Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Ghost In The Sleeper

Wooden railway sleepers don't last forever and often need replacing. The wood is of course still useable for other things. For example, it's not hard to find old sleepers used as fence posts. Such uses of old sleepers are easy to spot as, apart from their fairly standard size, you can usually see the impression left by the rail chair including holes where they were bolted down. Whilst you may see similar fences on model railways, how many modellers go to the trouble of modelling the ghost of the rail chair?

Whilst most people might not bother with such small details some people like to go the extra mile to make their models as lifelike as they can. One such person contacted me last year to ask if it would be possible to design a tool that would make it nice and easy to add these marks to 7mm to the foot scale sleepers.

The design work was relatively easy as I managed to track down a drawing for a rail chair (specifically a four bolt version used by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway) which I used to produce a 3D printed prototype on my resin printer. This was then tested using some of my son's Playdoh.

Of course the resin version is unlikely to hold up to repeated use being hammered into wooden sleepers, but having proved that the pattern it left seemed right, a little more work got me to a an easy to use tool that I could have 3D printed in brass.
Of course once the brass version arrived I couldn't resist giving it a go before posting it on to it's new home.
I think that looks pretty good, and as it takes just seconds to add the marks it's easy enough to quickly detail a large pile of sleepers ready to build a fence or maybe for an old siding where the rails have been removed. Given how many different ways old sleepers get used the possibilites are endless.

If you want to add rail chair details to your own 7mm scale model landscape then I've made the tool available to buy on Shapeways (see here).

While four bolt chairs were fairly common, I do have drawings for rail chairs from other companies which (given time) I'm intending to use to produce a set of tools, but in the meantime if you want a tool to produce the ghost of a specific comapnies rail chair let me know and I'll do my best to help.


  1. Interesting. Could also be of value to 7mm scale n.g. modellers building their own track, as ex-standard gauge sleepers cut in half are commonly used on the narrow gauge.

    1. I knew there was another photo I meant to add to this post! New follow up post in 3...2...1