Jan 15, 2020

Captain Cheap Goes Loco

Workshop member Jim Martin describes a side project...


Budget motive power in O scale

I’ve been taking a temporary hiatus from S scale lately in order to construct an O scale switching layout for the 2020 Great British Train Show – this April in Brampton, Ontario.  My contribution will be an 11-foot long shelf-style layout in 7mm (British O scale).

My influences are my friend Brian Dickey’s excellent 7mm Roweham* layout, as well as trips to the UK where visits with relatives were augmented with railfanning. I’ve always liked the look of British railroading and the compact motive power that punches above its weight.

As long as I was doing this I gave myself a dollar challenge: the entire layout, rolling stock, track, structures and so on, had to be built for no more than 500 bucks! (I’ve done this sort of thing before: In the July 2009 Railroad Model Craftsman I described the construction of the Lake Erie Aggregate Railway, an On30 mini layout that totalled less than 400 dollars all in.)

Central to holding my target was finding low cost locomotives. I would need two because I’m building in two gauges, 7 mm O standard and O16.5.  Check these out:


Atlas Plymouth conversion

For my standard gauge loco I used an Atlas O scale six-wheel Plymouth switcher. I must first credit modeller David Rae for this. It was his online conversion article that guided me on this project. I got my Atlas Plymouth from Brian Dickey for a six-pack of Innis and Gunn...

The donor model had one bent axle but that was okay because I was going to shorten the beast into a four-wheel job anyway. This conversion cost very little to do since it is mostly taking stuff away and giving very little back.

Brian donated some buffers and couplings and the rest was workshop scraps. The cast metal frame block was shortened with a hacksaw. The plastic external frame was narrowed and shortened. The Atlas cab was narrowed and raised, new end walls were constructed from styrene, and the hood was shortened.

Just like that… a decent running 7mm scale loco for 20 bucks.

Hornby Pug conversion

For a cheap narrow gauge loco I went the time-trusted route of “critterizing” a standard gauge loco from a smaller scale. This is also an easy and cost effective conversion. I started with the OO scale Hornby Pug, a saddle tank 0-4-0 that I picked up new for 35 dollars…

It’s a bit skittish, but like the Atlas model it’s a decent enough runner. Here I went the usual route of fitting a taller stack and cab – in this case a spectacle plate. The stack was scratch-built with a length of plastic, a metal washer and a brass grommet from an auto door hinge. Similar grommets were used for the circular windows in the brass spectacle plate.

Both ends were modified for Kadee couplers and a driver was added to the footplate (that’s UK-speak for “an engineer in the cab”). With the couplers and the figure added into the purchase price, I have about 45 dollars invested in this funky little critter.

So there you have it friends: two O scale locomotives for a total outlay of 65 dollars. Or 45 dollars and a case of beer.

- Jim (aka: Captain Cheap)


(*I've written about Brian's Roweham layout on one of my own blogs. A good place to start is "Investing in Others: Roweham". If that piques your interest, here's a link to  all my posts related to Brian's layout. - Trevor)

Dec 29, 2019

The Best Gift: Friendship

Workshop member Jim Martin had just settled down for a long winter's nap, when out on the lawn there arose such a clatter. He picks up the tale...
We here at the S Scale Workshop hope the holiday season is turning out to be all you wanted.
This year I was the recipient of an unexpected and heart-warming Christmas gift, from not quite the North Pole, but from well up that way.

I have written numerous times in the Dispatch - the magazine published by the National Association of S Gaugers - about my friend Nicholas DeelyHis layout, The Athabasca Northern Railway, was featured in the August/September 2014 issue(That issue is free for all to read on the NASG website - so are many others! Look for the "Back Issues" section on the page about the Dispatch magazine.)
New England born, medical studies and internship in Canada, and now retired from medicine in Fairbanks, Alaska: Nicholas describes himself as a hybrid North American. And he loves the North. His Athabasca Northern has to be one of the most uniquely-themed layouts you will find in any scale, let alone a minority scale such as ours. A section of the Alaska Railroad is represented, along with the barren lands of northern Manitoba on the run to Churchill.

