Monthly Archives: September 2013

Making a 4mm Radio Control Truck Pt3

A busy day today and I do not have loads of time to describe progress, but I thought I would post some pictures.

I have managed to fit the front axle and position the motor. I think i will refit the front axle so that the tyres are closer to the cab.

The converted one is the green version.

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Making a 4mm Radio Control Truck Pt2

So the next stage is to try and understand what is in the box.

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I recognise a few of the parts in the box from previous radio control cars I have built (granted they were far, far bigger). I recognise a servo (and it is only 1.5 x 1.5cm!!!!).

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The receiver is also shockingly small. The largest thing about the pack is the radio controller, which will easily squash the car. It seems that radio control has come on since I last dabbled. This new controller sends out a signal in Ghz rather than Mhz and seems able to be ‘programmed’ to the radio control receiver. No more of that band 1-4 crystal nonsense. This sounds like a step in the right direction. It apparently also means that you do not need such long aerials on the models, which I suppose has helped push miniaturisation forward.

My immediate concern is the wheel sets. This kit is designed to convert a lorry. I didn’t realise that it is designed for a lorry with a double tyre axle on the rear wheels, this might limit what I can convert.

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I have three vehicles that may become the final RC prototype. The ground clearance is really good on the pick-up truck, but the wheels that come with the pack are much smaller than it’s current tyres. They are a much better fit to the NCB lorry, but that might be more tricky to convert.

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The next step is to decipher the german component list. Let’s put google-translate to the test.

Making a 4mm Radio Control Truck Pt1

This story starts with the O gauge layout ‘The End Of The Line’ and Giles work on developing a 16mm Radio Control Truck (http://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/topic/18108-radio-controlled-road-vehicle-and-powered-gantry-crane/)

When I first saw this truck I was fascinated. Searching the net indicates that the Germans have managed to make radio control vehicles in HO (1:87), thus it should be possible to create a radio control truck in OO (1:76).


As our UK model market generally lags behind our German and American cousins, I decided that I should have a crack at this.

I have purchased a complete starter conversion kit (which arrived from Germany today) and I now need to start preparing to construct the vehicle.

The first steps will be trying to understand the German instructions (a challenge!!!!), understanding all the components, and finding a suitable OO truck for the conversion.

Watch this space!

Swindon Railway Festival (2013)

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I visited the Swindon Railway Festival on Sunday 15th September, and what an enjoyable show it was.

The cost at the door paid for both entry into the STEAM Museum (which tells the story of the Great Western Railway) and the model show. The museum is built into some of the former Swindon Works buildings, which is a simply wonderful venue for a model railway show.

The quality of modelling on display was quite amazing. I really liked Carsmoores Scrapyard, I was impressed by the small size of the layout and the detail and lighting. The owner of the layout even gave me some nifty tips on building landscaping from foam board and DAS clay.

Another favourite model of mine was Tucking Mill, which was a highly detailed 2mm layout. The level of detailing on 2mm layouts has increased so much in the past few years that I start to wonder why I don’t take the leap. Tucking Mill has some lovely subtle landscaping in place and some nice motive power. I particularly liked their point-changing levers, which activate a slow turning servo which changes the point-work.

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Hornby’s stand included early versions of their upcoming P2, which was looking beautiful. I am really pleased to see that it has separate fitted hand rails, after all this ‘design clever’ nonsense. I also spotted a plastic seam near the front of the boiler, which I hope is an indication of future models with stream lined fronts! Hornby’s Sentinel diesel shunter is also looking impressive.

I also had an enjoyable discussion with a chap from the broad gauge society and discovered that there are some models I can build in that gauge. Maybe one day.

All in all, it was a great day out. Below is my video from the show:

RTR ups and downs

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I have enjoyed some distance from the model railway hobby this year, and I am just starting to rekindle some interest for those long, dark winter months. Having been absent from the usual model railway forums for a while, I revisited and saw much discussion of quality control issues and demands for improvement from unhappy consumers and this got me thinking…

Are we modellers?

