Model Building · Narrow Gauge

A New Life for Penrhyn Carriage “H”

Here’s another story about a 7/8″ scale Welsh two foot narrow gauge model I built a couple of years ago…

Idlenot Light Railway open third No. 7 built from ex-Penrhyn workman carriage “H”.

For some reason, despite 3 or 4 unfinished projects on the workbench, I got the bug to build a model of the original Talyllyn No. 7 for my 7/8” scale Idlenot Light Railway. The prototype was the Penrhyn Quarry Railway quarrymans carriage “H” but with a roof – essentially an open third.

In the early days of the Talyllyn preservation society, six Penrhyn quarrymans carriages made their way to Pendre. The Talyllyn shops constructed three cars from them: Nos. 7, 8 and 9. Nos. 7 and 8 were simply Penrhyn carriage bodies (“H” and “P”) with their 2′-0″ wheels replaced with 2’-3” gauge wheels from Corris slate wagons to suit the Talyllyn’s gauge. Each seated 18 passengers. (The Penrhyn though squeezed 24 workmen into each carriage!) No. 9 was an 8 wheel, bogie trucked frame with 2 Penrhyn carriage bodies (“C” and “D”) mounted on top.  The volunteers added a roof to No. 7 while Nos. 8 and 9 ran open to the sky. Being a bit decrepit to start with none of these cars were in service all that long (we’re talking the early ‘60s) but they helped fill a shortage of passenger rolling stock at a critical time. By the way, the frame from No. 7 was later repurposed for the Talyllyn Refreshment Van or “tea van”. The Idlenot is certainly going to need one of those. It’s on the short list.

Despite laser cut kits being available in 7/8” scale for these carriages I decided to build mine from scratch. I worked primarily from old photos and plans in Bernard Rockett’s Penrhyn Quarry Railways, Part 1. In addition, Great Railway Eras No. 9 Talyllyn 60 has nice photos of both No. 7 and No. 8. The Association of 16mm Narrow Gauge Modelers’ Penrhyn Quarry Railway Modeler’s Guide had a few pages on building the 16mm kit versions of these carriages and that was helpful too.

John Bate’s tome, The Chronicles of Pendre Sidings, provided much behind the scenes information – he was there, after all! I learned of the channel underframe stiffeners from the text and a photo showing No. 7 tipped partly over. The stiffeners were added to stop the shimmying that was causing alignment the axleboxes. That’s certainly something we want to avoid on the Idlenot.

The body and underframe of Idlenot No. 7 are made largely from basswood. The ends are aircraft ply scribed to the correct board width. A 16g steel subfloor gives the car a little heft. 7/8ths Railway Equipment Co. axleboxes and Sierra Valley gauge 1 spoked wheel sets were used in the spirit of the basic running gear on the prototype. Many brass “lil” pins were added for carriage bolt detail. (I always thought my English granddad was saying “Lillpins”. Fifty or so years later, I realized they were just small.) Corner strapping was formed from styrene strips and dress pins. Angle braces for the seat backs and the underframe’s channel stiffeners came from styrene shapes.

Here’s the second go at the body in gray primer. Its inspiration is in the right, top photo in Talyllyn 60.

Accucraft round face chopper couplers – standard on the Idlenot – were mounted along with Penrhyn style eye rings from Talisman. The inevitable holidays were filled with Squadron Green putty and the body given a coat of sanding sealer, then gray primer. In deference to its Penrhyn roots, the finish coat is a dark, brownish, purplish eggplant color. Not having a color sample to work from I mixed Polly Scale PRR Maroon and AT&SF Blue to get a shade I thought close – maybe aubergine. It took quite a few airbrush coats to get even coverage. The number “7” was hand painted in white on each end.

The seats are bench slats, as on the later run of home-built Penrhyn cars, with a varnished finish. These went in last. Two letters “H” were fashioned from brass, shined up and attached to each side. Not trusting adhesive to hold these on for very long a sturdier mounting method was sought. I drilled through #70 twice on each letter then through the car sides. Dress pins were pushed through from the inside, soldered to the front of the letters, trimmed and cleaned up. They’ll never come off!

The roof and stanchions are constructed from brass for strength. Using the car body as a jig, the stanchions were cut from square brass tubing, drilled and mounted to the sides with 0-80 nuts and bolts. Then, when everything was squared up, the letterboards were soldered to the tops of the stanchions with resistance soldering tweezers.

The brass bits for the roof assembly are being readied. I choose brass for strength. A wooden frame would be just too dainty.

