Sorry this second instalment has taken so long to appear! Just one reminder before I continue my suggestions for the Bachmann Prussia coach: this post and its predecessor are meant to be a menu of ideas, not a recipe to be followed to the letter. Please use or modify the bits that you like and don’t feel that you have to do everything that I did!
6) Tweak 4: replacing the buffers
The Prussia coach has dumb buffers, a very early feature. By 1840 almost all new British coaches had.the more familiar sprung buffers fitted. So I decided to update the buffers on my model.
Using a sturdy blade or a razor saw, I cut off the heads of the buffers just in front of the first moulded band. Using a razor saw was a bit quicker than a knife blade, the knife blade seemed to give a cleaner cut, but both methods were fine. (Hint: if you are thinking about adding lamp covers to the coach roof, try to save a couple of the pieces of buffer that you saw off. As we’ll see, the buffer ends can be recycled as tops for the lamp covers.)
When I was working with the razor saw I used a very fine-toothed blade and simply pulled it slowly back across the plastic, letting the teeth do all the work, rather than hack sawing furiously in both directions. For the knife experiment I used a lightweight DIY knife with a disposable blade, and here I did need to hack through the plastic with a vigorous to-and-fro sawing motion. This last technique may make more talented modellers wince, but in my own modelling I’ve found I use a Stanley knife ten times more frequently than I use a craft knife.
I then drilled a hole in what I fondly imagined to be the centre of the buffer stump using a pin vice (this is one of the few specialist modelling tools that I do use a lot) and a 1 mm drill bit. I found that (a) I couldn’t get a hole drilled at a true right angle very easily and (b) the fit for the replacement buffer was a bit tight, but using a map pin with a tapered point as a makeshift reamer to open out the hole solved both problems.
I spent quite a lot of time searching hardware stores for nails and pins that might act as replacement buffer heads, but in the end I gave up: I discovered even the smallest nails have shanks that are too thick for a buffer, while all the pins I found had heads that were too small and led to buffer locking.
So I used 51L’s HO buffer heads (£3 for a dozen steel buffer heads and shanks, available from www.wizardmodels.co.uk – the reference number is LOC3512). Alternatively you could use small 4mm buffer heads.
A drop of superglue keeps the buffer head firmly in place inside the hole in the buffer stump, although I had to learn the hard way to make sure the buffer shank was in line from the side as well as above before I let the glue set. (But don’t worry if the buffer isn’t quite in line, a bit of gentle bending with needle nose pliers when the superglue has set will sort things out.)
7) Tweak 5: fitting lamp covers on the roof
By modern standards early railway carriages weren’t just cramped and uncomfortable, they were poorly lit as well. (In fairness to the early railway companies, in all these areas they were still a considerable improvement on the road coaches that they replaced. In a stagecoach there was normally no light at all inside the carriage, unless a traveller had brought their own lantern.) Early coaches usually had just two oil lamps shared between the three compartments (so that the middle compartment received light from each lamp), and these lamps were dropped down into the carriages through recesses in the roof. The rape oil in the lamps only provided a weak and flickering light, but domestic lighting wasn’t much better at the time and early travellers seem to have been quite happy to strain their eyesight reading on the train.
The Bachmann Prussia coach has two lamp tops nicely moulded on the roof, although they are painted a garish yellow. (Was this meant to represent brass? If so, it was a total failure.) The quickest and simplest tweak is simply to paint or felt tip these lamp tops a dark colour to match or blend in with the rest of the roof.
Better still, paint the roof at the same time! As I experimented, I felt that dark colours suited the roof best. Old favourites like Slate Grey all seemed too light, and in the end I settled on Humbrol Matt Black for the finished coach.
However, early British coaches usually had rather prominent lamp covers that staff would fit on the roof over the lamps after they had been dropped down into the compartments. Designs varied in detail between the companies, but all the drawings I have seen show large, round metal tubes surrounding the lamp tops, rather like a large inverted tin can topped with a flat or more often a slightly domed top, resting on the roof of the carriage.
The best way to make the round tubes is probably to cut thin plastic tube into portions around 3 mm long (i.e. just under a foot in scale length). Thin drinking straws could be used (e.g. the ones from small, individual boxes of juice), or discarded ball point pen refills, or I guess bits of parcel tape could be wrapped around a nail to build a cylinder of the right diameter, or cut-down N gauge barrels … whatever comes to hand is worth a try. I used the hollow handle from a cotton bud, cutting it into 3 mm lengths with a Stanley knife and then sanding the ends flat as my cutting proved a bit cack-handed.
