Tuesday, 22 November 2022

New Toy Train for Christmas

Christmas was once a traditional time for toy trains. Not only were toy trains/model trains high on the wish lists of many children (predominantly boys), toy trains also did millions of rounds in shop window track ovals to attract the attention of children and ultimately their parents' money. Societies develops and today it's rare to see a model railway in a shop window and very few children want a model train for Christmas.

The Triang Big-Big Train catalogue no RV 272 Diesel has landed on the Nystrup Gravel rails. Shop manager Petersen isn't amused...

I usually treat myself to an early Christmas present for my railway modelling activities. Last year I bought a static grass applicator. This year I chose a locomotive: a Triang Rovex Big-Big Train locomotive. Not a loco that many serious scale modellers would include in their collections. The 'Big-Big Train' range was introduced in 1966 and with all-plastic track, robust and simple battery powered plastic locos and colourful plastic wagons clearly intended as a toy for children. The range was British 0-scale with 32 mm gauge and in 1967 a narrow gauge loco with a clear Ruston & Hornsby look to it was added to the range together with standard V-skips. 

An illustration from a Big-Big Train set with a curious mix of rolling stock in different scales. 

While the Big-Big Train was 0-scale the Ruston and the skip were clearly to a much larger scale. Anyone with a little knowledge of Ruston & Hornsby locomotives will recognize the model as a Ruston LHT type from the early 1950's. A comprehensive article about the Big-Big Train in 'Narrow Gauge and Industrial Railway Modelling Review' issue 100 from October 2014 compared the model with Ruston drawings and found that the scale of the model is 16 mm scale in height and 14 mm scale in length - effectively making the model a short and stubby LHT. The loco had the same 32 mm gauge as the 0-scale stock and was actually sold in mixed scale sets as illustrated above.

In this image the forward 'lean' is easy to see. I suspect the reason to be a trapped wire to the motor blocking the drive unit's correct placement. Probably a fault that will be quite easy to fix.

For a 1970 toy the detailing is pretty good. The Ruston plate is very close to the original design. The brass handle under the radiator releases the loco body from the frames.

Rear view of the model that true to prototype Ruston LHT's has only one door in the cab.

I bought the loco mostly because it is a charming combination of a simple toy and a rare early ready-to-run 16 mm scale (well almost) model with a considerably level of detail for it's day. I wonder if the developers of the model had plans to evolve the range into a real industrial railway range of products? The model has been photographed on Nystrup Gravel and looks rather good in company with skips and figures. So far I think the loco will go back into its box and into storage. But in the future a restoration and perhaps even a rebuild is possible.

With the body taken off the battery fittings are visible. The brass levers on both sides of the loco enabled automatic train control with the help of posts added to the track. Photo: Seller's Ebay post.

Contrary to most images online of yellow Big-Big Train Rustons locos my loco is blue with black frames. According to the 'Review' article blue locos were made 1970-1971. My loco arrived safe and well packaged from United Kingdom. Contrary to most of my Ebay-shoppings it came in its original box including original manual and even some of the original wrapping paper! I haven't taken the loco apart and done a thorough examination yet. The exterior looks alright considering it is a plastic toy more than 50 years old. I didn't find any damages apart from a few marks from general use. I noticed a pronounced forward 'leaning' of the locomotive that is also easy to see in the photographs. There is no glazing in the window openings as stated in the 'Review' article. I found no traces of glue on the inside of the cab, so maybe my item never had windows fitted. The loco is rather dirty and will need a 'deep rinse crystal double cleaning with conditioner and wax' as available in the car wash. 

I couldn't resist testing the loco with a 1.5 V battery connected to the motor terminals. It worked and the drive train seems to be alright despite its age. The coupling rods did bind somewhat and I suspect it's the wheels' quartering that may be out of synch. A problem I will look into once the loco lands on my modelling table.  

The Big-Big Train has two sites devoted to it online - visit the at www.bigbigtrain.org.uk and www.thebigbigtrain.com


Page one of the two page manual showing hos to disassemble the loco. Manual is dual languaged English/Swedish.

The original box so important to real collectors. 

The post assembly that could be fitted to the Big-Big Train's plastic track and engage the levers making the loco either stop or change direction depending on which side of the track it was mounted. Quite a clever idea that was actually used on a real industrial railway in Denmark. The assembly was wrapped in what I suspect is the original 1970-71 wrapping paper.

