Saturday 27 January 2024

"Big Jim" (Garden Railway Saturday)

Whilst the garden railway slumbers over the winter (well, I say slumbers, actually it's getting covered in falling debris from the trees, and having all the ballast washed away by this incessant rain), I thought I'd dip into the archives for some builds done over the last few years for it.

"Big Jim" is probably my favourite standard-gauge locomotive.  It's a bit of a brute, but a stalwart of the Keighley and Worth Valley fleet... at least, it was until it was prematurely withdrawn with boiler problems.  Rumour mill has the loco being sold overseas soon, but in any case it'll probably sit dismantled for at least another decade or two around Haworth yard.

The S160's are American locomotives, but built to the smaller UK loading gauge in World War 2 and used all over Europe.  This particular loco was repatriated from Poland in the 1970's.  Like I say, I really love this loco, and wanted one for the garden line.

Having laboriously converted a Lionel 'Ready to Play' Hogwarts Express prior to this, it occured to me that the Polar Express might make for a suitable donor for this build.

It's a Frame-up

As with the Hogwarts loco, the Polar Express would need re-gauging from G2 to 45mm gauge.  It was bought cheaply on ebay, as these 'round the Christmas Tree' sets are popular in the US before being junked.  Ah, disposable society.

Looking at the loco, I realised that to pinch the wheels inwards would be impossible with the existing frames.  After some thought, I decided to just laser cut new frames for it.

It involved quite a bit of complex design work, and a lot of trial and error, but in the end, it turned out ok.

A Tender Behind

The tender needed some considerable modifications, and again, I resorted to the laser cutter.

The original.  Or rather, an original... you see, Lionel produced the Polar Express actually to 45mm gauge some years ago, with the batteries in the tender.  When they redesigned it for the Ready to Play range with the wider gauge, they moved the batteries to the loco (which actually meant it worked; the older version was too light, and the loco threw itself off the rails on curves.  The RTP version stays on the tracks because of the weight of the batteries over the driving wheels).  My hunting on eBay for bargain tenders turned up the 45mm version, which needed a fair bit of cutting down.

In order to make the boiler look a little more like "Big Ji" I had to swap around some details, and fabricate a blanking piece from plasticard.

New running boards were cut too.

Here they are, loosely placed while I worked out how much of the detail on the boiler to file away.

The loco needed a new 'face' so a rough approximation of the smokebox was built.  It turned out the lid off a squeezy mayonaise bottle was exactly the right size.  The other details were odds and ends from the scrapboxes, above a laser-cut buffer beam.

Showing something of the mish-mash of components used.

Undercoating the loco in black bought it all together though.

Less successful was hand-painting the decals, but hey-ho.

To be honest, for a slightly thrown-together modification on a budget, I think it looks alright.

I couldn't resist trying to get a shot of it alongside the real thing either :)

It was featured in Garden Rail magazine, always a pleasure writing something for Phil, then spent some time trundling around the garden.  Whatever else you can say about the Lionel range, the controllers are alright and these tend to be reliable performers, even with my slightly cack-handed re-gauging work.

At the moment (early 2024), it's mothballed awaiting a rebuild.  There was an accident involving a derailment -unnoticed twig on the line- which got jammed into a wheel, and locked it all up.  Something inside the mechanism went bang, and it now the loco sounds like a spanner in a cement mixer when it runs.  I would like to get it rebuilt though, to at least cosmetically restored to go on the shelf.

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