Framed Wagon


This week I’ve been working on all the lumpy bits of the newly covered wagon, and my goodness but there are a lot of them. The fascinating thing to me (and it’s my blog so you’re getting this too) is that the lumpy bits act as a frame holding the entire wagon together.

This is probably obvious to people who understand these things but it was only this week that I realised that it is not simply that the sides don’t hold up the roof: the rest of the van has to handle the not insignificant forces of the entire door sliding along the length of the van and slamming against the other end, again and again and again.

My word but that’s awful grammar. Keep up at the back there.

I’m guessing that while the Complicated Van sliding Door Department were at work, in the office next door the Mahoosive Frame Design Committee were scribbling away at ideas to make the rest of the van solid enough to work without it sinking through the track. The wagon is essentially a thumping big frame with the chassis, ends and central pillar taking all the stresses of the load. Even the roof is a bit of an afterthought between the load bearing girders. And I thought they were just big gutters.

All of which makes this nondescript van a very impressive bit of design, especially when you consider that a set of curtain sides would have been a far simpler solution.

Which leads to another thought: all the pictures I can find of these vans shows them trundling through alpine meadows and past the occasional happy cow, so why the heavy security? What do the designers know about rural Switzerland that we don’t? I think we should be told.


Covered Wagon

After sides, the other feature people tend to expect on a van is a roof.

As seems to be normal on this project, this proved to be complicated.

The clever designers of the original vans -presumably from the Complicated Sliding Van Door Department- had a problem. The sides have to slide right out of the way to give free access to the open side of the van and allow the loading of palettes with forklift trucks and other evil machines of global capitalism.

I’m guessing those clever designers solved this with a cunning dropping down sliding mechanism so the door can move away from the main body of the van, and then slide parallel to the other door. This is a very practical solution; the closed door is secure, watertight, and as these vans have been used by the Rhaetian Bahn in Switzerland since 1984, apparently robust.

Unfortunately they are a pain in the bottom to build in 1:55 scale.

It isn’t just the funky angle at the top of the door, it’s also that there’s supposed to be a large ‘gap’ between door and roof, which is essential to capture the character of the van, although I appreciate I could be going down a bit of a rabbit hole here.

So I came up with a plan: I’d make the roof in two 0.5mm layers, one smaller than the other. The inner roof will be covered by a slightly wider outer roof which will hide all my mistakes, strengthen the roof and create the impression of that thumping great gap. So far the van just has the inner roof -don’t ask about the fun and games and bits of plastic I ended up adding there to make it straight, I really need a better way of making formers.

Unfortunately things like real life got in the way after that, so I’m going to have to see if this works as well as I’m hoping next week…

Remind me again how a creative hobby is good for reducing stress levels and getting yourself into a more relaxed state of mind?

Open Wagon

One important, indeed essential feature of the covered van, is that they are enclosed on both sides, so this week was pretty much a repeat of last week with a new set of mistakes. I think I got away with most of them but it’s probably good that you can’t see both sides of the van at once.

I’m also glad that the sister van to this one will be to a different design.

Still, it’s a learning experience. Up until now I’ve always been a bit sniffy about buying strips of plastic for things, assuming that I can cut plastic pretty straight, so why would I need someone else to do it for me at five times the cost? I realised on this model that while I can cut straight to within half a millimetre or so, having several pieces slightly too narrow or wide adds up. One or two of the panels had to be glued in by eye  because even though I went from the side to the middle each time I’d end up with one gap that was bigger than the rest.

Ah, well,  interesting details, paint and weathering can hide a lot of things. I think I may be testing that theory to destruction when I finish this model…



So having decided to build an unnecessarily complicated model, the first problem was how wide to build the chassis. This you’ll appreciate is rather important.

The problem is that those elaborate doors and associated strange shaped bits make this rather difficult. On this version of the van the original designer saw fit to make recess in the central pillar between the two doors, so instead of making a nice simple side with a couple of lines scored in the middle to suggest a join, I had to add all kinds of additional jiggerypokery with braces behind to hold it all together, and I needed to know how wide these were going to be before I made the chassis to fit.

This is  long way of explaining why I’m now making the sides and ends of a van, and not the bottom, like more sensible people would.

In a rare moment of practical forward planning I’ve even taken pictures of the construction process so I can remember how I made this model.

That way if I’m overcome by the desire to make a second version I’ll hopefully be able to do it slightly faster than a poorly motivated sloth.


