Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Replumbing my toy traction engine

The steam valve on Wilesco toy traction engines (and steam rollers) is rather basic. It has a plastic lever, which is loose when cold, and goes from closed to fully open in less than a quarter turn, making it rather difficult to set the engine speed precisely.

I decided to replace it with a better quality "globe" valve to give finer control, and to move the valve to the driver's end of the engine. I also wanted to add a displacement lubricator to ensure the cylinder is always well oiled.

As Wilesco is a German company their models use metric threads throughout, whereas British steam models still use imperial sizes. I prefer to work in metric so bought all the metric fittings I needed from a German supplier Modellbau-Niggel. I was at least able to buy metric pipe from a British supplier, Macc Models.

Connecting the steam valve to the boiler

Rather than run a pipe from the original steam valve position to the driver's end of the engine I decided to move the whistle to the original valve position and connect the new valve to where the whistle had been. This would require quite a complicated bit of pipe bending with three 90° bends in close proximity.

I made a simple pipe bending jig out of washers, nuts and a bolt. Cutting away the side of one of the washers allows bends to be made in close proximity, as well as making it easier to remove the bent pipe from the jig.

Replacing the Wilesco steam valve

After bending the pipe and cutting it to length I soldered pipe nipples (or cones) to each end. As you can see, I used a bit too much solder on one of them.

Replacing the Wilesco steam valve

The completed globe valve connection.

Replacing the Wilesco steam valve

If you've browsed the Modellbau-Niggel web site you may have noticed that they don't sell a globe valve (or oiler) with 3mm pipe connections. I used their part number 310 425 which has an M6x0.75 threaded inlet and a 4mm pipe nipple outlet. I shortened the threaded inlet and then used a centre drill to make a seat for a 3mm pipe cone. I used a sleeve of 4mm brass tube to solder the outlet nipple to 3mm pipe.

Connecting the lubricator to the steam chest

The traction engine's "steam chest" uses a flared pipe connection with an M6x0.75 nut (or screw, as it has male threads) to clamp the flared pipe to a sealing washer. The pipe is about 3.7mm diameter, so I couldn't simply reuse the nut with my 3mm pipe.

Replacing the Wilesco steam valve

Instead I used part number 706 675 which is a good fit on 3mm pipe. I cut off one side and shortened the other, then filed off the thread at the very end so it fits the steam chest. Then I flared the end of some 3mm pipe.

Replacing the Wilesco steam valve

After bending the pipe and soldering a 3mm nipple to the other end the oiler was fitted to the traction engine.

Replacing the Wilesco steam valve

As with the steam valve, the oiler I used (part number 400 104) has M6x0.75 threaded connections on which I used a centre drill to make seats for 3mm pipe nipples.

The final connection

The last bit of pipework is much simpler, apart from sleeving one end to fit the 4mm outlet of the steam valve.

Replacing the Wilesco steam valve

Initial tests show everything is working as it should, and the new steam valve is a considerable improvement. I've yet to determine the optimum setting for the oiler's needle valve, so am erring on the generous side for now, giving it one whole turn from fully closed.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Making a canopy for my Wilesco traction engine, part 3.

In two previous posts I discussed designing a canopy for my toy traction engine and committing the design to metal. In this post I show the final stages - painting and adding decals.

Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine

After filing away excess solder and sanding down all the brass parts I started painting by giving the entire canopy a couple of coats of etching primer from a spray can. To support the canopy during painting I re-used my support strut jig, opening up two of the holes to take M4 screws.

I forgot to take any photos during the rest of the painting. I used Humbrol enamels, thinned with white spirit. I found it quite difficult to get a satisfactory matt finish on the upper surface of the roof ("dark slate grey", no 224) but after enough coats and a gentle buff with a rag I think the result's not too bad.

Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine

I drew some lettering for the sides of the roof using the LibreOffice "oodraw" program, and then printed the result on an A4 sheet of water slide decal paper. (I also did some lettering for a simple trailer kit I've built.)

Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine

After attaching the decals there were a few bits of white showing around the edges. I touched these up with more paint after the decals had dried.

Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine

Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine

These two pictures show the canopy in place on the traction engine. I think it looks pretty good overall. The video below shows how easy it is to remove and replace, thanks to the magnets at the bottom of the support struts.

Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Improving my Wilesco traction engine's wheels

The biggest fan of Wilesco toy steam engines would have to admit that their traction engine's wheels are not particularly attractive or realistic. (Yes I know it's a toy, not a scale model.)

