Model Railway Show.