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Adding More Background

In July I added a large photo print as a scenic background to my small layout. The printed photo wasn't large enough to cover the entire length of my L-shaped layout. I wasn't worried and in no hurry and would evaluate if the background photo fitted my taste. One thing I quickly found out: having a background that's not long enough for the full layout didn't appeal to me. As one of my current small tasks I have now fitted the missing pieces of background to the complete layout. 

The photographic backdrop now also provides an illusion of a railway in a landscape at the loading ramp.

To lengthen the background I ordered an identical photo poster in the same size (90x270 cm) only with the image mirrored horizontally. This is easily done in even the most basic image editing programmes or online services like www.resizepixel.com. With the mirrored print I was able to cut two segments of the new print to add in both ends of the layout, where I still had naked white walls disturbing the illusion of a small gravel industry in rural Denmark.

The layout as it looked before I added the photo print behind the loading ramp.


Loco no 3 going down the ramp with empty skips in the left side of the layout. Basic ground cover is spreading in this area, too.


In the right end of the layout the background now also adds a basic sense of a little railway in a landscape rather than the naked white walls of the room.

While I still have to work a little more with the lining up of the prints, careful placed lighting and a few minutes in a photo editing programme takes care of most of the visible seam between the different background prints in photograps. In daily use when running trains the seams doesn't seem to attract too much attention (mine at least). I'm still considering to replace the background with one looking a bit more like the agricultural landscape around the real Nystrup Gravel facility. But for some time I will enjoy the moist meadow surrounding my small 16 mm scale layout.

Sunday, 6 November 2022

Horse Shunting at Nystrup Gravel

Horses for shunting and as traction for whole trains of skips was a usual mode of operation on many narrow gauge industrial railways. Even into the 1950s the standard gauge Danish State Railways used shunting horses on medium to small stations.

An old image from Nystrup Gravel showing the horse used for shunting getting a bit of fresh grass.

Nystrup Gravel originally relied completely on horses to pull the skips from the pits located quite close to the works. Between 1908 and 1910 the company bought one or two Danish built oil engine locomotives. The pits closest to the works had been emptied and gravel was now quarried much further away, making horse traction uneconomical. Horses were still used for shunting, though. In the mid-fifties horses were finally phased out on Nystrup Gravel's 600 mm line.

Although the Schleich horse is missing its harness, it can't keep away from the skips. Perhaps a few juicy tufts of grass also helped?

My model of the Nystrup Gravel shunting horse is a Schleich model of a Shire and most likely too big and powerful a horse for a small gravel line. The model arrived on my layout from my daughter's collection of model horses and is as such not a well considered investment, but a loan. The model is the Schleich 13605 Shire Mare introduced in 2006 and retired from the catalogue in 2009. The Schleich animals are usually of a good quality with life like poses and well painted.

At the small Brundby Brickworks on the Danish island of Samsø horses were the only form of traction ever used on the small clay line. Here a young girl rides the horse (most likely a Norwegian fjord horse) while three workers ride the skips. The men will probably have to load the skips by hand shovels. Photo: Samsø Egnsarkiv B830.


Presumably the last shunting horse on Zealand: 'Klaus' (a commonly used name for a male horse in Denmark) on Tølløse Station, 1958. Notice that the harness is different from the one applied to the horse on the image above. Photo: The Danish Railway Museum.

Thursday, 27 October 2022

Last Point Lever Mounted

With the wooden building in place and plans for work with ground cover in the area around it, I felt I should finish and fit the remaining point lever. The lever is a whitemetal kit from Feld-, Garten- und Grossbahn and is similar to another lever already fitted on the layout.

The point lever in place on the layout and working as planned. The sisal strands have just been glued in place.

As the point lever was already prepared for assembly it didn't take long to finish. The assembly was done exactly like last time, only this time I left out the direction marker to create a little variety. After assembly I painted the lever and added a bit more weathering than on the other lever. A thin steel wire was cut and bent to connect lever and turnout.

Painting and weathering in progress. I use a scrap of paper as a palette to mix and condition my paints.

The lever was mounted on a lengthened sleeper I had fitted while I built the track. A piece of timber was added to provide a safe foundation for the lever. I used thick AC-glue to fix the lever firmly to its sleeper. The bent wire was attached between lever and turnout. Perhaps something a bit more prototypically is needed at a later time. As I had a few strands of dyed sisal rope on the worktable, I added them around the sleeper end. 