Wilesco toy traction engine kit

A popular way to improve the appearance of the rear wheels is to replace the pressed steel spokes with complete Mamod traction engine wheels. Mamod wheels are castings that look a lot better but can't be used directly as they're too small. Fitting them inside the Wilesco rims gets round this problem.

Improving the Wilesco traction engine wheels

I bought a pair of old Mamod wheels on eBay. Their paint was in poor condition so I stripped them back to bare metal. The Mamod wheel's centre hole is ¼" diameter (6.35mm) compared to 5mm on the Wilesco. I cut two lengths of 6mm OD (5.1mm ID) brass tube and wound them in three layers of thin aluminium tape to make snugly fitting adaptor bushes.

Improving the Wilesco traction engine wheels Improving the Wilesco traction engine wheels

I bought a custom length axle with brass hubcaps from CJW Steam Ltd and made shorter replacements for the Wilesco brass spacers using some more of the 6mm brass tube. I then assembled everything to make sure it all fitted and that the clutch would still engage and disengage correctly.

Improving the Wilesco traction engine wheels Improving the Wilesco traction engine wheels

The next job was to prime and paint the Mamod wheels. I used an etching primer spray followed by two brush coats of Humbrol red gloss enamel.

Improving the Wilesco traction engine wheels

While the paint was drying I removed the Wilesco rims from their pressed steel spokes. I found a suitable size tin of paint to support the inner part of the wheel (with a bit of old T-shirt for padding) while I gently eased the rim off with a hammer and bit of wood.

Improving the Wilesco traction engine wheels

The Mamod wheels are several millimetres smaller than the Wilesco rim's inner diameter so I put a spiral drive belt (as used to drive toy steam engine accessories) around each wheel to make them a better fit. I then glued the wheels inside the rims with epoxy resin adhesive.

Improving the Wilesco traction engine wheels Improving the Wilesco traction engine wheels

Finally I filled the gap between Mamod wheel and Wilesco rim with some Milliput and, once it had set, painted it and touched up some other damage to my earlier paintwork.

Improving the Wilesco traction engine wheels

I'm very pleased with the final result. You'll notice I've also doubled the number of spokes on the front wheels. This is done by removing one of the pressed steel centres from the rim and then replacing it with a 30° offset. I also gave the front wheels a coat of the same red paint as their original colour is a slightly more orange shade of red.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Making a canopy for my Wilesco traction engine, part 2.

In a previous post I described the preliminary stages of making a canopy for my Wilesco toy traction engine. In this post I commit my design to metal.

Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine

I cut the cross members from 1.5mm thick brass sheet. This was the first time I'd used a piercing saw (also known as a jeweller's saw) since my 'O' level metalwork practical exam 41 years ago. At least I didn't saw into my finger this time.

Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine

The top and sides are cut from 0.55mm brass. I bent the top around a suitable diameter plastic pipe, gradually bending it a bit further until it matched the curve of the cross members. The four short pieces of 4mm brass tube will receive the vertical supports.

Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine

The previously assembled jig was used with four lengths of 3mm stainless steel rod to hold the brass tubes in place while each cross member was soldered.

Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine

Unfortunately one of the pieces of stainless steel got soldered in place, even though I was using flux that clearly says "not for use on stainless steel". I couldn't wrench it out without ripping off the brass tube, so I had to cut a new piece of tube and resolder that corner.

Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine

I used wet kitchen towel to prevent the cross members becoming unsoldered while I soldered the sides. I hadn't realised in advance that heating just one side of the roof would cause it to distort, so the ends of the sides are slightly separated from the top. I probably should have glued the side pieces on instead of soldering them.

Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine

The supports are made from 3mm stainless steel rod. After cutting them to length I glued a cylindrical magnet to each one. The magnets are ¼ inch diameter with an ⅛ inch hole.

Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine

The magnets are positioned so the protruding bit of 3mm rod snugly fits the cap of an M4 socket head screw. I used a screw to hold each magnet in place while the glue set, but was careful to remove the screw before the glue had fully hardened. Some glue had worked its way into the screw cap.

Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine

With the magnets in place I was able to fine tune the length of each support so the canopy was level and evenly supported. The front supports attach directly to the traction engine "machine plate" while the rear supports attach to M4 x 20mm socket head screws in the original canopy's mounting holes in the scuttle. (I probably should have used longer screws, bringing the heads nearer the top of the scuttle.) Once I was satisfied with the support lengths I glued them into the brass tubes.

