Distant cousins, part 2


I was happily banging rocks together, but then I heard the sound of the symphony orchestra… If Attilio Maris work is not the gold standard of scratch building, it is most certainly the nickel-silver standard. But seriously, if anyone can point me to better work in any scale, I would love to see it.
His models of Italian vintage electric engines are built to 1:32 scale and, and they are built in series of around 20. So you could perhaps argue that this is small-scale manufacturing by a professional and not scratch building by a hobbyist. Not that it matters in any way, the models speak for themselves.
The techniques and materials are quite conventional. Etchings, lost wax castings and machined parts. No CNC tools are used, but the etching artwork is CAD.
Mari is one of those modellers whose work is flawless, and even if I will never achieve this quality myself, his work is a great inspiration. My dream is to be able to build pantographs as detailed as these! In fact, after I discovered Maris models I began toying with the idea of moving up to 1/32 or 1/35 scale for my own modelling
I recommend anyone interested in high-octane modelling to watch the videos Mari has made available on YouTube.





Distant cousins

I feel that there is a kind of common denominator between all vintage railroad equipment running under overhead wire, regardless if the equipment operated in downtown Chicago or the middle of Norway.

I love all sorts of modeling, regardless of scale and prototype, but there is something special about 0-scale equipment with trolley poles or pantographs!


A very fine example is this scratchbuilt 4-truck articulated trolley freight locomotive. The model was built by William J. Clouser in the sixties. Clouser was a fine-scale pioneer, and the model is built to Proto:48 standards. It stands up to the best of today’s models, and it is a good reminder that even with all our high-tech tools, there is really no substitute for good craftsmanship.

(William J. Clouser photo, Eric Bronsky Collection.)

Still Life With Rejected Body Parts

Still Life With Rejected Body Parts

In an earlier post I wrote about how I finally reached the conclusion that my mineral wagon bodies should be made of wood and brass.

It took me some time to get to that conclusion, and believe me, it wasn’t just a mental process. The pile of rejected body parts in the picture should be proof enough of that!

At the beginning of this project I cajoled a good friend into laser-cutting parts for the wagon body in thin plywood. The parts came out crisp and with very little black crud (or ash you might say) at the edges, but they had a two-dimensional feel that I did not care for. I thought about laminating two layers to build up more bulk, but as the edges of the ends and top of the sides are visible, it did not seem like a very satisfying solution. So those plywood pieces became the foundation of the still life.

The longest detour was due to a hang-up on 3D-printing. Several test parts were printed. First, I had a lot of very promising prints made by the pioneer company Print-A-Part. Print-A-part did unfortunately go out of business, and I have a sneaking feeling that demanding and rather uninformed customers like me were at least partly responsible for this. As amateurs, we demand the best, but are not willing to pay more than peanuts. Most frustrating, because when all the planets aligned correctly, the PAP parts came out almost perfect. But the results were not consistent. This led to a lot of frustating email exchanges about things like part orientation and other remedies to get consistent results. I fully understand that the parent company of PAP, Fine Line Prototyping, decided to concentrate on the professional market! So the PAP turned out to be a dead end in more than one way.

With PAP no longer an option, I decided to try Shapeways services. Shapeways has built their whole infrastructure to serve amateurs and semi-professionals, and they seem to have managed the challenge of creating a 3D-printing service for the masses. I have nothing but praise for the speed and reliability of Shapeways services. Their web-shop is excellent, it is very simple to upload .STL files and order prints. A lot of modellers use Shapeways with excellent results. The results you can get with their best material for detailed scale model parts, FUD (Frosted Ultra Detail) is almost, but only almost good enough for even the most critical modeller. So my test prints for sides and ends were reject for three reasons. First, the detail was not quite crisp enough. Second, they were not solid enough. And last, FUD parts has a sticky residue that is a pain in the proverbial to remove. So the parts ended up in the still life. But there will be some SW parts on the wagons, the coupler pockets are printed in wax and cast in brass by SW. This is a very interesting service that is totally dispruptive for traditional lost wax casting services. I can not wait for the next generation of Shapeways printing services!

The last of the 3D-printing test-matches involved a 3D printing service provider in Seoul that due to the wonders of Google translate ended up printing six wax masters for brass test castings of entire wagon sides. The results were again promising, but the Solidscape printer did not have good enough resolution for the cracks between the boards to show up. And a wagon completely out of brass would be rather massive. Heavy metal, indeed. Another very costly lemon for the still life.