The point lever fitted to the sleeper. A good drying time is adviced to allow the AC glue to fully harden.

Being a slow modeller there is often a huge difference of what I think I can accomplish within the next 2 weeks and what I actually get finished. At least I can now tick the point lever off my to do-list. Several small projects are in progress or in the design phase. Don't hold your breath, though, as things may take time.

Tuesday, 25 October 2022

Get in Shape - Ride a Speeder!

Narrow gauge is great fun when you get to experience some of the charm of running historic vehicles in nice autumn weather. Last week I had the opportunity to propel a speeder along the track at the Hedeland vintage railway. It's not healthy always to sit behind the modelling table!

Meeting one of the ordinary trains on Brandhøj Station. In track 1 it's dieselelectric M 24 built by Nakskov sugar factory in 1962. Photo: Leif Johannsen.

The speeder has been restored by volunteers and it was one of the vehicle's first tours on the line after having been approved by the Danish Civil Aviation and Railway Authority. During the restoration the speeder has been regauged from 785 mm gauge to 700 mm and all wooden parts completely renewed due to rot. The speeder has two traction modes: human and wind power. As we have yet to design, make and fit a sail to the preserved original mast, the speeder was powered by human power alone.

The speeder is powered by moving the handle back and forth as well as using the pedals for extra power when climbing gradients.

The braked speeder waiting for the first train meet of the day.

The speeder was originally used on a railway line owned by the Danish governmental service building and maintaining constructions along Denmark's North Sea-coast protecting it from erosion by the sea. As the line ran mostly north-south and with a predominantely westerly wind, sails were an obvious source of traction for speeders on the line.

The speeder doesn't bear any identifying plate as to who built it, but there are some indications that it may have been built by Swedish Hults Bruk, now famous for their high quality axes.

Hults Bruk catalogue from September 1913 showing a speeder (bottom of page) of very similar construction to the one on the Hedeland vintage railway.


Speeder of similar construction photographed 7. November 1904 near Agger on the standard gauge line that transported building material for the dykes and groynes built to protect the coastline from erosion. The line was regauged to 785 mm between 1948-50. Gun barrels and cannon balls placed next to the track are salvaged from 'HMS St. George' and 'HMS Defence' that both stranded on the west coast of Denmark 24. December 1811. Only 17 British sailors survived out of a total of 1425. Photo: Vandbygningsvæsenets fotosamling No. 237.

The Agger line was comparatively flat, which can't be said of the Hedeland line. Consequently it's a benefit if the speeder's crew is of some physical capacity and endurance. But then again, it's good to do something else than just sitting writing or modelling!

Tuesday, 18 October 2022

Danish General Election

Outside my house election posters hang in every lamppost. Driving to work posters also hang from many bridges and a selection of trees. A general election is approaching in Denmark. The posters are a well established tradition and the posters were also a well known sight around Nystrup in the 1950's when election time was due.

On a wooden pole carrying a lamp and electrical wires a poster highlights the virtues of the Conservatives: good conditions for businesses and making Denmark a magnet for trade. In the beginning of the 1950' many goods were still rationed or very scarce in the wake of the 2. World War.

Our general election in Denmark is held 1. November and you can see the cold facts of the election proces and results (naturally only after the last wote has been counted some hours after the polling stations have closed) on the website of the Danish Parliament. If you are not interested in Danish politics, just skip the link and keep reading about the election poster modelling and a little history. 

1950's election posters found online, printed out in appropriate size and glued to thin cardboard backing. Allow time to dry and cut out with a sharp scalpel.

Posters cut out and fitted with holes for mounting on lampposts and utility poles.

In the Nystrup Gravel universe and time frame voting and party membership was closely related to your profession and class. The persons on my layout consequently exhibits classic 1950's voting patterns. The owner and manager of the gravel company Director Holm voted Conservative as most larger business owners did. We already know that the workshop manager Thorleif Petersen was a member of the Danish Communist Party and voted accordingly. Some of the higher white collar employees (e.g. the company accountant also voted for the Conservatives as did the well dressed bank employee railway enthusiast visiting Nystrup Gravel now and then. A large majority of the company's blue collar workforce would most likely vote for the Social Democrats. The results of the 1953 general election that paved the way for a Social Democratic government can be found on wikipedia here.