All that's left to do is to remove excess solder and glue, then cleaning and painting.

Monday, 10 October 2016

It's a toy, not a model!

Since I bought a toy traction engine I've been thinking about all sorts of ways to improve it. I've already started scratch building a better canopy and have nearly finished making a simple trailer from a kit. In all of this it's important to remember that it's a tin-plate toy, not a scale model. Excessive detail would look out of place.

Wilesco toy traction engine kit

I can't help asking myself what sort of traction engine it's not a scale model of though. Comparing its proportions (mainly wheelbase and wheel sizes) with some of the many traction engine photos to be found on the web I reckon the best match is a Garrett steam tractor, at about 1:18 scale. Nothing else I've seen has the chimney similarly to the rear of the smoke box.

In the UK a "steam tractor" was a small traction engine (no more than 5 tons weight) that could legally be operated by just one person. They were used for light haulage, particularly timber, so Wilesco's toy log wagon is an appropriate accessory.

The most obviously wrong bit of the Wilesco toy is the flywheel. Apart from having two holes it's also much too large. I assume this is required for the engine to run properly. I've also not seen anything like the Wilesco's drip tray / gangway on a real steam tractor class engine. The most obvious omission is a belly tank, but I have plans to rectify that eventually.

The next question is what to tow? Whilst I fancy the challenge of building a heavy haulage trailer this just isn't the right sort of engine to tow it. Period photos from the 1910s and 1920s when such engines were common are not easy to find, but a typical load was nothing more than one or two 4 wheeled wagons.

This picture shows a Garrett tractor being used for timber haulage, possibly in the 1920s.

This picture shows a Taskers tractor hauling two precarious looking trailers. The high load platform and rather spindly look of these reminds me of the Mamod toy wagons which I'd previously thought were rather unrealistic.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Making a canopy for my Wilesco traction engine, part 1.

One of the less realistic parts of the Wilesco D415 (kit version of the D405) traction engine is its canopy. It's too long, too high, and in my case doesn't fit very well (although the fit could be improved with a bit of tweaking).

This post describes the preliminary stages of making a replacement canopy. In part 2 I commit the design to metal.

Wilesco toy traction engine kit

After looking online at lots of traction engine pictures I decided my toy would look better with something like this.


I started by prototyping the canopy itself in cardboard. I drew suitably shaped cross members with the venerable xfig drawing program, printed them out, stuck them to some thick card and cut them out with a Stanley knife. After gluing on the top and sides I had a rough idea of what my design might eventually look like. This also allowed me to estimate how much shorter the new (straight) support struts need to be.

Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine

Before cutting and soldering sheet brass to make the canopy I needed to make a jig to hold the support struts in place. I used a bit of kitchen worktop offcut (solid beech, 28mm thick) and drilled 3mm holes for the stainless steel supports. According to my measurements the rear supports are 46mm apart, the front ones are 49mm apart, and there's 103mm between them. Making the jig allowed me to verify these measurements.

Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine

Unfortunately my cheap drill stand is not very consistent and the holes aren't exactly parallel. I won't tell you how many earlier attempts were discarded.

Replacement canopy for Wilesco traction engine

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Wilesco D415 traction engine kit

Last week, on an impulse, I bought a toy traction engine kit. It's made by Wilesco, a German company, and I bought it from a German dealer trading on amazon.co.uk as "colludo". This particular dealer is apparently able to undercut everyone else on Wilesco products by a significant amount.

Wilesco make several variations on the same basic mobile steam engine. You can have a traction engine or a steam roller, you can have it in colour painted steel or lacquered brass, and you can have a simple (and rather ugly) radio control. They also do kit versions of some their engines. I went for the D415 kit version of the D405 painted traction engine.

By the way, the British company Mamod is still going, and makes a similar sized traction engine. I think it's a cruder design though, with belt drive and an oscillating cylinder engine rather than the Wilesco's double acting slide valve engine.

Wilesco toy traction engine kit

The kit arrived very quickly - ordered on Tuesday midday, delivered on Friday morning. All the parts are held in a simple plastic tray and secured with clear sticky plastic. I assume the same tray is used for other kits, such as the showman's engine, which is why there are some empty spaces.