The top of the cylinder could be covered with a small disc of plastic or thin card, or one of the buffer heads mentioned earlier could be inserted to cap the tube. I decided to recycle the sawn-off ends of the dumb buffers to produce what I hoped would be a rather extravagant top to the covers, although I have to admit it looks a bit too prominent and in future I’ll be using flat tops instead.
8) Tweak 6: Replacing the roof
The Bachmann roof has a rather unusual profile: the usual curve across the coach finishes with a flat strip along each side above the doors. It’s a very unusual feature that I’ve never seen on British coach roofs, so I decided to replace it with a more orthodox convex card roof.
It was quite easy to make the new roof. I used a sheet of fairly thick but flexible card and cut an oblong 60 x 31 mm, which is enough to allow an overhang of around half a millimetre on all sides of the body. Thin plastic would be flexible enough and it might take enamel paint a bit better than card, but I wanted to find a use for some of the flyers that keep landing on my doormat.
Because the Bachmann roof is flat at its sides, so is the top of the coach that it sits on. I spent a couple of minutes rubbing each edge along a strip of very fine sandpaper (grit size 400) to bring the profile in line with the curve across the rest of the coach.
I flexed the card between my fingers a few times to approximate the convex curve of the roof, gave it an initial coat of enamel paint and then glued it onto the top of the coach body using UHU. Normally I would use superglue, but in this case I wanted an adhesive that would allow me to prise the roof off easily with my fingers if I ever need to do so.
The big problem with UHU, at least when I use it, it that it always leaves a fine string of glue between the nozzle and the surface I am working on. To get round this problem I now squirt a dollop of the glue onto a plastic card and brush it unto the surface with a retired paint brush. (Then I wipe the excess glue off the bristles with kitchen towel and clean the brush in hot soapy water, because a good retired paint brush is a valuable tool to have!)
After the glue dried I gave the card roof a second coat of matt black enamel, added a couple of lamp covers on the roof over the compartment partitions – and that was the job done!
9) Tweak 7: Adding extra weight
The basic coach weighs 20 grams and none of the modifications I have described, even packing the ends of the coach with filler, adds significantly to the weight. The NMRA’s RP-20 Car Weight policy (http://www.nmra.org/beginner/weight ) recommends a weight of 2.5 ounces / 70 grams for a vehicle three inches long, but I didn’t want to overtax the small motors used in Bachmann’s early locos with too much weight. In addition early coaches were relatively light (and certainly not built to the US loading gauge used in the NMRA’s formula). I decided to compromise and aim for a modest increase to around 30 grams.
I used the golfers’ lead tape again (I had previously used it to add weight to the traverser), but lead shot or any other heavy ballast would do as well. There is quite a deep recess in the chassis between the wheels, and this can be filled with extra weights as long as provision is made for the two small retaining screws that hold the seating unit in place within the coach. I used four strips of lead tape to fill this pit completely, then I tried putting the seating unit back in place and realised that the lugs on the base of the seating unit are designed to sit flush on the bottom of the recess! Luckily I was able to cut out a couple of slots in the soft lead tape fairly easily, but the moral is to leave enough room for the two lugs when you are adding your chosen material.
I also put more strips of lead tape underneath the seats, as the seating unit has quite a bit of free space beneath the seats. The final weight of the reassembled coach with all this lead tape in place is around 27 grams. So a train of four coaches will weigh in at approximately 100 grams, or around three-and-a half ounces.
After I had glued the new roof onto the coach, I realised I could have added extra weight by using some of Andrew Stadden’s seated figures as passengers. They are made of heavy pewter, they are beautifully cast with amazing detail and lifelike poses and if the paint isn’t too garish their Edwardian dresses and hats won’t be too obvious inside a glazed 1840s coach. (The HO figures are available at http://www.acstadden.co.uk/Pages/aaa.aspx, and he also produces similar period figures in 4 mm, 7 mm and a couple of sets of Edwardian passengers in 2 mm.)
10) Tweak 8: Painting the wheels
My first impression was that the shiny silver Bachmann wheels are too bright and toy-like. As I worked through the model I realised it was largely the back of the wheels that were causing the problem. (The front of the wheel has a red plastic hub and spokes, so that only the rims and flanges are silver. In addition the axle boxes hide most of the front of the wheels.)
