Saturday, July 16, 2022

Project Showcase | Custom Bachmann Billy

My first custom 3D printed steam locomotive! Billy was one of those oddball characters on the Thomas show, while appearing in one episode and well known for being a smart Alec and buck-teeth, is unique for being an orange Manning Wardle L Class 0-6-0 tank engine, and I always wanted to tackle him for a custom for my collection. I elicited the help of my friend Noah @the_lbsc_Thomas, who does a great job designing and printing 3D renders for Thomas-themed rolling stock projects, and I welcomed him to help me with this custom! Patrons got to see how he was done early, and a week later it's time for everyone to read how we brought him to life. Let's get started!

1) Designing and 3D Printing

The very first thing we figured out was to make Billy powered using a Bachmann Thomas chassis, with the eye mechanism cut down for smoother running. Noah also swapped the driving wheels with smaller ones from Bachmann Bill and Ben I sent him to nail the smaller profile.

Once he designed the file to completely fit the chassis, he test fitted the resin print, using fine-grit sanding paper and sanding files to make sure the print came out completely smooth. Once he cleaned off excess dust and print marks, he began painting it with colors and varnish he used from Tamiya.

2) Lining

Noah also tried his best to tackle the striping, using green and yellow matte vinyl and cut them to match the profile of the tanks and cab. Once he fitted them into place, he put on the Cal Scale handrail stanchions he uses along with K&S 0.020 music wire. Once he got the initial job of printing, test-running and painting him, he mailed him to me for the final pass on details!

3) 3D Printed Faces

While I waited for the model to arrive, I worked with Rex @Rexecutions to design faces for him. Here are some of the 3D renders he designed for me based on the face masks sculpted for his TV prop, but also some inspired from storyboard drawings of the episode that were never sculpted I wanted him to make for me! It was exciting to see these expressions come to life as they are quite expressive, and still maintain his sculpted style quite well.

Noah printed them for me, and to see them translated in printed resin was quite impressive! They held up well with the 3D printing process, and now it was time to paint them! Before painting, I sanded them smooth and cleaned them from any dust or residue left from the printing process with water and dish soap, scrubbing them with a soft toothbrush and drying them with a paper towel. Once completely dried, I sprayed them with extra fine layers of RustOleum "Chalked" Aged Gray spray paint!

Once I give the spray paint a 12-24 hrs to completely dry, I use craft acrylics to add white for teeth, and grays for open mouths. I touch up any painting mistakes using a half-and-half mix of Americana "Gray Sky" and "Cobblestone" with a drop of white paint, and use very fine-tip brushes applying it, thinned with a bit of water when necessary. The final touch are the eyebrows,  which I "draw" using Faber Castell ink pens, either XS (extra small) or S (small) sizes. As ink takes a while to dry, leave it for a while before handling the face if you don't want smudges!

I love how they turned out. They really capture his bratty attitude and are very expressive like the props and the original storyboards, for all the different moods that fit his character and his debut story moments. 

4) Final Detailing

Once the model arrived in the mail and I finished the faces, I got all my favorite parts together to add and finish the project. I use Smiths couplings from in the UK. My favorite ones I like for engines are the LP8 screw-link kit to assemble with my modeling tweezers. I use something like the metal tip from a fine tip paintbrush handy to bend the "hooped" parts, then squeeze them to the center piece to swivel freely. I snip the bottom of the nail and wrap the end with Sticky Note strips to glue on as the bottom coupling weight, then I spray the couplings stuck on a stick of foam with matte black spray paint.

If first starting out, I recommend getting the LP5 assembled screw links, or the spare ones Hornby now sells on eBay or most UK suppliers. If you're using Hornby's screw links, it's just one round hole, so you could drill out a hole on the coupling base. Just make sure it's secured well with glue if you want it to pull trains!