One disadvantage of buying direct from Germany is that the assembly instructions supplied are in German. Luckily I was able to find an English version online, otherwise I would have needed a few hours with a dictionary and still would have had problems.

I started assembling immediately and had finished by Saturday lunchtime. There were one or two tricky areas and I took extra care with the crankshaft assembly and drive gears. I needed extra washers on the crankshaft left hand side to adjust the flywheel position so it didn't rub on the intermediate gear. I also needed to bend the prongs on the drive gear so that it could slide far enough to the left do disengage fully from the intermediate gear.

Wilesco toy traction engine kit

The picture shows the fully assembled engine. I think I could have improved the fit between canopy and funnel by adjusting the canopy supports, but I decided to remove the canopy entirely instead. I think the engine looks better without it.

Wilesco toy traction engine kit

There are a lot of leftover nuts, washers and screws! I think this is probably because the same box of small parts is used for all the kits.

Wilesco toy traction engine kit

One upgrade I made immediately is to fit rubber tyres. There are several suppliers of these on ebay, with different price / quality levels. I went for some cheap ones which I think don't look too bad. They do have rather obvious seams though, carefully hidden when I took this picture.

By Monday I was ready to fire up the engine for the first time. I also made a video, using my DSLR in its video mode for the first time. I'm really pleased with how well this little engine performs and am looking forward to testing its pulling power once I've got a trailer to attach to it.

Wilesco toy traction engine kit

PS Today (Wednesday) I fired it up for the second time. This time was indoors, so I could see how the "WiTabs" fuel burned without any wind disruption. I tried prolonged slow running and was very pleased with the result.

Wilesco toy traction engine kit

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Upgrading my Raspberry Pi software

In a previous blog post (My first Raspberry Pi - day 3) I described how I'd set up my Raspberry Pi to boot from an external hard disc drive. In that setup I created a "spare" partition to allow easy migration to a new operating system. Now, 2½ years later, it's time to find out just how easy (or not) this is by upgrading the Raspbian OS from "Wheezy" to "Jessie".

I downloaded the Raspbian "Jessie" image from the raspberrypi.org downloads page and unzipped the file to extract the image file 2016-03-18-raspbian-jessie.img. Then I copied this file to the Raspberry Pi and installed it as follows.

Install kpartx and then use it to access the two partitions of the image file:
sudo apt-get install kpartx
sudo kpartx -a 2016-03-18-raspbian-jessie.img

Create mount points for the two partitions and mount them:
sudo mkdir /mnt/jessie-boot
sudo mkdir /mnt/jessie-root
sudo mount /dev/mapper/loop0p1 /mnt/jessie-boot
sudo mount /dev/mapper/loop0p2 /mnt/jessie-root

Copy the "Jessie" root partition to /spare. This takes some time as there is over 3 Gigabytes to copy:
sudo rsync -av /mnt/jessie-root/ /spare

Copy the "Jessie" boot partition to /spare/boot.bak. Note this is not the actual /boot partition, we don't want to change that until we're ready to boot into the new OS.
sudo mkdir /spare/boot.bak
sudo rsync -av /mnt/jessie-boot/ /spare/boot.bak

Move the "Jessie" home directory's contents to the /home partition:
sudo rsync -av /spare/home/ /home
sudo rm -rf /spare/home/pi

Copy /etc/fstab to the "Jessie" partition and edit it:
sudo cp /etc/fstab /spare/etc/
sudo vi /spare/etc/fstab

After editing the fstab file is as follows:
proc            /proc           proc    defaults          0       0
/dev/mmcblk0p1  /boot           vfat    defaults,ro       0       2
/dev/sda1       /old_os         ext4    defaults,noatime  0       1
/dev/sda2       /               ext4    defaults,noatime  0       1
/dev/sda3       none            swap    sw                0       0
/dev/sda4       /home           ext4    defaults,noatime  0       1
tmpfs           /tmp            tmpfs   size=256M         0       0

Note that /dev/sda2, which is currently mounted as /spare, will be mounted as / and that /dev/sda1, currently mounted as /, will be mounted as /old_os. This requires a new mount point to be created:
sudo mkdir /spare/old_os

Since my original Rasbperry Pi setup the network configuration file has changed from /etc/network/interfaces to /etc/dhcpcd.conf. As I use a static network address on one of my Pis (because it is my network DHCP server) I needed to edit /spare/etc/dhcpcd.conf before attempting to reboot.