The Athabasca Northern is replete with northern iconography; snowy mountains, tundra, Hudson’s Bay blankets, First Nations people, trappers, moose, elk, polar bears…images I have not seen on another layout in any scale.
Nicholas and I have become good online friends, but I was not prepared for the package I received just before Christmas: a self-produced hardcover book of images of the Athabasca Northern.

The next big surprise was just inside: The book is dedicated to me!
I cannot begin to describe how this touched me. Neither Nicholas nor I are getting any younger, so perhaps it’s time I started thinking about a trip to Alaska.
Happy New Year everyone!
- Jim

Dec 9, 2019

We're thinking about Exporail: August 15-16, 2020

The members of the S Scale Workshop have just received news of the dates for the annual celebration of railway modelling at Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum Saint-Constant, Qu├ębec. This coming year, it'll be held the weekend of August 15-16.

A video from our first appearance at Exporail, in 2016

We have appeared at this show a couple of times now and really enjoy it. We were last at Exporail in 2018, so its time we made the trip once again.

We’re discussing it amongst ourselves and we’ll let you know via this blog if we decide to take part. Meantime, if you’re wondering where you’ll run into us, make a note to check back regularly – you’ll find our exhibition schedule under Visiting the S Scale Workshop.

Dec 4, 2019

This Little Light Of Mine

S Scale Workshop member Darby Marriott sheds light on a recent project undertaken with a member of the next generation of railway modelling enthusiasts...


Sometimes it’s the simplest of projects that give you the most pleasure. We attended a recent train show in Ancaster, Ontario where incidentally we met up with fellow Workshop member John Johnston. I’ve been taking my son Kellan to shows since he was a baby, including the first time seeing the S Scale Workshop in 2016. He’s now four, and while his attention span is shorter than mine, he’s now able to appreciate more about the hobby. At the Ancaster show, we stopped by the table of S Scaler Phil Lomax. He graciously offered my son an item of his choice from a “goody bin”. He picked out a little switch (whether he knew it or not) as his desired object.

When we got home, Kellan was curious what the item was and upon finding out, what we could do with it. I promised him we’d come up with a little project in which to incorporate his new switch. The following weekend, he was anxious to start the switch project. Since becoming owner of Jim Martin’s Culverhouse Cannery module, I’ve been adding some minor details here and there. One of the hidden details already present was the loading dock of the cannery, and the crates and figure within the open door. However, it is difficult to see inside, so adding a light might set the scene even better.

A light needs a switch – or perhaps in this case, a switch needs a light. The project was on! My son was excited we had a use for his switch on “Uncle Jim’s” module. We found a grain-o-wheat bulb – one of the those I’ve been removing out of Dead Rail locomotive installs I’ve been doing recently: Incandescent bulbs aren’t a good fit for the modern controller’s low-amp accessory circuits, but perfect for higher power with a nice warm glow.

Since the module still sees regular show duty, the buildings are removable, including the cannery. The light was to be ceiling mounted, as to cast some prototypical shadows, so we’d need to mount it on the base separate from the building shell. A quick trip up from the basement to the kitchen, with Kellan ever in tow, was in order to fetch a bamboo skewer. This would make for a nice, sturdy mounting pole.
A simple project becomes an opportunity to
pass on some useful skills - like measuring
We sized the diameter of the skewer against the proper drill bit and drilled a hole just inside the wall. The skewer fit nice and snug into the hole in the plaster foundation. A measure of the first story roof height gave us the interior clearance we’d be working with. It was also a good opportunity for my son to get more acquainted with detailed measuring. We then cut the skewer down to fit and taped the light to the top of the pole.

We needed another hole to drop the wire down, but didn’t have a drill bit long enough to penetrate the foundation, foam and plywood base. We ended up having to come up from the bottom to meet our hole from the top. Kellan was ever hopeful we’d get it lined up – and on the third try we did! With the remainder of the skewer, we fished the wire leads down through the new hole.
It was relatively straightforward to modify the existing
structure to accommodate the new light
Now the little light needed some power, so we traced the wires of the existing bus power, which also supplies power to the module’s lone turnout. The little switch was soldered in between the light leads and some jumpers off the power bus. Kellan held a light while I laid solder beneath the module. I had picked up a new universal AC adaptor a while back for another project which never came to fruition. Now it had a purpose! We ended up using one of the 6 adaptor plugs to solder in the wires while maintaining the quick-connector plug if we ever wanted to use the adaptor for other purposes.