All of the brake pipes and lamp irons are made from scratch using 20 gauge craft wire from the craft store. For the pipes, I bend them around a screwdriver with pliers to make their curved shape, and cut the excess off. I wrap the molded "facets" details around the bottom where they'll fit on the model and on top using strips of Sticky-Notes paper, cut with a hobby knife and a steel ruler. I use Crazy Glue to secure the edge of one end and then once it sets, wrap the strip around the wire a few times until it makes a nice nub, then glue the end and cut excess with scissors. Be careful the glue doesn't get on your fingers! When that's done, I stick them on a scrap piece of blue foam and spray all the parts matte black. Once dry, I drill a hole where I want to put them on the footplate/bufferbeam by the coupling, and secure them with Crazy Glue.

I want to give him his nameplates, so I designed them in Adobe Illustrator to test for size first, but something else I tried was giving him a number plate, as his TV prop didn't have one. 39 signifies he is the 39th standard gauge engine character to be introduced to the series. I think it really helps give an elegant touch to the empty space on the cab! I also added a dummy tail lamp from Bachmann Branchline. The whistle I gave him is by Ian @IboBro4, which is available in brass on his Shapeways store!

And there you have it! Brand new and ready to be useful on Sir Topham Hatt's railway! I am very happy how good he looks on the layout, and he runs like a charm. A big shout-out to Noah and Rex for helping me make this custom possible, a custom I am proud to get to work on. 

If you guys want to make one yourself, hit them up on Twitter! Noah has a body shell uploaded in his Shapeways store, but if you want high quality prints you can DM them and ask him to print one in high quality resin for you, and hopefully this tutorial shows you a glimpse of the process! You can also DM Rex for the faces, which Noah can print for you, although Rex will put them up on Shapeways as well!

As always guys, thank you so much for the support, it means a lot to me and all the money goes to bringing these projects to life. I hope it inspires you! As always, happy model railroading!

- Stephen

Friday, July 15, 2022

Project Showcase | The Sleepy Specter

"MYY SLEEEEP!" Lurking in the darkest areas of the Scrapyard, a Specter lies in the shadows, ready to scare anyone who dares wakes him from his Slumber. This is a character created by my good friend Mike @TheBuriedTruck for a story called Demons. It was an intriguing character and I really wanted to see if I could create my own take on this engine as a working scrap locomotive in HO/OO scale, as I have really enjoyed making scrap customs the past year. This was a great challenge, and probably THE most intense operating scrap model I've worked on.

1) Some Background

Mike was inspired by a ghost seen in a shot in one of the newer seasons of Thomas called "Halloween," where it passes the camera under some yard lights and disappearing into the fog, and if you look carefully, you see it's moving right next to Tidmouth Sheds where the engines sleep at night. Quite an alluring shot! It appears to be an old Gordon shell with Murdoch's 2-10-0 wheelbase to make it move, and one of the sludge tenders from S3 in tow.

Although the on-screen prop is a freelance design, there is a basis that looks very similar to it on the LNER that is a P1 class, which is a good version of the A4 but a 2-8-0. A very elegant design for a mixed traffic engine. As there isn't a model of this prototype ready to run, I considered trying another LNER engine, an O2 class 2-8-0 made by Heljan in OO gauge. With a basis I was happy with, it was time to find a suitable model!

2) Acquiring the Model

Looking on eBay I found one that was used and had some very light weathering on it. On one side the valve gear was cut off for some reason. I didn't mind as I felt it would add character to the model; and from the description it looked like a good runner. So I bought it, and after waiting a few weeks for it to travel to the US, I finally got to have a good look at it.

Upon examination it looked very good and ran well on tests. I carefully cleaned the driving gears in the chassis and added some motion lubrication that's conductive, which is a big help for smooth running locomotives. I took off the NEM chopper coupler on the back of the tender and snipped off or bent some of the handrails for an uneven look. I even found I could take the smokebox door off of the locomotive so that would be perfect to accommodate the Specter's faces!

3) 3D Printed Faces

For the faces my friend Jake @Jje09 developed a full render of what the Specter's faces would look like in Blender, and he and Xavier @LightAndCoal were kind enough to send me the STL files of the designs they made together to try out on the model. This engine has a face that looks very aged and dirty to the point where you can see the jawline of the skull around the mouth, with heavy wrinkles and big, deeply set eyes.