I admit to having a CNC-hang-up as well. This hang-up is fuelled by the extremely good results modelers like Fridtjof (Check out his work on the Westlake modellers forum or Buntbahn.de) cranks out using hobbyists CNC-routers. This is pure modelling pornography, and it is impossible not to be inspired. So when I got access to a High-Z s-400 router I immediately started to mill profiles in brass for the frame. I did not quite get the results I had hoped for, so even if etched & folded profiles are not quite as crisp as milled brass profiles, I settled for this compromise as the etched profiles are much cheaper and simpler to make. Milling brass on light CNC-routers is quite nerve-wrecking and rather frustrating. I will probably try again, but for now the milled end beams belongs in the still life. Even if strictly speaking, they are not body parts.

I hope that this little tale does not come across as complaining. Quite the opposite, I really enjoy experiments like this. Every piece of the still life is a lesson learnt, and I really needed the reality check on 3D-printing and CNC-everything. But receiving all these little packages in the mail is better than most Christmas and birthday gifts. They really add a little excitement to checking the mail box. Even if the gift in the end turns out to be a trinket for a still life.

The tale of the accidental collector

I have never been a collector of model railway equipment. Or anything else for that matter. This is not because I do not find pleasure in vintage objects. Quite the contrary. In fact, I try to avoid becoming a collector because I fear that I can become quite obsessed, and develop a habit. (I also regard myself a smoker that never have started smoking. I guess you could say that I do not trust myself when it comes to certain things. )

But this is the tale of when I almost became a tinplate collector by accident. At our local model railway club every now an then people stop by carrying boxes of what they think are remarkable antique models. At best, it is Märklin equipment from the seventies, at worst it is plastic junk of dubious heritage. More than often the models are impregnated with an ugly smell of sigarette smoke. I never knew that the smell of nicotine sticks so well to plastic models!

So when I received a call from an elderly gentleman that said he had some old Märklin model trains that might be of interest to our club I was not too thrilled. I repeated our standard reply that we appreciated the donation, and would accept it if it was OK to sell it to raise funds for the club. Our benefactor had no problems with this, so I went to collect the loot.

To my big surprise this was not the usual Märklin H0 stuff. This was something far more rare; it was in fact Märklin, but 0 scale pre-war tin-plate models. I was not immediately thrilled by this, I had never seen models like this at Norwegian swap meets, and I my first thought was that it would be very hard to sell something like this in Norway. Almost out of politeness and not wanting to disappoint the gentleman I accepted the gift after admitting that I had absolutely no idea how much the models might be worth.

Back home I started to examine the models more closely. They were in remarkable good condition considering that they had been used as toys by generations of kids. The engines had working headlights and they ran fairly well right out of the box. Not mint condition, but definitively well-kept.

Märkin tinplate 0-scale model (anno 1936)

To get an idea of the value I turned to eBay. My pulse increased a notch or two when I saw what prices this kind of models fetched. We had been donated a little pot of gold!

But I did not only discover the monetary value of the models. During the cleaning and sorting of the models I started to take a liking to them that I had not expected. And after photographing the models I started to wonder if I should buy the models myself and start a little collection. There were something with the size of the models and their ruggedness that was very appealing. It was easy to imagine the joy these models must have caused when they were unwrapped that Christmas eve back in 1936. And that resonated well with my own experience of receiving a Märklin trainset for Christmas when I was a kid. To put it sort, the models gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Märklin steam engine, anno 1936
Märklin steam engine, anno 1936

In the end I came to my senses and decided that I just could not afford to start a tinplate collection.  Fortunately, a Norwegian collector gave us an offer for the lot that we simply could not refuse.  The contribution to the club´s coffers was bigger than all membership fees that year.

But I really enjoyed my few weeks as a collector. And I know that I will get a little bit more excited the next time I get one of those calls from people with trainsets they want to get rid of!

Märklin steam engine, anno 1936
Märklin 0-scale tank car (anno 1936)

A piece of model railroad history

As an Internet addict I sometimes wonder how much model building I could have done if I had not had access to the web.
It is just so much easier to just spend time surfing one of the many fine model-related websites instead of going down to the workshop and actually build something.

Unfinished 1:24 live steam engine built in the late thirties by Arne Nordby.