Brass crosspieces were fashioned to the arch of the roof by sawing and filing. Soldering the two frames foresquare to the crosspieces was problematic until I thought to leave the side frames bolted to the car sides and push them together against the crosspieces with bar clamps. I turned to an 80W iron for this work being careful to keep each stanchion clamped to the letterboard as I went around. Now the entire roof assembly could be easily handled as a unit.

I decided on tinplate sheet as a sub-roof. It solders so easily. And it was easy to bend to the arch of the roof. The roof frame was turned upside down and soldered to the sub-roof in a rolling fashion, again using the 80W iron. Once in place, the sub-roof was trimmed to size with a pair of household scissors.

After an overnight bath in citric acid the roof assembly was clean and ready for paint. Masking off the roof top, I gave the frame a coat of rattle can etch primer in that lovely new shade of monkey vomit green followed by an automotive satin black.

The finished appearance of the roof was to be a canvas look which I do with cotton cloth. Since I couldn’t shellac to the nonporous tinplate subroof I instead used rubber contact cement. After ironing the cloth smooth and wrinkle free I coated it with cement. The tinplate was cleaned with acetone and it too was coated with cement. In 20 minutes or so the cement flashed dry. Then, the cloth was carefully draped over the roof and, with the help of a warm dress iron, bonded to the tinplate. Finally, the rooftop was given a coat of gray primer and several coats of white to represent a heavily leaded paint finish. I don’t weather my passenger rolling stock as the Idlenot volunteers take loving care of their roster so it’s finished off with Testors Gloss Cote.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that everything went smoothly. I made a lot of mistakes along the way. Ask my wife about the film of rubber cement I left on her iron. Some ideas just didn’t work out. I can be ham fisted and sometimes a little impulsive. Part of the model building craft is learning to overcome or at least skillfully hide your mistakes. Don’t be afraid to throw out a part or an entire assembly for that matter and do it over! The first body for No. 7 went straight into the tipper. I didn’t like it. It just didn’t look right.

My large scale models are meant to be viewed from several feet away in the garden so I try to strike a balance and not rat hole into too much fine detail. The three foot rule is in force. Or is it the ten foot rule? I forget. Generally, I don’t bother much with underframe or interior detail if it can’t be seen with the car upright on the rails.

No. 7 in the dappled sunlight on the Isle of Shoals Tramway. 
No 7 parked at the Drew Road Station platform on Rich Chiodo’s lovely Isle of Shoals Tramway.

With the roof assembly bolted to the body the carriage was finally complete. It’s numbered Idlenot Light Railway No. 7 and, I must say, looks quite the tart – making the scene in aubergine.

Layout Construction · Model Building · Narrow Gauge

The Crowsnest Tramway Co.

Off topic, I suppose, but I thought I’d share a few photos of one of my favorite layout themes: Roy C. Link’s Crowsnest Tramway Co., the 1:32 version. It was on display at the 2015 Narrow Gauge Convention in Augusta, ME. I had seen the odd B&W photo in publications but never dreamed I’d get to see it in person. What a surprise when I walked into the convention display room!


If you are familiar with the Narrow Gauge & Industrial Railway Modeling Review magazine then Roy Link needs no introduction. He’s as famous in the UK as Bob Brown and the Gazette are over here.

Roy is a master model builder. The Crowsnest Tramway is an ongoing theme. A new diorama pops up from time to time in whatever scale Roy chooses. There have been versions in O14.5 (On2 over here) and 16mm (a popular large modeling scale in the UK) in addition to the one pictured here in 1:32.

[A collection of photos gathered from the web.]

See the Crowsnest in action at this link: Crowsnest Tramway

I love everything about it. The scenery connotes an airy, sparse landscape up in the hills. The backdrop is beautifully done. Trackwork is typical industrial narrow gauge. As far as I know most everything is scratch built. The detail is enchanting. Notice the chickens next to the scale house.

Roy sold the diorama to another notable UK modeler, the late Mike South, who brought it with him to Calgary, Canada. After Mike’s passing, it passed into obscurity until located by Canadian Craig Parry. Craig restored the diorama and built the wonderful display cabinet you see above. He has been bringing it to various conventions in North America.

As I recall, this Crowsnest Tramway diorama represents the end of the line where lead ore is weighed and then tipped into road vehicles.