Tom @TomTeeLegend printed out the designs in high quality resin. After giving them a wash in isopropyl alcohol to scrub off any printing residue with a toothbrush, I paint the faces like I always do with other Thomas customs using RustOleum Aged Gray to color the face, my Faber-Castell ink pen to draw his distinctive eyebrows, and used Blue Tak to put in some 8mm Airsoft paint pellets for the eyeballs, which have vinyl pupils! I highly recommend my bestie George @bowledout95 if you want to commission some. Now to make it more ghostly!

NOTE: Please spray outside or in a well ventilated area, with a mask, and make sure that there is a consistent temperature in the room of choice, not too hot or not too cold, as it will affect the spray application. Having good lighting also helps with drying. As the trim tape for the lining was glossy, I spray the  model a very light first coat to help painting, apply the paint I want for the body shell, then once dry I add he glossy lining before a final coat. Weathering will come later!

Recently I've been trying Dave's Weathering Powders I use for rolling stock to dirty up faces for an industrial look for engines, OR an aged, decrepit look like in Jake's test render for some ghost engines. I applied soot and dark gray powders with a soft brush all around the edges and cracks of the face, blending them in the gray color of the face, and added a little red around the eyes for some bloodshot eyes and dried blood around the sockets!

4) Painting and Weathering

I pulled all the stops on this custom an brought out all the earth-toned and rust colored craft acrylics I have to begin the weathering process! I still love using the craft acrylics I find from craft stores such as Hobby Lobby or Michael's. Studying some reference photos, I wanted to try out a new technique and use a small piece of a sponge I cut up to use with my pliers to dab the paint on the boiler, cab, motion and driving wheels for a chipping rusty effect. I also took out some of the cab glass windows and bent the handrails up even more for worn details. I liked where I was going with it but wasn't happy with the appearance of the first pass.

So after trying to spray some RustOleum Camo and Rusty primers, it gave a much more of a rust-colored base to blend in some acrylics to paint on and try the sponge-dabbing method again. The first layer provided a rough texture in patches that looked quite believable with some dry-brushing and further dabbing. This improved the orange look of a typical scrap engine I was going for, but much, much more realistic and as the layers dried I began another new process, chalked graffiti!

5) Chalk Graffiti

In Mike's story, the scrap engine is covered with all kinds of chalked markings. In real life, chalked notices informed workers and visitors which engines were bought for preservation or to be cut down. Jake took some liberties and added some warning messages from workmen who might have seen the Specter, with some ominous words all over the body. I first tried drawing them out with my 0.5 technical lead pencil where I wanted to paint them, and then went over the lettering with a long, fine brush with thinned white acrylic for a smoother application. This was a fun challenge as it makes for an effective drawn style.

6) Practice Photography and Ligting Effects

After some more dry-brushing and final touches, it was time to see how the engine looked under the Smelters lights! I use my Apature MC LED lights that are also RGB for all sorts of colors I can control with my iPhone to create a range of colors I choose, in this case the hot, hellish red of the Smelter's Shed on the locomotive, right on my office desk. It was breathtaking to see how good the model looks with the graffiti and the rusted detail all over, and the vengeful face with its aggressive expression.

After some more dry-brushing and final touches, it was time to see how the engine looked under the Smelters lights! I use my Apature MC LED RGB lights I can control with my iPhone to create a range of colors I choose, in this case the hot, hellish red of the Smelter's Shed on the locomotive, right on my office desk. It was breathtaking to see how good the model looks with the graffiti and the rusted detail all over, and the vengeful face with its aggressive expression.

It's not often I surprise myself like this, but this has got to be the most intense scrap engine custom I’ve ever done, and the fact that he runs too, I’m really quite proud of him! Scary engines are so much fun to do, and I have also learned a lot by utilizing new techniques to create something very different from what I used to. I hope you all have enjoyed it and are inspired to try making your own ghost engines for the Spoopy season! I'll be sure to try out more stuff like this in the future.

Let me know what else you would like to see in the comments and any questions you may have. As always, happy modeling!

- Stephen