Now for the moment of truth as we plugged in the adapter for the grand reveal! And… no light. We had inverted the wires and the switch required correct polarity. A quick re-solder with my trusty light holder and we were in business. Let there be light! The universal adaptor also had a variable voltage switch, so we were able to perfectly dial in the brightness we wanted to set the scene.
When what to my wondering eyes did appear...
So thanks to the inspiration and help from my little guy, the little switch now turns on and off the little light in the cannery. We’re looking forward to sharing the enhanced scene at future shows and working on the next little project that comes our way!

- Darby and Kellan

Nov 25, 2019

Not your usual Christmas tree

(Workshop member Jim Martin has been quiet lately. We catch up with him, haunting the aisles at the dollar store...)
(Jim turns a gaudy bauble into a credible bit of scenery)
It’s been quite a while since I last checked in. I’ve been distracted away from 1:64 over the past several months with a side project: I am constructing a 7mm British O scale switching layout (or shunting layout in UK parlance) for exhibit at the Great British Train Show in Brampton, Ontario in April. Perhaps I’ll tell you about that on a future post, but the track is down and the juice flows so I’ve been playing with a bit of scenery.
Captain Cheap here is always casting his eye for unlikely scenery materials and I’ve found the latest among the dollar store Christmas decorations. Why twist wire in the workhouse when instead, your bleeding fingers can pull tree armatures off the peg at Dollarama?
Check out the gaudy offering on the left side of the photo. You can get two for a buck and a half at the dollar store. Looking through the red glitter, I thought a tree might be hiding inside. Open up the wire branches, trim, and hit with a couple of coats of rattle can primer to seal the glitter. Things now look more promising (centre). Finally dress the armature with your favourite tree netting and leaf material and there you have it.
(The dollar store tree as purchased, as primed, and as finished)
These little guys scale out to just under 20 feet tall in O scale or 25 feet in S*.
Till next time...
- Jim
(*required S scale content)

May 6, 2019

Bits and Pieces (Spring 2019)

Workshop member Jim Martin checks in...


My model railroading activities have slowed down somewhat. With our 50thwedding anniversary approaching, Cheryl and I have turned to sorting through thousands of slides and family photos. (There are some shots of young people who look suspiciously like we used to.) However, the hobby hasn’t gone totally wanting: I have been playing with my battery powered turnout idea.
I’ve concocted a prototype all-in-one throttle case using the cheapest of materials. My smart phone throttle is smaller than most new examples, so I bought an iPhone 6 protective case at the local dollar store and went to work.

Double-sided contact tape holds the throttle and turnout battery in place. A double pole-double throw switch connects the battery to a strip of Printed Circuit Tie with contact springs soldered to it. Now everything fits in one hand. To operate a turnout, I simply flick the toggle switch while touching the spring contacts to the strip at the bottom of the layout facia. (If you are new to this blog just go back a few posts and you’ll see what I’m fooling around with.)
As a bonus, there’s also room for an uncoupling tool beside the throttle. So far, everything has been working reliably although I’m not sure it isn’t just as convenient to carry the 9-volt battery separately. Time will tell.
Old money: It pays to open your railroad books a little more often. While I was sorting my library, a book fell open to where an envelope had been hiding for ten years. $120 fell out, along with a receipt from 2009 written by my late friend Oliver Clubine of Ridgehill Hobbies. That must have been the change from the loco I bought.
It’s like a Revenue Canada refund: It’s your money and you could have been having fun with it, but nevertheless it still feels like Christmas.

I attended a plastic modellers show in Hamilton about a month ago. Damn, those guys know how to paint and weather!

If you’ve never attended one of these shows, you should. You’ll find products and techniques not generally known to the model railroad community and, like us, they’re a helpful bunch.
Finally, before drywall screws became so popular for layout construction, we used to bore Americans by touting the virtues of the Canadian-developed Robertson socket head screw. While attending a business meeting in Milton, Ontario in April I happened on the old plant.

