Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Tiny Worker (Bee or Ant)

As you probably all gathered I really enjoyed building the Blacketty Water bridge model for this years Dave Brewer Memorial Challenge. Being given a set of constraints and a time limit helped me to focus and build something I'm really proud of as well as learning a whole new bunch of skills. I was expecting the challenge for 2016 to be announced sometime early next year, given that this years challenge was announced at the end of February, so I was a bit surprised when the announcement came at the end of November. There will be a blog post about the new challenge at some point as I do have an idea for it, but this post is about another challenge that I'm going to enter that was announced on the same day.

In general I'm not a forum person, the one exception to this is Narrow Gauge Railway Modelling Online (usually just abbreviated as NGRM) where I'm now a frequent visitor and poster. In the past they have held modelling challenges and they have decided it is time for another one, specifically to scratch build a locomotive. There is a full description and set of rules on the forum (you have to be a member to read them I'm afraid), but the motivation is

This challenge has been created to promote scratch building using various tools and materials. Over the years I have seen some very interesting locomotives scratch built using the very basic of hand tools in plastic, brass, and complete mix of other materials. You don't have to be a professional model maker to take part, all you need is patience and basic hand tools. Entrants are asked to respect the spirit of the competition when taking part.
To try and interest as many people as possible there are three different levels:

  • Level 1: scratch built body on a ready to run chassis.
  • Level 2: scratch built body on a modified ready to run chassis (e.g. Farish 08 with added cylinders, valve gear etc.)
  • Level 3: scratch built body and chassis.

I've never scratch built a loco before, and certainly never a chassis, but personally it wouldn't be a challenge if I didn't go all in at level 3! Having decided to enter though I had no idea quite what I was going to try and build but, not surprising given the locos I've been designing and building recently, I thought I'd look for something small and quirky.

Fortunately the UK has it's fair share of both small and quirky locos so I didn't have to look very hard to find something and here it is (photo from Wikipedia).

This is one of two locos (this one is Bee the other is Ant) that were built in 2004 for the Great Laxey Mine Railway on the Isle of Man. They are replicas of the original locos used at the mine which were unfortunately scrapped in the 1930s.

It should be clear from even just a quick glance at the photo, that this loco is both small and quirky. Having managed to find a set of drawings (thanks Rob) that appeared in the April 1991 issue of 009 News, I know just how small it is. According to the drawings it's just 4' 9" from rail to chimney top, but more interestingly the track gauge is just 19", which is really very narrow.

As yet I haven't decided what scale to build a model of this loco in. I had wondered about using a standard track gauge (9mm, 14mm, 16.5mm etc.) and then picking a scale to match, but if I want to be able to put the loco with any scenic stuff or figures etc. then using a standard scale and hand building track to match probably makes more sense. My current thinking is possibly to go up yet another scale from my usual modelling to 16mm to the foot scale, which will still give a tiny loco; just 76mm from rail to chimney top. I need to make a few more measurements before making a final decision though.


  1. They certainly are charming and quirky but when you mentioned the tiny size of the model (once again) I realised that I'm glad that I'm looking at photos which are enlarged!

  2. For some reason, I automatically assumed you would be modelling one of the little Horwich works locos, which would have been nice. But this is another thing altogether- a fantastic little loco and rather exotic in it's own way. I love the location of the water tank! I'm looking forward to reading all about the construction. Given the current, very high level of your work I expect this will be well within your capabilities, but will throw the odd challenge here and there :-)

    1. Actually Wren was my first thought, especially as I took some useful photos of it when I visited the National Railway Museum a couple of years ago. In the end I bottled out of doing it for two reasons. Firstly I thought accurately forming the saddle tank by hand might by an issue, but mostly because of the extra waggly bits visible on the outside of the frames! I can imagine fabricating coupling rods, but cylinders etc. seem a step too far. Mind you depending on how large I go scale wise I could always try and model the inside cylinders on Bee if I feel up to the challenge.

  3. Its a very good challenge, and I look forward to seeing how different modellers work.

    I suppose if you did the Laxey locos in the smaller scales the boiler could simply be the can motor with a chimney and done glued on top, the drive belt being hidden in the water tank!

    Wheels shouldn't be a problem, simple discs with the cranks being brass overlays. Time I think that you invested in a small bench drill though.

    However you do yours, and in whatever scale you choose, I shall enjoy following the journey.

    1. Yeah, in smaller scales either just using a can motor or a motor in the horizontally in the boiler with a belt drive in the water tank makes the most sense. In larger scales (with more vertical space) I'm thinking a motor vertically under the dome driving the rear axle might work well and would leave room for cylinders inside the frames (either working or cosmetic) with rod drive to the front axle. I still haven't decided on a scale yet although I am leaning towards the larger scales.

      You are right as well that I could really do with investing in some workshop rather than hand-held tools. My main problem is that I have no real idea what I'm looking for. I've looked at a few unimats on eBay before but I've no idea if the cost being asked is reasonable or not. Just this morning I had a look on Amazon for a pillar drill but yet again I'm not sure what I should be looking at or how much I should be spending (i.e. where is the line between cheap and nasty and just good value for money). Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    2. I'd start with a small bench drill, Proxxon units look good but expensive. Having said that you do get what you pay for, and good kit lasts. I have seen reference on a forum somewhere to a cheap (about £60) but decent suitable sized unit on eBay, but can't remember where. Even if you have a Unimat a drill press is worth having, sometimes you just want to drill a couple of holes without setting the machine up as a mill/drill.

      One for the forum I reckon. You might even get some sensible answers...

      As fro Unimats, SLs (my machine) sell for £250-£300 on eBay, although you might find a cheaper machine on Gumtree. Unimat 3s, possibly a better buy as they're more rigid and slightly larger, tend to sell for £3-400.

    3. Further to the above; its easier to find certain accessories for the 3 than for the SL, collet chucks for example can still be bought new. (Aftermarket SL collet chucks can be had, but availability is limited.)