What a contrast to the conditions Arne Nordby suffered when he built this model. Nordby was train driver with the NSB in the late . During the winters he was stationed at Finse as an engineer on snow fighting trains .
It is hard to imagine a more secluded life. No Internet, no cell phone, hardly access to a phone at all. And it could hardly have been many other model railway builders up there in the mountains. So where he found the inspiration to build a “live steam” engine in 1:24 is not easy to understand.

But with unlimited access to the railway workshop and a rather limited choice of leisure time activities it seems like a brilliant idea to dedicate yourself to some serious model building. The model is entirely scratchbuilt of steel, except for the boiler and firebox and which is made of copper. Wheel profiles are what we today would call fine scale. For a railway mechanic this was probably an obvious choice.
Even if Arne never finished the model, I guess this project was a great help for getting through those long dark winter nights at Finse. To me that is a comforting thought!

Finse station (early 1900)

Material vs. Virtual

To the great delight to the app. 2 readers of this blog, here comes the firs update of 2015. Fortunately, there is much more going on in the workshop than this blog reflects.

My modelling interest follow two main tangents, one is the Thamshavn railway in 0m and the other is NSB (Norwegian State Railway) in H0 scale at the local model railroad club.Lately, I am spending more and more time on the TB models. Thats just the way it is, and the reasons are proably not that interesting.

Just before christmas I received the etches for a chassis for a mineal wagon. A long time ago I ordered a batch of custom made wheels for these cars, so In time for the holiday season with the possibility of all nighters in the workshop I had a decent kit for this wagon. It might be a complicated kit with poor instructions, but it is very far from scratchbuilding. I think the difference between building a home made kit and scratchbuilding is quite big.

Underframe for mineral wagon. Etches by PPD ltd, custom made wheels by Erik Olsen

After spending countless evenings making the artwork for the etches is was nice to switch from the keyboard to the soldering iron. Suddenly all the theory is transfered into metallic reality. As on almost all etchings there are some errors, but on th whole the design have proven solid. It is extremly satisfying to erect a working chassis in a couple of evenings.

Underframe for Om wagon

I dont enjoy working on the computer that much, and the virtual models are totally uninteresting in themselves. It is only their potential for manifestating themselves in the material world that makes them interesting to me. I also like that even if the CAD drawings are essential for the etchings, there are very few traces of this digital heritage in the actual model. My modelling skills are sort of an analogue converter that adds quite a bit of “noise” to the finished result.

I dont want my models to be perfect. I want them to look like like they have been made by a craftsman (albeit maybe not a very good one).

But make no mistake, digital production techniques are essential to my modelling. I have already mentioned CAD artwork for etchings. 3D printing is another technique that are at the core of my models. But after a lot of testing I have focused much more on printing individual parts, and not entire models or even subassemblies. I also like to use the prints as masters for casting. Introducing extra stages in production and manually preparing and assemling castings removes the traces of the digital process. And I think it is interesting to use 21th century wax printing technology to make master for lost wax casting, a technique that is over 5000 years old.

Brass casting made from Solidcape wax masters.

Yes, you loose some prescision compared to printing resin parts directly, but in a way, thats the point. The prototypes for my rolling stock were built pre WWII when computers were still only a glimpse in Alan Turings eye. A high-tech feel to the models would not sit right with me.

In the same spirit, I want my models to reflect the materials of the prototype. Nickel-silver and brass to represent steel and cast iron. wood for wood when possible.

Wood & Metal: Test piece for wooden wagon body

As much as I admire the skills of plastic modellers, I still can not shake the feeling that even the best plastic model is 3D painting. Beauty is only skin deep. If the paint is chipped or scratched, the illusion is shattered.

My hope is that my models will not be ruined by a little wear and tear. Maybe you cold call it meta-weathering? Quasi-philosophy, I know. But what would a blog be without it?

First cuts


In the last post I mentioned my first experiments in carving rocks for a TB diorama. Even if I am not entirely happy with the results, I thought it might be interesting to see the development of the scene. The rocks are first modelled in wet, but fairly firm plaster. When the plaster has set enough I change from spatulas to knives and chisels.

The rocks are not painted, I just mixed some black paint into plaster.

This work was done with rather little reference material, but I can not blame the results entirely on the lack of good pictures. But when you have the prototype within visiting distance, it is just stupid not to do some research.

Creating rocks this way is a rather subjective process with a certain artistic element. I think tou can compare it to drawing a landscape. You have to practise a lot, and trying to “paint by numbers” will just not cut it.

So I hope to share some better work with you in the not to distant future!