Works train

I’m travelling a lot on the tram these days so it was only  matter of time before I came across the works train that trundles about the network making sure it is safe for citizens to travel.

Here it is coming into our local station, With the sun in entirely the wrong place for taking a photo of the front, but there we are.

SSB_Works train_01
Most networks I know use old trams for this sort of job. I’m guessing this apparently rather lavish setup is because Stuttgart converted to standard gauge a few years back and they haven’t had time to build up a stock of old units to convert.

SSB_Works train_02
after the driving cab we have the two miscellaneous wagons carrying mysterious track repairing tools.

SSB_Works train_03
And finally one of the ugliest locomotives ever to run anywhere in the world. It’s as if, having made the trams, the designer realised there was another page on the order form, and five minutes until the weekend. Or maybe they just didn’t like Stuttgart.

Or perhaps it is an off the shelf B-B industrial loco for working in tight environments.

SSB_Works train_04

Either way, there’s a face only a mother could love.

(Model making is still taking place. More soon.)

A week later than planned, and several years after I originally tried making a baseboard, the finished item was ready to go back to the apartment, which was an interesting logistical exercise as we live about 15 kilometres away from the farm.


I’ve also long maintained that if God intended us to drive cars, he’d never have given us bicycles, so on Saturday I got out our big Dutch Bakfiets (‘Box Bike’) and rode somewhat sedately to work, parked in a field for the day, then loaded up when everyone had gone home.

It took a bit longer to get back than usual, but not much, although it would help if the bike lanes had been designed by someone who used a bicycle. Or had even seen one, but that’s a subject for another blog.


Now the finished baseboard is pretending to be a storage box in our living room, and we’re trying to work out what we can fit in it.

I wonder if I could take the layout to exhibitions like this?

Nine wheelbarrows full of manure. This is relevant to a blog about railways. Honestly.


I currently work in a city farm and we all take it in turns to do the Sunday duty. We have quite a lot of animals so we have to be on site all day, even though we’re not actually feeding for the full eight hours, so I get to make things in the workshop when the animals don’t actually need me, and I get a day off to make up for it. Everyone wins until the livestock escapes and leg it off up the lane.

My cunning plan had been to cut the parts for the baseboard over the week and build the easy bits in the evening, then to concentrate on the awkward bits on Sunday when I had feeding duty.

So, after hauling those nine wheelbarrows off to the manure tip, I had lunch and headed over to the workshop.

The first problem was stopping our geriatric “Made in West Germany” stand drill making egg shaped holes. Once I solved this I had a good hunt in our chaotic wood store until I found what the lifestyle magazines would call ‘upcycled materials’, and what we know as an old table leg made of beechwood. Beech wood is one of the hardest European woods, so I figured that would make a join that didn’t go all wobbly on me.

I’d just set the drill up when a sheep wandered past the window.

After retrieving the sheep, I drilled holes in the the beechwood. Of course they were wonky. I’m claiming this is because of the escaping sheep but you’ll all know it was incompetence. The new versions were clamped together so they wouldn’t move, then screwed together to make sure. Wood on drill, power on.

Then one of the donkeys started making a noise because a goat was looking at her funny.


I shooed the goats back to their pen and tried again. The drill went through eventually, having made enough smoke to cure a side of bacon, and finally I got all the holes for the bolts and extras for the wires, and took the whole thing over to the baseboard.


By now I’d resigned myself to the idea of aligning everything by eye. This will probably get me drummed out of the carpenters guild as I’m supposed to do everything by measuring, but it saved a lot of time and swearing.


As it was, by the time I’d screwed the lot down, test bolted both boards together, and prepared some extra framing to make the box look like a boring storage box, the horses had started complaining at the lack of service and the sheep were getting organised for an assault on the feed bins.


On the other hand, after several years of planning (and several months of faffing), I have finally made a servicable baseboard.

Now all I had to do was get it to our apartment…

Passing through

So, as part of my work I had to go to a seminar in Tübingen for three days in a row. The seminar offered overnight accommodation but as far as I’m concerned, events with lots with lots of people are best consumed in small doses, so I commuted every day.


Thus it was that I found myself in Esslingen m Neckar, waiting for a train.

Germans still have proper trains with coaches and a big engine at one end. These are usually push-pull units to save mucking about with shunting every time they have to change direction. Notice bike waiting on platform: this is handy for the first and last bits of the journey, and it tends to crop up in pictures when I’m travelling these days.


The other end of the same train, with a Class 146 locomotive pushing away. These have taken over many medium distance trains on the Stuttgart-Ulm line, where I suspect their higher top speed is handy in keeping out of the way of the ICE Expresses.


Esslingen has several more platforms than would seem to be strictly necessary. The train on the right is one of the shiny new S-Bahn trains recently introduced, which replaced the last of the 1960’s vintage units that were still going strong when I arrived in Germany. So now, not only are trains I’ve travelled on in a museum in Japan, but trains I knew well as an adult have been replaced.

I am getting old.