Since the Prussia coach doesn’t have any brake gear under the body, it’s easy to see the solid silver backs of the wheels under the body when viewing it at eye level. Adding running boards does lessen the effect, but I still thought I would try to reduce it further.
I think the best approach is simply to paint the back of the wheels, and also the bright silver axles, with matt or satin black or brown paint - or you can use Humbrol metallic black enamel, if you want to keep a toned-down shine. Actually, now I realise how easy it is easy to mix enamel gloss and matt paints together, I use a mix of 1 part Humbrol metallic black to 2.5 parts Humbrol matt black. There is no need to remove the wheel sets from the axle boxes to do this, but it is easy to gently prise out an axle box by a millimetre or so with a finger tip to ease out the wheel set if you want to work on them. Or`rather it's easy if you do this before you add the running boards and all those fiddly bent staples [see Part 1 for details of this work], as I found out to my cost!
It is difficult to replace the Bachmann wheel sets with alternatives from other manufacturers because the axle length is only 22.6 mm. The only spoked wheels I found that have suitable axles were from KB Scale (http://kbscale.com/wheels.html ): I used the 10.5 mm diameter 8 spoke wheels with 23 mm axles, which meant I had to open out the depressions in the axle boxes a tad with a pin vice and drill bit. This works after a fashion, and despite really being designed for 7 mm narrow gauge the wheels do look very good; but the replacement wheel sets still aren’t as free running as Bachmann’s own. I think in future I will keep the Bachmann wheel sets but visually tone them down as much as possible.
The coaches were designed to be part of a tail-chasing train set and the default coupler is simply a rigid plastic bar linking the carriage with its neighbour. This works pretty well as long as you don’t want to couple or uncouple coaches. I will retain the coupling bars for fixed rakes of coaches, but I need working couplers at each end of the rake so that I can uncouple locos, add extra coaches and carriage wagons, etc.
The buffer beams of the Bachmann models are too low for most (I suspect all) 4 mm couplers, so that all of these couplers tend to foul point blades. I think 3 mm and 2 mm couplers offer the best solution; PECO OOn9 couplers would probably also work well. I’m currently experimenting with D.G. 2 mm magnetic couplers (thankfully Wizard Models sell them ready-made – they look pretty fiddly to build from the etches!), and I’ll give an update when I’ve had a bit more experience with them.
Was it worth it? Well, it was a satisfying and enjoyable project that gave me a chance to try out several new ideas, so it was definitely worth it for me. But was it worth it in terms of the model? I’m probably a bit too close to the project to judge how much difference the individual tweaks really do make, but I think repainting the body and roof makes the greatest difference. So simply putting in 25% of the work would probably have produced 75% of the overall effect.
I don’t claim any of the tweaks are essential, as the Prussia coach is a nice model in its own right, and I’m not sure the average person would notice most of the changes I made. But I rather like the finished product (despite my clumsy painting).
Cost of the conversion? I used materials I already had in stock, so it cost £1 for the new buffers and probably another pound for the L-shaped plastic strip that I used for the running boards. I already had the paint and tools, and I think the amount of lead tape I used probably cost around 50p. Allowing for the cost of paint, glue etc, I’d guesstimate the cost of my conversion at around £3.50 a coach. (I'm excluding the cost of the KB wheels because I don't think they are necessary.)
Time spent? Probably three hours (excluding the time trying out ideas that I later rejected), mainly quick little jobs that were spread over several evenings to allow time for paint, filler and glue to set, etc. Setting up a production line by working on a number of coaches at the same time would be the most efficient way to go, but I’d still suggest working on a single coach first to gain confidence and find out what works for you.
There’s a lot more that could be done to the coach so I’ll end with a few ideas, most of which I will try myself:
(a) Fit luggage rails (and luggage) to the roof to add visual interest. The best way to do this would probably be with loco handrail knobs and silver-coloured wire.
(b) Replace the deep glazing sheets with flush glazing, probably using a clear resin compound. (I may try Krystal Klear when I do this, but I can’t recommend it as I haven’t used it yet.)
(c) Add a seat on the roof for a guard and steps on the end of the coach allowing access.
(d) Change the class: fill in the side windows (the “quarter lights”) with filler to make a second-class coach, or leave them open for the central compartment to make a composite (2nd-1st-2nd) carriage. Perhaps cut off the top off the coach completely at the bottom of the windows to make an open, seated third class coach. (There are a lot of possible variations here: for example some second class coaches had roofs and ends but they had open sides above the door.)