Scratchbuilding an Upper-Class open balcony coach in 16mm scale

27 March 2023
Scratchbuilding is less of an economy and more of an adventure suggests Dave Skertchly.

Scratchbuilding is usually associated with hours of dirty and dusty marking, cutting, sticking, painting and bolting of parts which then yield a slightly inferior quality model to one which could have been bought or made from a kit. But to me, there is something exciting about hunting out a drawing of my latest obsession, adjusting it to size and then cutting out that first piece of metal or wood. Those first few hours are a heady concoction of optimism and foolishness but soon to degenerate into weeks and even months of selfless toil.

My latest project is a pair of Glyn Valley Tramway balcony open coaches and it seems that even before starting I had fallen at the first hurdle in the authenticity stakes. There was in fact only ever one of these coaches and alas, I made a pair. A visit to the Glyn Valley Tramway Museum at Glyn Ceiriog reminded me that I had not modelled the little open balcony third-class coach built by the Midland Railway Carriage and Wagon Company at Shrewsbury in 1891. It was the last of the GVT “oddities” the rest being to standard designs.
I thought that making a pair of these carriages might make amends for my hasty decision three decades ago. My main reference was to be the delightful drawing by Elenora Steel in The Glyn Valley Tramway by W.J. Milner.

The working drawings were scaled up on a photocopier. To mark out the parts a range of low-cost measuring equipment was used. It is important to keep on trying to make every cut and joint square even though things may ultimately get a bit wonky as tiny errors build up. I cut the parts from “Lite Ply” bought from the model aeroplane shop.

The side pods were made to clip on and are retained with a pair of M3 nuts and bolts. The seat slats were added using coffee stirrers slit lengthways and for this, I referred to detailed shots I took on holiday on the Lynton and Barnstable railway. The matchboarding was inscribed with a pointed bodger, but I made a horrible mistake, I cut the sides so that the inscribed matchboarding was cross grain and this compromised the finish. The side pods and roof were drilled with a template to ensure the uprights would line up.  A trial assembly was carried out with cocktail sticks for uprights although the final uprights were cut from one of those metal coat hangers from the dry cleaners.

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The correct disk wheels were not available so I used Binnie curly-spoked wheels of about the right diameter. The wheels were mounted on a bit of scrap wood which was adjusted with a spirit level to get the correct axle box centre and buffer height. Faced with making eight axle boxes I made a wooden pattern, took a silicone rubber mould and cast the axle boxes from polyurethane.  It was necessary to drill the mounting and bearing holes and unfortunately, I did not foolproof the tools, so half were drilled upside down and had to be recast!

The side details were made on a separate fret to avoid having to 'cut in' the contrasting paintwork. The fret components were cut from coffee stirrers and glued to a copy of the plan using super glue. The completed fret was cut out carefully using the paper plan as support and then finished separately to the sides.

The parts were sealed with model aircraft sanding sealer. Then seats and floors were varnished, and the rest masked and primed with rattle can primer. The matchboarding was re-scribed to maintain the detail.

This is the first time that I had used specialist Tamiya model enamels with my inexpensive airbrush and what a delight it was. The coating is so much denser and thinner than hobby enamels applied with a brush. I would certainly have spent more time on the filling and priming had I been aware of this. The frets and homemade decals were fitted to the sides.  

The wires connecting the axle boxes are a feature of Glyn Valley Tramway coaches. Were they to take braking loads or to stop things falling under the wheels? Either way, they were reproduced with plastic-coated garden wire.


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