My collection of Ready To Run (RTR) models is far from immune of quality control issues, but very few have been returned to the manufacturer or shop, ‘Why?’ you ask, because I can resolve some of the problems myself. Be it: clipping off flash; swapping wheels sets around; re-positioning pick-ups; re-seating motors; pressing loose wheel-rims back onto axels; I can do these things (and have done). Building brass loco kits and chopping up different RTR models to create weird new locos can give you a clear perspective of running performance and the issues that can occur.

Even the simple act of removing the body of a loco to fit a DCC chip helps build confidence in tackling certain issues. I can only assume how difficult it must be for someone to approach these running problems or cosmetic issues if they fear to fiddle with the internals of these expensive models. But how fair is it to pass this back to the manufacturer?

Manufacturing RTR models

Let’s be honest about this: we are discussing a highly complex and highly detailed miniature with circuit boards, cogs, motors, pick-ups and fly wheels. They are a strange hybrid of analogue and digital technology. How many similarly complex items are sold by manufacturers on mass? Watches and cameras are all I can think of. Cars, I suppose, but they are a tad bigger and a tad more expensive.

Mobile phones, tablets and PCs don’t really count because they don’t have any moving parts these days, and just think how many issues are reported for these devices (just look at the software issues associated with updates to Apple devices and Windows etc.). Apple and co. can fix many problems on the fly, after release, by remotely sending fixes and updates. We are not in a position yet for this to happen with our trains.

Some questions for you:

  • Would you pay much attention to a noisier-than-expected servo in a camera lens or a loudly ticking watch? – Maybe.
  • Do you compare the running of your car against a friend’s one?  – I suppose some car-addicts do.

The decision to keep or return a model train might hinge on similar questions to those above. I completely agree that it is our right as consumers to receive accurate running and functioning models, and I think it would be brilliant, but I am not so sure how realistic these expectations are. What testing procedure would remove 98% of failures and deficiencies? We would have to wait even longer for our models and they would be unsustainably expensive, thus is this actually a possibility? Hornby’s recent retro-grade approach is about reducing costs of manufacturing. How much of this decision is based around quality control requirements?

Companies like Heljan, Dapol, Bachmann are not monstrously sized businesses. Every returned model surely imposes a cost to their business. Do we ever consider how much the Heljan Clayton engine failure episode financially impacted Heljan? I don’t really want to be a part of destroying these companies. Thus I try to separate any problems associated with my models into two groups:

  • Actual manufacturing faults, which jeopardise the prolonged life of the model and things that are beyond my ability to fix, which will ultimately result in product returns.
  • Issues that are just unsurprising results of an industrial manufacturing process on a miniature, which I can fix or resolve.

RTR examples

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I have a few new models on my workbench.

  • My Heljan Class 16 diesels operate perfectly and silently, just bliss to watch.
  • My Heljan Class 15 is a tad noisy, I have taken the motor out to investigate and have found the chassis to run quietly when the body is not on, thus I am putting this down to the vibration of the plastic body. I may also lubricate the cogs a bit more. I might also put it through a haulage test to make sure that the motor is sound.
  • My Heljan Class 14 teddy bear wouldn’t move at all. No lights, nothing. However, it did seem to be receiving electric current. I quickly decided not to attempt cranking up the voltage (this is based on previous experience with loco chassis construction). I unscrewed the chassis keeper plate (which is screwed down very tight). The little loco then lurched into life and is a lovely smooth runner.

Granted the Class 14 is based on previous experience, this being my second one for my layout… well… technically it’s my third! My first model was bought at product launch and went up in a puff of smoke! The replacement came and attempted a similar death, until I discovered that the chassis cogs seemed to be locked up by the overly tight keeper plate screws. I could have thrown all three models back at Hattons/Heljan, but there is nothing wrong with the model. It just needed a little tweak. A tweak I was able to diagnose and resolve. I have to confess to finding this process quite fun.

Somebody on a model railway forum recently proposed that it is better to consider our RTR models as almost completed kits, which might need a bit of ‘tweaking’. I am 100% behind this analogy.

I do not know how many of my fellow railway modellers are happy to fix these type of issues, but I do wish we would be more open and acceptant of these problems and try to resolve them, rather than bang the drum of our ‘trading standards’ act. Much like the H&S legislation that we laugh at for its pedantic approach, maybe our ‘quality assurance’ and ‘consumer rights’ policies and legislation can be just as senseless and unrealistic.