3D Printing & Model Railroading – No it’s not Voodoo (Part 3)

So, I previously made some introductory posts about 3D printing and Model Railroading as Part 1 and Part 2.  This is Part 3, written while I am sitting at the Digital Innovation Hub at the Fort York Branch of the Toronto Public Library.  I am here on a Saturday morning with the Makerbot 3D printer churning out a couple of test prints of things that will eventually be printed by Shapeways when they are completed.  Today’s post touches on the ability to “rapid prototype” parts using a 3D printer.

The Digital Innovation Hub has three printers, all of which are “PLA” or Polylactic acid printers, which lay down layers of the plastic material using a coil of the plastic material squeezed through a heated print head.  It doesn’t produce the clean and ready to use for a display model that a commercial service like Shapeways produces, but it is cheap, relatively fast, and an affordable way to make sure that your designs are going to work right when you spend a lot of money on a commercial print, or if you are going to put it up for sale to others.  They have two Makerbot Replicator 2 machines, and a Lulzbot Taz printer.  There are slight differences between them, but they all function basically the same.  These are also printers that are in a price range that conceivably you could afford to have at home, but you’d want to be making a lot of use of them for that to be worthwhile.

The two Makerbot Replicator 2 printers (left) and the Lulzbot Taz5 printer (right) at the Fort York branch of the Toronto Public Library

The last time I was here in May, I tested the underframe for the 3D printed model of the coach Nova Scotia.  I was looking to see if the bolsters for the trucks to be mounted to worked, if they fouled the trucks turning, and if the car would sit at the right height based on what I designed.  It turned out, the car rode high, and the trucks wouldn’t negotiate turns theway I’d designed the bolster.  Finding this out for 2 hours of my time and $6.00 beat waiting weeks and $30-40+ with Shapeways.  It also meant I could adjust the 3D model on the computer and have a much higher confidence level that the final print would work when I ordered it.  As you can see from the post linked above the car did print right and function when ordered from Shapeways.

img_2606Underframe for HO Scale coach Nova Scotia test printing at the Toronto Public Library.

3D printing was developed as a means of “rapid prototyping”, where companies could quickly produce samples of products to look for obvious flaws before expensive tooling or factories were set up.  I use the public library as my rapid prototyping plant, I don’t normally print full models, but I print parts of them where I am learning new things in design, or just as a general proof of concept.  This allows me to find obvious flaws in my designs or thought processes before spending a lot of money on ordering complete parts from Shapeways.  I’d much rather find a problem and fix it on a cheap PLA print at the library, than an expensive print from Shapeways.

Today, I am printing a template jig for constructing a part out of strip wood, and a test of a small static locomotive detail.  Both are part of the same project, and I don’t want to get too far into them today until I get to the point of being ready to talk about this project.

img_3115Construction jig for a project being printed on the Makerbot Replicator 2 printer at the Fort York branch of the Toronto Public Library.
Video of the Makerbot Replicator printing my part.  30 Seconds of the machine running if you are really bored (the one downside to the library is sitting around watching your print slowly grow!!)

If you have any interest at all in 3D printing, I highly recommend you check out your public library and see if they have started to offer 3D printing.  You don’t necessarily have to start with Model Railroad stuff, start with whatever and see what you can do.



So, I’ve never modelled narrow gauge, I’ve never visited any of the “Great Little Railways of Wales“, though I am member of the 6880 Betton Grange Society based at one of the standard gauge preserved lines in Wales, the Llangollen Railway and have been there for a 5 day visit.  Despite this, I have a burgeoning fascination with narrow gauge railways in the UK, specifically, the Talyllyn Railway which was the first preserved railway in the world.  I’ve also been fascinated with the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway of late, but that’s a totally separate story.

Last year, Bachmann USA who makes Thomas and Friends models for North America announced that they would be expanding into a Narrow Gauge HOn30 line.  HOn30 trains are HO Scale models, that run on N Gauge track, which means commercial track is readily available.  The reason for this, is that one of the Thomas characters is a locomotive called Skarloey, who the Rev. W. Awdry based on the Talyllyn Railways’ locomotive No. 1, “Talyllyn” in his Railway Series of books.  These books are more commonly known now in various guises as Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, an easy entry into railfanning for kids, with all the locomotives in the original books based on the designs of real locomotives in the United Kingdom.

imgp3665rawconvBachmann USA Skarloey and Narrow Planet detailing kit.

This becomes relevant, because for their model, Bachmann 3D scanned the real Talyllyn on which Skarloey is based, so the Bachmann model becomes an entry point for an “easy” HO/OO Gauge model of the Talyllyn.  For 2017, Bachman has already announced that a second narrow gauge locomotive, Rheneas (Thomas world) or Dolgoch (real world Talyllyn No.2) is coming.  Peco makes 009 Gauge (UK Narrow gauge, also runs on N scale track) wagons, including forthcoming slate wagons that are accurate for the Talyllyn railway.  As such, a conversion of Skarloey to Talyllyn is an attractive proposition.

imgp3678rawconvSomeone else takes an interest in the test running of Skarloey before I disassemble it.  Setting up a loop of track on the kitchen table and running trains brings me back to my earliest memories of model trains, and my grandparents kitchen in Scotland with my Grandfather bringing out the trains to entertain us.  Hopefully someday I can do the same for my nieces and nephews when they visit (as opposed to Fergie who kept edging closer to the train the longer she sat and watched)!

