by Tom Readman
Part 1 – ‘The beginning of a hobby and a 5-inch gauge Wagon’.
I think I was about 4 years old when I got my first breath of steam in my lungs from a steam loco, and I don't think it has ever left me! With countless happy hours sat in front a the TV watching Thomas the Tank engine, trips up into the loft to my granddads model railway, and of course, and happy memories of trips to the NYMR, I think the love of steam and railways entered my blood and will remain there forever! Of course, as a 4-5-year-old, I didn’t understand how engines or railways worked, but they looked good, and they were big machines that looked interesting. I never even dreamt that one day I would have the chance to volunteer on them.
I started as a NYMR Junior Volunteer (JV) in April of 2016 and apart from having great fun, I started to gain an insight into how it all worked. It was about a year later when I joined NELPG as a JV and joined the SNG '007 gang' JV group. As I progressed and learnt more, I began to attend the NELPG JV winter working parties. It was here, along with on the OTHER NYMR JVs and in the Sir Nigel Gresley 007 Gang where I learnt a lot from extremely good, helpful and knowledgeable people.
At the NELPG winter work parties, I participated in the workshop training (combined with work on the locos undergoing winter maintenance at the time) that I found another thing that I enjoy- machining and making things! At first, I didn't think the workshops and lathes were for me and in fact found them quite confusing at times! All talk of 'thous' and lathe terminology baffled me at first, but with a set of incredibly good tutors (whom all had masses of invaluable knowledge and skills) allowed me the chance to learn and progress within the workshop environment as well as on the locos too.
Eventually, with an idea of how things work in machining, my granddad and I invested on a milling machine and a lathe – to be restored- to begin setting up a workshop. The restoration of the Myford ML7 late taught me more and more about lathes and the engineering behind it all. In view of machining something, we invested in another ML7 lathe (one that worked!) to machine parts that the other lathe needed.
Having learnt more and more from the 3 groups mentioned above (who also how to use various hand tools and other engineering applications-not to mention being safe in the workshop), I began venturing into new projects to broaden my knowledge further. After around 6 months of nagging at my Granddad about the desire for a 5-inch gauge live steam loco, and with experienced advice from experienced people, it was decided to start somewhere a little less challenging but well worth the build...
On Christmas day, as a surprise present, I opened, and envelope given to me by my grandparents. To my delight, it was the drawings for a 5-inch gauge 7 plank wagon! I was over the moon! This is what I had been waiting for! All I needed to do now was source the materials needed and start building. Unbeknown to me, my grandparents had one last surprise rolled up their sleeves... My Grandparents appeared with this box, which again set my mind wondering as to what it may be! With great excitement, I opened the box... what is it going to be? And I never expected to find what I did... a 5-inch gauge 7 plank wagon kit! If the drawings were the icing on the cake, this was hundreds of glanced cherries on top! Work started with the drawings being carefully studied and the frames constructed in a homemade jig to ensure squareness. The build continues after Christmas with hours spent figuring things out and making parts to the drawings. After a year passed, the wagon was really beginning to take shape, the chassis was now a rolling chassis and other parts like working brake gear was being constructed along with working sprung buffers.
Part 2 – ‘The Wigwag and a new family member.’
I skip a little ahead now to the Christmas of 2019. Work on the wagon was really taking shape then and it looked like a proper wagon! Many fittings had been made, castings for the door assembly cleaned up and the under frame complete. The under frame now sported working buffers, working coupling hooks that I made myself (Thanks to Bryan Orange for allowing me the 3-inch length pieces of the 3/16 steel plate found lying next to the vice in Dev Shed!!!) These also had the chain fitted and were sprung as per the drawing. The body was also well underway by this point and the planks were cut to size, drilled and fitted to the body using the strapping kit provided in the kit. Many hours on a Saturday evening were whiled away fitting the planks systematically whilst listening to some great tunes from the 60s or 50s!