Edit the new boot command line and set it to use /dev/sda2 as the root device:
sudo vi /spare/boot.bak/cmdline.txt

Backup the existing /boot partition, then make it writeable and copy the new boot code to it:
sudo mkdir /boot.bak
sudo rsync -av /boot/ /boot.bak
sudo mount -o remount,rw /boot
sudo rsync -av /spare/boot.bak/ /boot

At this stage it should be possible to boot the Raspberry pi into the new operating system and login as pi:
sudo reboot

If I want to go back to the older operating system at any time I should be able to do so by copying /old_os/boot.bak to /boot and rebooting.

All that remains to do is to add my normal user account jim and then install and configure the current versions of all the software I was running — dnsmasq, xinetd, esmtp, nfs-kernel-server, etc. Being able to view the old configuration files in /old_os/etc is a great help when doing this.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Titchener vs. Titchener

Listeners to BBC Radio 4's "The Archers" might enjoy this. The rest of you should go and read something else.

Court report.
The case of Mrs. Helen Titchener vs. Mr. Rob Titchener continued yesterday in the Borchester Family Court, Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot presiding. It concerns the custody of the Titcheners' five year old son Henry.

Mr. Tinklebury Snapdriver, appearing for Mr. Titchener, alleged that Mrs. Titchener is unable to provide a safe home for Henry, having shown herself to be incapable of basic motherly duties such as running a warm bath or making custard. Mr. Titchener's parents, Bruce and Arsula, have generously arranged for Henry to attend Narkover Preparatory School For Boys, a prestigious establishment free of any feminising influences.

Mr. Cocklecarrot interjected that he has no idea what a feminising influence is, but Narkover School is well known for the consistency of its custard and the temperature of its showers. Polite laughter was heard from all sides of the court.

Mr. Snapdriver went on to consider protecting Henry's identity, as his mother is soon to be the subject of a high profile case in the Borchester Crown Court that is likely to attract much media attention. As has become normal practice members of the public had been invited to suggest names in an online poll. After discounting frivolous suggestions such as "Henry McHenface", "Titchy McTitchface" and, bizarrely, "Boaty McBoatface" all that remained was "Hoover". Mr. Snapdriver observed that this is a strange choice, but it is at least better than "AB" or "CD".

Dr. Smart-Allick, headmaster of Narkover school, had written to say they already have a boy called Hoover in the school, so Henry would be known as "Hoover Junior" upon his arrival. This revelation provoked much hilarity in the public gallery.

After order was restored Mr. Cocklecarrot asked why the name "Hoover Junior" was the cause of such merriment. At this point twelve red-bearded dwarves arose and began to run haphazardly around the courtroom, holding their hands out in front of themselves and making buzzing, whirring and humming sounds.

After order had been restored for a second time Mr. Cocklecarrot demanded to know how the twelve red-bearded dwarves were involved in this case. One of their number, a Mr. Sean O'Connor, explained that they were due to appear before Mr. Cocklecarrot later in the week, but because on several occasions recently one day's events had been spread over several days they no longer knew what day it was. They were now in the habit of arriving early for appointments to be sure of not being late.

Mr. Cocklecarrot saw no alternative but to clear the court and adjourn for the day.

The case continues.

(With apologies to J B Morton, author of the "Beachcomber" newspaper column.)

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

21st Century Photosniper — improved shutter release

In a previous post (21st Century Photosniper) I described various additions I made to a "Stedi Stock" shoulder brace camera mount. These include a remote shutter release cable to allow the camera to be operated while holding the shoulder brace by its handle.

The commercial cable release I used contains a single switch, so there is no "half pressed" focus confirmation like you get with the camera's shutter release button. Commercial two-stage push switches are uncommon and quite expensive, so I decided to make my own.

Two stage trigger switch

I used two sub-miniature push buttons operated by a trigger made from an old toothbrush handle. A small piece of plastic foam pushes one of the buttons first, then compresses to allow the other button to be pressed. The picture above shows it during construction, before bending the aluminium mounting plate to fit the shoulder brace.

Stedi Stock camera shoulder brace

A cheap audio cable with a 2.5mm right-angled jack plug is used to connect the switches to the camera. As shown below, there is just enough room beneath my 500mm mirror lens to accommodate the thickness of the mounting plate.

Stedi Stock camera shoulder brace

I haven't yet decided if the trigger needs to be shorter. There's plenty of room behind it for the rest of my fingers when using my index finger to operate it.