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Thursday 7 July 2011

Trackwork - Part 6

Making your own ballast has the same satisfaction that a gardener gains from making their own compost!

You may not be able to use my technique as most of the material was given to me so, I do not know of a commercial source.

I started off many years ago using grey (or pink?) cat litter, ground down or sieved to a fine grade. I would not recommend cat litter now because the granules tend to fall apart when wet. But, remnants still show up in my ballast because my mix is reusable from layout to layout. (Read on and you'll find the special glue that holds the ballast stable yet allows it to be lifted and re-used). Subsequently I was given a bag of decorative grey (granite?) chips use by the building trade. The granules are a few millimetres across. These were crushed in an old coffee grinder and sieved with a fine mesh tea strainer to remove the dust (which is used for tarmac road surfaces) and then sieved with a 1 millimetre mesh used for car body repairs to create scale 3" ballast rocks.

Cork granules were sieved and added to the mix in small quantities. The grey chips predominate and the cork adds a little colour variation.

The magic glue is wallpaper paste flakes that are crushed and sieved with a tea strainer with the resulting 'dust' added to the mix. Can't really say what proportions are used - it's all guess work.

Some prototype track work has dark ballast between the sleepers where trains have deposited oil and muck so, a second mix is made up comprising the granite chips, black carbon granules from a face mask filter and dark brown dyed sawdust (Peco scatter material). The photo above shows this variation.

The ballast is then laid and water mixed with a little washing up liquid (to reduce surface tension) is sprayed to thoroughly soak the material. It takes a couple of days to dry by natural evaporation and leaves a stable surface that will withstand light vacuuming but will crumble to pieces if scrapped with a screwdriver. Hence it can be broken up for reuse.

To Part 7

Saturday 2 July 2011

Van B or not Van B That is the Question

First built in 1937 and still in use up until 1986 these Bogie Van Bs conveyed luggage, newspapers and mail on the 'Southern'. Despite its longevity and common appearance on the network (130 were built) it has yet to appear as a ready-to-run model in 4mm scale (not to be confused with the Hornby Van C). The only source I am aware of is the Ratio kit, now marketed by Peco.


Hornby introduced its r-t-r Van B in 2012. So popular it quickly sold out and is now as rare as hens teeth!

The best photo of the prototype I found on the web is this one and since my model is to be a 1960s newspaper van on the west of England route then I could not hope for a better picture to use as a reference as it shows crisp, close up details and roof destination boards for this route, (though quite why the van is at Canterbury West is a mystery to me).

On opening the kit of parts we find a plethora of finely detailed parts to assembly. One look at the brass fret reveals parts so small (The door T handles are about a millimetre long) that it will fill many with horror at the thought of handling them without loss. It is for this reason I believe that many people pack it away to assemble another day and years later retrieve it from the bottom drawer or attic to sell on, since they come up on Ebay now and then.

You may be impressed by the extent of thought gone into the kit design. However, minute parts such as door handles and hinges should have been designed into the plastic door mould tool and the doors themselves integrated with the van sides. This would make it a simpler and more enjoyable assembly, and possibly cheaper (Currently retails for about £20). Did I mention the tiny dynamo is assembled from 4 individual parts and the tiny periscope from five! Perhaps there are ardent kit builders who derive pleasure from such challenges/frustrations. Not me I have to say. I just want a Van B.

Despite a multitude of details supplied there are some notable exceptions. The brass wire, which is required for the periscope window wiper and battery box tie bars, is too short - supplement this by using the staple fasteners from the packaging. There are no window bars, which are an obvious feature of the prototype - created mine in graphic editing software and printed on transparent film; and the water slide transfers are not expansive enough to represent later period vans.

I'm sorry this is not a happier account. On the plus side if you do manage to build it without loosing tiny parts to the carpet abyss then you will feel a sense of achievement and have a finely detailed model to admire. Just watch you don't knock the grab handles off (again).

One van is not enough for a newspaper train. Would I buy more of this kit? Only if I get a good deal. But, if a r-t-r model from the major manufacturers appears then that would be first choice.

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