I’m certainly not the first or only person to think of this.  The first two runs of the Bachmann Skarloey (a product which can’t legally be sold in the UK because of licensing rights for Thomas products) sold out in a hurry (and from what I can see online, a lot made their way to England as grey market imports).  But I eventually got my hands on one here in Canada. A company in the UK that specializes in narrow gauge, called Narrow Planet sells a kit for doing the conversion, basically saving me the effort of drawing my own 3D printed replacement smokebox door to get rid of the face!

 IMGP3694RawConv.jpgSkarloey’s face and the Narrow Planet 3D Printed Smokebox Door

With a few simple improvements, like removing some of the cast on handrails and adding wire ones, an air pump on the smoke box, a representation of the interior of the cab, paint and decals, the locomotive will very quickly look the part.  The Narrow Planet kit includes replacement cylinders and etched motion parts, but I think that is a bit too much of a reach in my skills for me at this point in time, but I’ll have the parts to be able to install them down the road if I want to.  As it is having partially disassembled the locomotive to get the cab and most of the body off, I’m hesitant to go further and risk mucking up the wiring or motion parts even to be able to paint the frame (I’ll have to work up the courage to at some point!).

imgp3695rawconvEven in bright Skarloey red, the locomotive looks better sans face (in my opinion at least!)

With that, I’m ready to start a new adventure.  I’m not sure what I am going to do for display, I’ll probably concoct some sort of diorama/mini layout that fits on an Ikea bookshelf, but that’s a down the road problem.  For now, I’ve got to get back to work prepping and detailing the Bachmann model for re-painting!  I’ve also got to get planning a trip to Wales.  I think its high time I visited some Welsh narrow gauge railways (and we want to visit Cardiff and be Doctor Who geeks for a couple of days as well!!).

Tuesday Train #23


There is something magical about steam at night.  The hiss, the sounds, the mystery, the steam catching whatever light there is.  London, Midland & Scottish Railways 6100 (British Railways 46100) “Royal Scot” simmers at Llangollen Station during the Betton Grange Society’sSteam Steel & Stars 2” Gala in April 2009.  This was what would be an aborted return for Royal Scot, as problems in the restoration came to light during the week in Wales in 2009, that would sideline her until 2016 and a return this year.

Worlds Smallest F59 & LRC

Well, I can’t actually back that up with 100% certainty, they are pretty damn small.

imgp3671rawconv3D Printed WSF (White Strong & Flexible) GO Transit F59phi and VIA Rail LRC Locomotives.

So why on earth am I trying to make super mini locomotives?  Fortunately, it’s not just to prove I can.  These are HO Scale representations of the locomotives to sit on T-Gauge track and look like locomotives for the 7.5″ Miniature Railway at the Toronto Railway Museum.  T-Gauge is a Japanese creation, model trains at 1/450th scale, on track where the rails are 3mm apart.  This is advertised as the smallest commercially available scale, and the 3mm track works out to about 10.25″ gauge in HO Scale, or close enough to the 7.5″ gauge railway as to be indistinguishable since I’ve not designed the mini-rail equipment to operate.  There have to be limits to everything, I can barely manage the few times i’ve workd with function N-scale equipment, I’m not going smaller!!

I have been working on a diorama of the “Railway Village”, which I mentioned in a post here.  I need to write more about this project, and will at some point.  Part of this includes a big chunk of the miniature railway, including the station platform, a crossing of 7.5″ railway over 4’8.5″ Railway, and a 90 degree crossing of the miniature railway.  All of this happens between and around the restored heritage buildings in Roundhouse Park at the museum.

IMGP1906RawConvThe Railway Village model, you can just see the miniature track for the mini-railway.

The museum does not have a 7.5″ Gauge F59 or LRC (though it did save a real LRC locomotive), though in the role of being the conservator of Toronto’s railway history, when the last F59’s are retired, acquiring one may be something the museum looks at as they are synonymous with railroading in Toronto for the past 30 years!  There have been discussions amongst the volunteers that since we have no GO Transit equipment, and our one VIA piece (the LRC) is not at the museum, but being restored for use off-site, that we should have miniature versions of them plying the miniature railway.  While this hasn’t yet come to pass, there is nothing that says I can’t be ahead of the curve in the model world, especially since the model travels to train shows to promote the museum, and they can then act as conversation starters!

10768403505_7c150b2e52_bMy proof of concept model for the miniature railway in HO Scale.  The equipment in the pictures above are all actually at the museum and running (or have been in the past)

I’m working at getting the miniature railway equipment actually installed on the diorama, between the equipment above that exists, and my additional foobie trains, the miniature railway is going to be a lot busier in HO Scale than it is in the real world!

The Reefers are Saved!

It feels like its been ages since I actually wrote a post about something I’ve been working on, and looking back, it has been.  Its been a long last few weeks, where I haven’t frankly had a lot of time to work on things model railroad related, but I did in the middle of the craziness that has eaten my time, receive a package from Al Fergusson at Black Cat Publishing.  Some decals for a couple of projects, including another set of decals for the Labatt’s Pfaudler Reefers that I have previously written about here and here.  The initial attempt at decaling the cars lead to a disaster, where I had one complete car, and one car that couldn’t be finished because of some ham-fisted idiot messing up applying the decals beyond all salvation.

imgp3662rawconvSuccess, the pair of Labatts Pfaudler Reefers in HO Scale, No 923 and 924 are completed.

Fortunately, I was placing an order for other sets, and was able to tack on another set of Labatts decals to let me get the job done and have the pair of cars I intended.  All in all, I am very happy with how the two cars turned out.  Somewhere down the line they will get some light weathering to make them looked used, a soon as I learn to weather and get my airbrush back up and running (but that’s another story of frustration on a totally different project!).

imgp3664rawconvSuccess, the pair of Labatts Pfaudler Reefers in HO Scale, No 923 and 924 are completed.