Friday 17 February 2012

The West Riding Monorail Transportation Co.

Initial concept sketch

With my ongoing "Century Survey" steampunk project, the aim is to produce some large-scale photomanipulations of shots taken around Saltaire, West Yorkshire, which look roughly historically accurate (Salts Mill etc) but with the Steampunk elements photographed and blended in- so a shot of the mill will have the monorail, airships, etc etc around it. I’m going to post-process the pictures to sepia tone, scratches, dust etc so it looks like they’re enlargements of period shots, supposedly documenting this alternate Britain.
I was wanting to do something pretty much weird but vaguely plausible for the shots, that might standout amongst the usual Steampunk fare, and I wondered about a mass-transportation system being built for within cities that would work pretty much as an overhead railway, but be rather less obtrusive- and this lead me onto monorails.
It was something I toyed around with for the Britannia Model Village project, but abandoned in favour of more conventional railways (easier to do in the timescale). I simply dusted off the idea and decided to back-date it by a century. Blame growing up in Dudley with the Merry Hill Monorail nearby, though that ended up in pieces in a tatters yard within a few years so maybe not the best inspiration…
What I will have for the photographs will be models in 4mm scale, and heavily modified standard gauge equipment running on the rail. The idea is that concealed beneath these locos and stock will be 2mm gauge model train equipment for practicality, and the monorail track itself will incorporate (camouflaged) N gauge flexitrack. I want it to look very heavy-duty at rail level, with more refined columns at street level so that its not quite so obtrusive as a regular overhead railway viaduct would be. It does need to look period though, so lattice girders and a chunky, robust rail high above are the order of the day (no Listowel-style flimsiness in Britannia). The use of N gauge mechanisms does give another advantage- though at this stage these are only photo props, it does mean that at some point in the future I could fairly easily evolve the concept into a working model railway…

Start of the project- the pattern for the girders was drawn on photoshop, printed out, then laboriously cut out from 3mil mountcard...

Trial assembly of parts, with train components to check the scale was right.

Majority of the girders built, with support columns made from card and marker pens.

Detail of the rails, showing the N gauge flexitrack before it was camoflauged in with filler and card.

Another test assembly, to check the viewpoint it would be intended to be seen from.

Pacific-type locomotive under construction.

The look of the locomotives is inspired very much by the idea of the standard-gauge superstructure being built around a much smaller mechanism- imagine a narrow gauge chassis that sits beneath a standard gauge body. Much of the look is inspired by a pic I saw a while ago of the experimental Kitson hybrid locomotive built for the LNER in the 1930’s. As the pics of the loco from the time show, it looks slightly ridiculous, with a small boiler atop the diesel generator. Though the monorail wouldn’t follow the same hybrid mechanical principle, the ‘look’ of the loco seemed to be what I needed to aim for, so the boiler and firebox made smaller and mounted high up in the superstructure to clear the NG running gear.Couldn’t find many pics of this oddball loco about- I saw a different shot of it in a book at my in-laws, but I could only find one or two pics online… if you search for LNER Hybrid Loco on google you eventually find it, it’s the one that looks as if a Romney Hythe and Dymchurch boiler was accidentally welded onto a tank loco frame along with the contents of the local plumbers merchants by the Doncaster Work Experience boy.

Going for a more Victorian look, I decided to use a couple of Dapol “City of Truro” kits I had buried in a box from years ago to use as the basis for the loco, and to donate parts to several other models. I mounted the boiler higher up the superstructure, created a ‘box’ to supposedly hide the NG mechanism/wheels, and lengthened the tender. Other bits of detailing were culled from the scrapbox- no proper plan, more that if it looked good, on it went. I don’t pretend to understand the mechanics of steam locos in any case, and who’s to say what the precise layout of pipework etc on a loco like this would be? The final model combines what I’m after anyway, a combination of Victorian looks with industrial gubbins. The model sits on an unpowered N wagon chassis, though cosmetically is designed to look like its wheel arrangement (and side skirts) are on flexible bogies.

The intention was initialy to build a couple of trains, some track, then photograph it against green to drop in with the aid of Photoshop into other pics. I’ll be doing this with lots of miniatures. Oh and did I mention this is being done on a budget of practically nowt? Just using up bits from the scrapbox and odds and ends (the steam-powered tank that’s on the blog shows my usual modelling approach, it was built for a bit less than a tenner in the end, most of which was for a second-hand Dapol loco kit to form the basis of the vehicle). These monorail trains didn't have to be museum quality given their purpose as background items- they just had to look half plausible, built entirely from imagination with a cavalier disregard for rivet counting or even much modelling finesse. Given the restricted timescale of the project (I had to have the initial concept test piece done by the end of July 2011, whilst also moving house and taking extra shifts in the day job) it was more important to just get something built as quick as possible…

The tank loco really was just a concept test, built from odds and ends in the scrapbox. It looks very cobbled together, built as it is around a derelict Playcraft clockwork loco body, with the smaller boiler being from an ancient, very broken, N gauge Lima 4F. Unfortunately there was a problem when the glue was drying which has meant the N boiler has ended up drooping at the front, irritatingly. The other bits and pieces were literally cobbled together from odds and ends in the scrapbox. However the loco really is probably too much of a bodged job to use for the intended photos, and in any case the looks are a bit too modern.

Paint jobs are a tad basic, but then these are only going to be background items in photographs, and to get the concept photo manipulation piece done by the end of July, well speed was of the essence. Basically I'm going to tart them up a bit if the full project gets the nod. Ignore the slight wobbliness of these shots- the track was set up on a rough garden wall just to try the models in natural light... I'm going to re-photograph them on location in Saltaire tomorrow.

Test shoot of the monorail, in Sepia with some steam effects done in photoshop.

Since doing these pics, and looking further around for inspiration, I've realised that in Steampunk terms I've made these designs waaaay too conservative. I've been drawing up some designs for some much larger, more complex trains, which I'm hopefully going to add onto here shortly...

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