The D&NE is a modest achievable layout intended to be built to a high standard. And then you see workmanship like this and just ponder…

Idlenot Light Railway · Model Building · Narrow Gauge

Idlenot Light Railway Tool Van No. 2

Before I started on the D&NE I was building 7/8″ scale models of Welsh two foot narrow gauge equipment. Here’s the story of one of those cars…

“The Idlenot Light Railway Preservation Society proudly announces the presentation of tool van #2 to the railway’s operating department. The tool van was rebuilt from the remains of Glyn Valley Tramway box van #2 discovered some years ago in a farmers yard deep in the Welsh countryside. After decades of service as a chicken coop, most of the remains were quite unusable. But the lads in the car shop were able to construct what must be considered a replica from that heap of rotted timbers and rusted ironwork using only a few old picture postcards as a guide. They claim there are some original parts in the rebuilt van. You would be hard pressed to know which as the workmanship is done in the traditional manner and, I might add, in a superb fashion. Congratulations to these intrepid volunteers!”

Volunteer work train trundling home in the dappled eventide with Tool van No. 2 in tow. Photo taken on Rich Chiodo’s beautiful Isle of Shoals Tramway.

This 7/8” modeling project was started as an interlude after constructing a GVT guards van for a neighboring restored railway line. The original idea was to march right into a second copy of the guards van for the Idlenot but I wanted to tackle something a little different first. Flipping through the pages of Bernard Rockett’s Glen Valley Goods plan book right after the guards van there are plans for the GVT box vans, similar in size and shape but different in detail. The box van is scratch built except for the running gear, couplings and a few detail bits.

The brake lever details were cut from 16g steel. The chain is from an old piece of jewelry.

The frame is constructed from basswood timbers topped by a floor of 22 gauge steel. The sides and ends are built from individual basswood planks. All of the ironwork strapping is constructed from styrene. The innumerable square bolt heads are diced from 1/16” square styrene and dropped onto the side braces in a puddle of MEK. Much of the remaining detail, the door latches, the brake gear, etc… is constructed from brass and steel. Oodles of pot metal NBWs adorn the end braces. Sierra Valley Enterprises spoked wheel sets are running in SVE sprung axle guards. They sit a little proud but are a close representation of the GVT equipment. Accucraft 16mm scale chopper couplings – standard on the Idlenot – complete the car.

Complete, that is, except for the roof. After several failed attempts, a decent approach to the roof was uncovered with much help and consultation with the boys over at the car shops of the nearby Isle of Shoals Tramway and my good wife! First, with much planing and sanding, a block of balsa was shaped to the roof contour. Since this roof was to be permanent, the balsa block was simply glued into place. Next, a sheet of 1/16” aircraft ply, cut a little over sized, was bonded to the balsa with yellow carpenters glue. How was it bent to shape? I remembered a passage in D. A. Boreham’s classic, Narrow Gauge Railway Modeling, where he described mounting a roof on a passenger car. The car is propped over two bits of wood with the car sides aligned with the edges of the boards and then the car is heavily weighted. Next morning you have a perfectly formed roof. All it needs is careful trimming to the proper overhang.

For the finish surface, I was looking for a tarred canvas effect. I settled on some cotton material from an old bed sheet. The most important step is to iron it – it must be wrinkle free. How to bond it to the roof? Shellac! I covered the ply with a thick coat of shellac and then carefully draped the cotton cloth over the wet goop. It helps to cut a diagonal slit in the cloth at each corner so it drapes nicely. When that dried, I applied several more top coats of shellac. The final step was to trim the now stiff cloth with a single edge razor blade right to the edge of the ply. A few coats of variegated blacks and grays give the roof the look of tarred canvas.

The final step was, of course, paint and finish. The GVT cars were painted in what was described as a “holly green”. Actually, there are several descriptions of that color but the paint faded to blue and that gives a good clue as to the shade of green. I settled for Humbrol Acrylic #163 Dark Green with some Humbrol #3 Brunswick Green mixed in to punch it up. I was aiming for the shade of green on the rebuilt GVT coaches over at the Talyllyn Railway. Since this is a freshly shopped car, I brush painted it straight up with only a little weathering. The running gear was given a coat of rusty brown and then attacked with washes of blacks and darkened rust. A final dry brushing of dark rust was applied to the door latches and the many bolt heads.

I tried cutting stencils for the lettering with limited success.

The lettering is reminiscent of the Talyllyn Railway volunteer built tool van which itself is lettered in a style reminiscent of the Cambrian Railways, pre-1922 of course. Mine is not quite that fancy. Its hand painted with white enamel. Okay, I lied. I cut stencils for the “IDL RWY” and sprayed the white but the edges just weren’t crisp enough. I came back with a thin outline in black ink to clean up the edges and fix the line weights. It also gives a little snap to the lettering. But it’s not intended to be shadowing, as such. You shouldn’t really see it. The “No 2” really was hand painted – I couldn’t cut stencils that small and curvy.

A little more dusting and rusting, not much, and a final coat of matte spray completed the car. Hurray! It’s going to earn its living hauling tools and supplies out to the upcoming track work projects.