These new S-Bahn trains were originally fitted with extending platforms that came out from the side of the train and bridged the gap between train and platform. This was fine until they stopped at a station with a low platform, when the bridges would all come out at shin height.

I do wonder if the people who buy these things ever use them.

Still, all is fixed now and very nice the new trains are too…


Meanwhile, on the fast lines, another regional train was going from somewhere to somewhere else.


We also still have some single deck trains (occasionally there’s a mixup and you get a single driving trailer on a double deck train, or vice versa, which is just wierd).

This one is headed by a driving trailer class BDnrzf 740 (Why use one letter when four will do?) bound for Ulm. They were built from the 1970’s and look it. The red/grey painting doesn’t do it a lot of favours either. Mind you I should probably stop whining as they have a nice big space for bikes and they have been rebuilt with wide plug doors that open with a button instead of the double doors they used to have: getting a bike up five very steep steps is hard enough without having to hold back a door fitted with a spring that wanted to kill you.


On the other hand I have an irrational fondness for the class 143 locomotives, the class 47 of German railways, which I’ve written about before.


Finally, a class 101 came charging through the station on the fast line on an intercity train headed for Ulm and beyond. Then after I’d put my camera away and gone into the underpass to catch my train, the sun came out and two freight trains came through….

The original plan for the baseboard was that it should look like a piece of furniture with the wood stained and polished, maybe even beechwood trim.

Then I realised that this was the wrong approach. Instead, it should look boring.

Mention in a social setting that you have the latest cell phone, and the conversation will revolve around the features offered and the contract that came with it -in tedious detail- for some considerable time. Mention that you actually make stuff, and the response is anything from blank looks to outright derision.

Several times I’ve made the mistake of letting someone see my modelling bench and had responses along the lines of “you don’t have enough to do”, usually from people who think nothing of spending thousands on the latest electronic toy, which will be played with for half an hour total before vanishing for a year and reappearing as landfill.

The last thing I want is someone like this taking too much interest in the model railway, especially as it is my son’s work as well as mine, so I’m using ‘dazzle camouflage‘: the idea isn’t to hide the layout, but to make it look like another piece of boring semi-disposable Swedish furniture. If a potential scoffer asks what it is, I’ll just say it’s a ‘storage box’.

Their loss.


Having made the basic design for the baseboard, the next challenge was to actually build the thing. You may think this is simple as I work in a creative workshop with loads of wood and several noisy machines for making holes in it, but the workshop is run by a charity for the benefit of young people and as I’ve noticed before, charities run for young people get a lot of praise and very little money, meaning the equipment we have dates from the time of the Cold War and is about as accurate as a report in an East German newspaper.

For a few weeks I’d noticed an annoying tendency on the part of the table saw to cut things just a tiny bit off square. Most of the time this isn’t a problem because after being sawed by enthusiastic but not entirely competent children, it wouldn’t be square anyway, but model trains don’t like jumping over gaps between baseboards so this would have to be improved.

Investigations revealed that the problem was the riving knife, which is the curved bit of metal that sits behind the saw blade in the picture above. It stops the wood flying backwards and hitting the carpenter in the eye at high speed, which is a good thing. Ours was slightly wonky and it was pulling the wood off centre. This is not so good.

Solution. Take the riving knife out, clean possibly a decades worth of accumulated sawdust out of the inner gubbins, replace knife. Test.


After a few minutes of kicking things and bemoaning the state of the world, it occurred to me that if I cut the wood about a centimetre over size, and then cut it again, I’d only have a very narrow strip beyond the saw, so that when the riving knife pushed this to the side, the wood could bend instead of pulling the rest of the wood with it.

This almost worked, with some improvised guiding of the wood (Read: Brute force) and carefully marking which bits were square and which were not, I finally had baseboard tops and sides that were the shape of a rectangle instead of a sneaky diamond. It even looks a bit like the original sketch:


This solved I prepared for the next challenge: making the open baseboard fit together…


Having found a suitably tree-huggy reason for making a model railway, and access to the materials and machines needed to make a baseboard, it was time to put off building a bit longer by working out what I wanted to make.
The baseboard needed to be:

1: Small, as we live in an apartment with four children.

2: We have to be able to pack up the baseboard, preferably into a box, so it is out of the way when not in use, and safe from dust and inquisitive fingers.

3: It will have to be taken apart and rebuilt every time we use it, by less than expert handlers. It therefore needs to be built like a brick toilet.

As usual I spent some time completely over-thinking this, and as usual I finally decided the simplest version was best. I found a space on two shelves of semi-disposable Swedish furniture which could be used as a temporary home, meaning the final board had to be no longer than about 1700mm (5’7”) when opened, and break down to a mere 850mm (2’9”) for storage.
Here’s what I came up with: (Click to enlarge)


There’s a few extra details I haven’t drawn, but that’s the basic idea.

At carpentry college they invested large amounts of money teaching trying to teach me how to use CAD programmes. As you can see it was money well spent.

Next: the battle of wills between your correspondent, a pile of pine, and our elderly woodworking machines…


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