The finished posters were mounted on a wooden pole made from a round wooden stick that I worked quite vigorously with a rough file to obtain a slightly tapering shape. I smoothed the surface somewhat with finer modelling files before I treated the pole with dark grey wood staining fluid and an assortment of thinned acrylic colours. The pole took no more than 10 minutes to make. The posters were fitted to the pole with painted copper wire even before the post had dried fully.

'Don't make dad loose his job' two worried children says on the poster from the Social Democratic Party. Also note that only dad is mentioned as a potential victim to unemployment. Most Danish women had no regular paid job in the early 1950's. The father usually being the only provider of family income.

The posters were a quick project, but one that clearly sets the time frame on my little layout. Like real election posters my model posters will not hang around Nystrup Gravel permanently but will only be fitted on special occasions.

Wednesday, 5 October 2022

Wooden Building Finished

With some work I finally had a two storey building completely covered in red stained boards with three openings for window frames and glazing. The last stage of the construction aimed at getting the windows and the basic roof finished as well as fitting interior lights on the upper floor. With that accomplished I can now call the building finished.

A quick snapshot of the finished wooden building. As can be seen it really isn't more than a simple relief building pushed up against the backscene. The building's depth closest to the camera is only 4 cm and where the track enters ca. 8 cm. 

The building is built on an inner structure of foamboard covered in coffee stirrer boards. To keep all boards to equal distance from the ground I used a long stick attached to the building while adding the individual boards. By fitting each board tight against the stick it was quite easy to keep all boards to the same height and most of them comparatively vertical.

Fitting the first boards on the lower floor. A square wooden profile attached to the foundation keeps all boards to the same height.

Upper floor board cladding being fitted. Again equal height is obtained by a wooden guide attached to the building. I left the coffee stirrers over-length on purpose to be cut down later.

As I kept the boards over-length I had to cut them following the roof slope. I simply used a junior hacksaw carefully sawing my way along the roofline. I managed to tear off only one board that could easily be glued on again. 

Before getting to work on the windows themselves I prepared the window openings to allow for a horisontal window sill and a correct gradient to allow water to run off. I gave up using small modelling files and sandpaper and picked a file from my toolbox usually used on 1:1 projects. That gave instant progress with minimal effort.

The building completely clad in stained coffee stirrers. Almost all have been cut to the correct slope of the roof. Minor adjustment of window openings in progress.

The window frames used in the building are laser cut frames from a German manufacturer. I bought them at the 3. Schkeuditzer Grossbahntreffen in 2004 without packaging, just wrapped with a rubber band. To fit the building they were reduced in height, painted and fitted with a piece of clear plasticcard for glazing.

I fitted the windows into the openings with Kristal Clear to avoid glue stains on the glazing. The steel sheet window sills were made from softdrink can metal cut and bent to shape then painted and glued under the windows with standard contact glue.

Two cut down window frames painted white and one as originally bought in Germany in 2004. The piece of softdrink can will be cut down and folded to make sills under the windows.

The first painted and glazed window glued in place and test fitted with sill made from aluminium from a softdrink can.


One window fitted with sheet metal sill painted white. In this gruesome close-up I can see I should have taken a bit more care when fitting and cutting the boards. 

Lights are simply small two 12 V bulbs fitted into holes made in a piece of black-painted foamboard push-fitted under the roof. Wires are led through a hole in the back wall of the building and held in place with electrical tape. The wires will be connected via connectors (to enable the building to be removed) to wires running under the layout from a central 12 V power source. While it really is a very simple arrangement I have been inspired by other modellers' work with lights and look forward to set up further lamps around the layout as it moves toward a more finished state.

The ultra simple light installation in the building seen with the roof removed. As the lamps are placed high over the windows they spread the light rather well inside the top floor of the building. 

As the interior light was fitted I mounted fascia boards to the sides of the roof and painted them white to match the window frames and sills. I have yet to fit tarpaper to the roof that is painted black as a intermediate solution. With my layout placed rather high above the floor and the building itself being 35 cm high there is not much chance that anyone will actually see the roof from above.


The finished building almost towers over the layout. It's purpose is to hide the track's abrupt end at the wall and to provide a vertical element to an otherwise very flat, little layout.

Despite having a depth of only ca 8 cm where the track enters the building it isn't too obvious seen from a distance. A good cover of black spray paint on the inside and a figure in the doorway helps a long way.

I have mentioned a few things that I may have to go back and add to the building, but apart from that and some weathering the relief building is finished. I will now devote some time to landscaping around the building to settle it in on the layout.