Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Mending a steam engine

I bought this tank engine on e-bay. It was cheap, largely because it had a few bits missing and didn't go. But never mind, I thought, I can have a go at fixing it. I have another engine just like it which I can use as a 3d template; all I had to do was make the missing buts just like the original. Should be a nice easy project for a first attempt at scratch-building, I thought.

The first and most obvious thing which was missing is the cab. After careful measuring and drawing a diagram on paper, I cut out the back of the cab from 30 thou plasticard. This was easier than I thought: I've not worked with plasticard before, but it cuts easily (with a Stanley knife or craft knife) and glues together very solidly with normal polystyrene cement. The 10 thou sheet cuts even better with scissors.

After that I made the roof. This was a little harder because it was curved. I made this out of two identical layers of 20 thou plastic card - just rectangles. I curved them by running them around the shaft of my craft knife until they were just the right curvature, then glued them together. My thinking was that the glue holding them together would stop them uncurving, and keep the shape. That worked pretty well; on the down side, you can see it's made from two layers, but filing down the edges and painting helped a bit.

The next bits to tackle were the whistles and the whistle guard behind them. The whistles are pretty low-tech: two pieces of single-strand plastic-coated wire, partly stripped, and painted with brass-coloured paint. I tried cutting lines into the plastic to make rings around the whistle, but not successfully - maybe later. Still, they look ok from a distance. The whistle guard is just made from three bits of plastic card: 40 thou for the sides and 30 for the back, which has to fit into a little hole in the boiler. None of them are quite rectangular, the back gets wider as it goes up, and bends, and the sides get narrower. It matches my other train pretty well, but I think the real thing should have been thinner. I suppose I could have another go, it wasn't that hard!

I chickened out and bought the safety valve cover from a local model shop. I think it needs something inside it, though - a job for google image search.

So far so good on the bits. Painting them was a little harder: some of the paints seem to work better on the plastic card than others. (I might try spray-painting an undercoat next time). The roof is "anthracite" (sem-shiny) black (I don't have any matt). It looks ok IMO, just well-polished. It's a bit thin in places, though, and needs another coat. I also used the anthracite to undercoat the cab back and whistle guard (the white bit on the back is because I needed something to hold on to). Then I got a pot of "GWR post 1928 engine green" to go over the top, which perhaps unsurprisingly is a perfect match. It went on much better where I'd undercoated; the bits which I missed (cab back) need another coat. I don't think I've really got to grips with painting yet (a worse disaster will feature in a future article), but you learn by trying things out.

That was a while ago, since then I've re-written this to make it a bit shorter but still haven't stuck the bits together! I did take some photos of them in place though. I'm quite pleased with it: it's not the real thing but looks ok from a distance.

So, more painting needed, then I'll tackle the handrails, all of which are missing. And at some point I'll have to commit myself by sticking it all together. But it's been a fun project. Hopefully there will be a sequel to this post at some point when I get the chance!

For those who don't know and are interested, the engine is a Great Western Auto Tank; it was the prototype for "Oliver the Western Engine" in Thomas and Friends. These small tank engines were used on branch lines, where they would push a handful of coaches up and down collecting a handful of passengers. That was back in the days before uneconomical branchlines were closed and uneconomical steam engines were scrapped. Long before I was born. I saw a real one when we were on holiday in Torquay and it's a nice piece of machinery.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Making stuff

Ok, having split my already meagre blog in three ... this part is loosely to do with stuff I make, create, or do by way of hobbies. I've copied over past relevant posts from my personal blog to make a start.

At the moment I'm working on a couple of model trains (a bit different from things I've posted about before!) I'm hoping to put up some pictures and blurb about them soon. Unless I put them aside for a bit to work on something else, of course.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Well, February is over, and I amazed myself by writing no less than 16 songs for FAWM. If you're interested, have a look at the link in the previous post, but beware, the quality is ... variable, to say the least!

But the point is, I didn't think I'd get close to 14 songs written in 28 days, whereas in fact I exceeded that number. So I feel great right now! It's great to challenge yourself from time to time, and to take on something different and impossible-looking.

On that theme, over the last few months I've I've taken up the challenge of organizing a group to revamp the evening service at our church. For someone like me who is incapable of organizing inebriation in a brewery (I tried when I was at uni, only two other people turned up) this is an equally impossible task. Yet I figure if I can write two (dreadful) novels and write 16 (poor) songs in a month, what do I have to be afraid of?

So I've got a group together (miracle) and we've managed to agree on some quite radical changes (miracle). All this in my spare time while I'm waiting for baby number two to arrive. It was due on Feb 28th but there's no action yet.

Originally posted 2006-03-03


I've signed up to FAWM, or February Album Writing Month to give it its full name. The idea is I have to write 14 songs in 28 days. I love music and have always enjoyed playing in a band, but writing songs is a bit of a departure for me: Back 10-15 years ago when I played in a band I had lots of ideas for songs, some of which I'd written odd bits of, but I don't think that in total there were 14 which I finished. Still, I like a challenge and after completing NaNoWriMo twice I thought I'd try something musical; it is after all more "me" than writing prose.

You can see my progress here, including lyrics for the songs I've finished and in some cases demos. Please send me comments if you listen to them. And before anyone says it, I'm definitely not planning on giving up the day job!

Originally posted 2006-02-16


Clearly the shock of being an unpublished author was too much for me! That really was a long time ago, and what have I been up to in the meanwhile? Well, that'll be another post if I get around to it. On past evidence that's not terribly likely. Instead here is a poem I wrote a while ago which I still like.

I want to change the world
- but I don't know how
I want to change the world
- but I am just one person
I want to change the world
- but I don't want to get in trouble
I want to change the world
- but I have a job
- a wife
- a family
I want the world to change
- and I am waiting.

Originally posted 2005-09-06

I did it!

Believe it or not, I did it! At nine o'clock this morning, local time, I finished writing my NaNoWriMo creation, weighing in at 50457 words, and all written in less than two weeks. Woohoo!

Of course the story is dreadful, the writing is awful and the characterisation downright contradictory, but that's not the point. I did it, I achieved something!

Ok, although I finished the story, there are still a few remaining questions. Should I go back and try to tidy up the worst of the contradictions, the places where I've used completely the wrong word, the bits which make me cringe most? Can I even be bothered to read through it again myself? And, will I ever let anyone else read it?

But those questions are for tomorrow. For one day I aim to bask in my triumph. For once in my life, I am a winner; I set myself a goal and I achieved it.

Originally posted 2004-11-30


I was inspired by this link to take part in this year's National Novel Writing Month. If the idea of writing a whole fifty-thousand word novel in a month sounds stupid, that's because it is. Given that I only started on the 17th, it's very stupid. Still, I love a challenge! Follow my progress here. Look, I'm nearly half way there! Will I make it by the end of the month? Doubtful, especially since I'm going away for the weekend with no PC. But that won't stop me trying.

What will the end product be like? Pure, unexpurgated rubbish, of course! But that's not the point. Will you be able to read it? No way! I wouldn't inflict that on anyone ;) So why do it? Because it's there. It's a challenge.

Originally posted 2004-11-25

Prose style

My prose style isn't very good. I tend to write long, convoluted sentences. I'm making an effort to improve this: shorter, simpler sentences, fewer adjectives and adverbs, fewer clauses. That's the idea anyway. I still haven't found the happy medium between writing like a four-year-old and writing prose so incomprehensible that even I can't read it.

I suppose this at least provides the opportunity to practice. Whether it will help remains to be seen.

Originally posted 2004-05-25