[Some early risers may have seen this post last week. I tend to write posts a week or so ahead in case something comes up on the weekend, and I went and pressed the wrong button. Still, now you get to read it all again...]




Party animal

This week the theatre/social enterprise I work for was part of a big summer festival in our part of the city, which meant Saturday was full of loud music, crowds, lights, more loud music, and more crowds. Pretty much the standard town festival formula really. Oh, and it ran to midnight and after that we had to tidy everything up. And someone decided it would be a great idea to put the 5’3″ (168cm) Brit on the rota for the stage door bouncer.

When not trying to keep people on the public side of the stage door by sheer force of personality and a step, I wasn’t needed for anything else and could lurk in the relative peace of the office and draw sketches of models.

This particular sketch is of the Höfelbachbahn, the entirely fictional railway that briefly existed as a rather unsuccessful circular model until I decided that being able to run a train round and round was only an advantage if it didn’t keep falling off the track because it hit a building. This is an attempt to take most of what I liked about the original and rebuild it in a way that trains could go in and out of the station without smacking into the scenery.

The idea is generally the same, a small remote village in the hills served by a narrow gauge railway despite the best efforts of the local government. The line follows the local roads and enters the town through two city gates, with this station between them. Having two city gates like this isn’t unknown where towns expanded but still needed the protection and authority a wall gives. The gate on the left would be the existing one from the previous model, and the one on the right would be a newer version, probably a bit more attractive and showy. This is where trains coming up the steep hill are organised to be taken to the terminus in the old town, and also delivered to local industries like the post office (which I’ve already built) and an expended farmers cooperative and/or carpenter to hide the backstage area.

The big question of course is if it is worth allowing a small fiddle yard through the ‘old’ city gate. This would mean I could run trains into the station and use the ‘old city’ a a destination for any wagon I couldn’t otherwise find an excuse to use on the model.

When I make plans like this I can almost convince myself I can get away with making it in the living room. “Sure” I tell myself. “I could make this on a small shelf in the living room with track running along the wall. No-one would notice.”

Drawing board

Attempts at self discipline continue. This weeks project is an endeavour to kick start some freight wagons for the Körschtalbahn, on the basis that the big diesel really should have something to pull. Admittedly I don’t have a diesel as yet, nor do I have a layout for this hypothetical train to run along, but hey, never let facts get in the way of an interesting project.

The mythical and somewhat optimistic traffic flows of the Körschtalbahn which I will bore you with at some point will require vans to keep the products carried safe and dry in transit. To be viable they will need to be high capacity vans which can take standard Euro palettes and be loaded and unloaded with a forklift truck to keep costs down, so we’re talking large capacity vans with big sliding doors. These are pretty commonplace on modern European railways and fortunately I even found that the metre gauge Rhaetian Railway have a fleet. Readers with a long memory and an extremely high boredom threshold will recall that in the early years of this blog I tried to make a 1:43 scale model of one of these, which shows just how very slowly I work.

The RHB have two types of van at the moment. I’m building the more complex one, less because I have ideas of genius in the model making department, more because the more complex vans are an older batch, so I have a bit more leeway to hide my mistakes by weathering the dodgy bits.

Which is all very well, but we are currently in one of the busiest seasons at work, as we are taking part in a big summer festival this weekend so work may well be even slower than normal. Still, that design is completed, which is the really tough bit finished: after all, the rest is just cutting bits out and sticking them together…

Open Office

Most of what passes for scale modelmaking here takes place on an A4 sized cutting mat in a cupboard in our living room. This has the advantage that I can close the doors and hide the disaster zone that my workbench inevitably becomes after a few sessions.

It also has some drawbacks, especially as I tend to buy materials from art wholesalers and architecture supply shops, as I have yet to find a local model shop that sells anything other than boxes of hideously expensive trains. The local art wholesaler in particular tends to object to selling card in sheets less than about 2m long so when I decided to work on a project that meant I’d need to use this card, there was no option but the floor.

I like to think this gives me a mystical bond with Japanese craftsmen who worked in this way for centuries, but realistically they would be unlikely to be constructing a set of small buildings for a rather silly tabletop game.

The buildings are supposed to have a vaguely generic military feel, so we can make a sort of low budget bond villain base for our characters to play in. Hopefully they will be generic enough to take on other roles as it seems tabletop games are a bit like film sets and you need to make new scenes fairly frequently.