The work I do in the workshop at home tends to be a mixture of jobs, a bit of all allsorts really ranging from little spinning tops I made from brass, parts to restore other items, helping the construction of a steel mallet for the NELPG ‘JV workshop training program and various other miscellaneous items just to name a few! However, there is and has been a few main projects over the years and that I’m working on currently. Other than the wagon, I’m working on a small stationary engine called 'A wig wag wobbler engine'! This engine was a recommendation by one of the NELPG JV supervisors and a superb engineer, when asked my granddad, he recommended a small stationary engine as a good project form me to benefit from and have fun making it – essentially not something to challenging, but not something too hard. This is a small single cylinder, single acting, stationary engine that was found on YouTube, where you can download the drawings free of charge. We bought materials enough to get us started making a few of the main components. The base was made from black mild steel and was milled square, had 2 clearance holes drilled and the holes counter bored to allow the heads of the set screws to sit down and not sick up. Work then turned to the Aluminium Column with careful marking out and drilling of two holes for the crankshaft and the pivot point -these had to be perfectly in line to allow smooth running of the engine - and were reamed ready to take a bushing. With two holes drilled and tapped in the bottom, the base and the column were fitted together for the first time 0 and I’m pleased to say, they fit well!
The cylinder was made from a solid aluminium block with a hole drilled off centre. The block was milled to create a stepped effect and was carefully set up in the lathe (been careful not to mark the surface) and machined to be a 15 mm bore. The port face is one of the next jobs to be done on this part with the inlet and exhaust ports to be made. A piston was machined to fit. A cylinder cover has also been finished and will be fitted when the engine is assembled.
Then came a long flywheel – or at least a solid brass block to make it from! This was started at the start of lockdown. As you can see in the photos, this was machined into a round and had a centre hole drilled to allow for a mandrel to be employed in the next machining stage. The mandrel allowed me to machine the whole of the outside diameter and machine the inside recess with a special lathe tool that I adapted for the job and with various different lathe tools to do different parts of the operation and to give the best surface finish. With one side completely machined, the flywheel was them flipped on the mandrel, clocked in and the rear recess was machined to be equal to the other side (for a balanced flywheel) and polished up to make it look shiny! After chamfering, it was taken off the mandrel, cleaned up and posed for the camera and is now in storage awaiting the completion of the engine. The crank has been started; this will be machined in a similar fashion to that of the flywheel.
A New Family member!!!
During the lockdown, in April, Granddad and I acquired a 5-inch gauge loco in the form of a 2F dock tank! This loco need finishing and comes with a boiler, rolling frames (that need valve gear and lots of other work to complete them) and parts for it. After much checking over, to make sure the frames were in good condition, they were found to be what I believe is sound. In time to come, the cylinders will be fully machined to the drawings with pistons made to fit and fitted to the frames. A start has already been made of making the brass components for the missing axle pump. This is now ready for assembly as a blank (like the one the previous owner had made) and the relevant work to be done to it to make it complete.
Finally, I now move onto the most recent mini project I have undertaken – making the buffers for said loco. This work involves machining a shoulder on one end of a stainless-steel rod and a recess in a round slice of stainless steel. The pair are joined together by silver soldering. Machining then takes place which takes the bar (the stem) down to the correct diameter and length to fit the buffer housing and to be a sliding fit in the housing, which they now all are. A final polish just about finishes the job, with only a simple task of drilling a hole down the centre to remove the weight. This phase of the ‘buffers’ project is now – I am glad to say – has been started.
This buffers project is not finished yet, however, but is getting there! They are yet to have their heads mushroomed (a start was made on the 27th June 2020 – the date I’m am writing, by making the shallow step pattern of 2-4-6-8-10 degrees steps that form the dome shape. These will be polished out to allow a smooth, nice dome shape) and the outsides made oval. A keyway to stop the buffers rotating in their housings will see the buffers completed. I’m hoping to finish this project in the near future.