Even though it’s been empty for a long time it still looks well kept. It’s a handsome old building and I got to thinking that some entrepreneurial sort might make a go out of offering iconic Canadian structure kits…the Robertson factory… the Lightning Zipper factory in St Catharines…  the first Canadian Tire store… the first Princess Auto store in Winnipeg… the first Tim Horton’s… and so on. The idea would never work in S – the market’s not large enough. But in HO? 
Enough of the basement: The MG is waiting outdoors.

Mar 31, 2019

Sumkynda Mill: $3 and counting...

Workshop member Jim Martin checks in with a report on a new structure for his layout...
March was a productive month in the Martin basement. I completed the necessary corner trackwork, finished installing my battery control for the turnouts, built a roll-away paint booth, got a wee bit of scenery done, and started filling an empty back corner on the layout with my mystery mill.
Still in-progress, but a quick coat of craft store paint brings the basic shell to life,
and gives Jim an idea of what the final structure will look like on the layout.
Some years back on The Model Railway Show podcast I co-hosted*, I had an enjoyable chat with Bob Walker.  Bob’s Scratchbuilder’s Corner appears regularly in Railroad Model Craftsman.
We both agreed there’s a special satisfaction in being able to build a structure for free, or almost nothing, using accumulated materials from past projects.  
So it is with Sumkynda Mill. Sumkynda Mill is currently morphing from the mock up stage into something presenting a more finished appearance. 
This all began some months ago when a friend showed me the Danby Mill kit she had assembled for the HO layout she and her husband are building together. I was smitten by the look of the thing and decided I should have an S scale approximation for myself.
The Danby Mill by American Model Builders was reviewed by Trevor in the June 2003 issue of RMC. That kit was inspired by the Hinkle Mill article in the January 1982 issue of RMC. Written by Mike Small and illustrated by Julian Cavalier, it begs to be modelled. Armed with both issues, I’m attempting my own take on the rambling, rustic structure.
My total cost so far is just three dollars. That’s enough for two sheets of dollar store Foamcore for the basic structure shapes. Everything else is being sourced from various trays and boxes around the workshop.
Odd assortments of Grandt Line doors and windows are the principal second ingredients. Old, rambling mills are great for using up various sizes of windows. Also tossed into the mix are parts from damaged plastic kits, industrial fittings from Ratio, Rusty Stumps warehouse doors, a variety of stacks, scraps of wood, matboard, styrene, and so on. The bits I’m finding will inform the final design while still paying tribute to Hinkle. I think Bob Walker would approve.
Foam core is lightweight, fairly rigid and easy to work. I mortise the corners so no bare foam is exposed. Window and door openings are cut on the surface and the foam backing is gouged out. The bottom layer of paper remains. The cavity is painted flat black and once the glazed windows are installed the effect is sufficient.
Foamcore board is inexpensive, lightweight, rigid and easy to work.
I’ve used this stuff in the past for smaller mock ups but I’m not sure it’s the final answer for something this size. Before proceeding any further, I may construct new core shapes from heavy matboard. It wouldn’t be too difficult at this stage because I can easily copy the measurements from the foam core structure with my digital caliper.
This will not be an exact copy of either Danby or Hinkle but so far I’m pleased with my efforts to capture the proportions and essential character of both mills. I would have liked a little more room on the layout to model the full width and depth of the complex but the most interesting shapes have been captured. I am adding a kit-built general store constructed and given to me by Pete Moffett.  It will become the mill office.
A quickly-applied coat of craft acrylics hides the white foam. These base colours will suffice until I get around to applying various textures of building papers. I will print those onto photographic paper from my Model Builders program.
Having gotten this far, I will likely let this sit for several months before starting up again. Spring has arrived and I’m getting anxious to leave the basement and play with my outdoor toys.
One last thing: Sumkynda Mill is a name that’s going to get old pretty fast. It’s simply a play on words while I figure what kind of mill it will be. Right now I’m leaning toward wood products.
- Jim

(*Want to hear that episode? All of The Model Railway Show episodes are still available to enjoy. He's the link to Jim's interview with Bob Walker.)