Sunday, November 13, 2016

Scratch-Building Proteus | 16mm Scale

The Legend lives! Proteus is my latest narrow gauge custom made for a #ThomasCreatorCollective Halloween project for the Thomas & Friends YouTube channel.

Introduced in the ninth season of Thomas and Friends, Proteus is an object of local legend. He's based on Henry Hughes' Falcon Works 0-4-2 saddle tank prototype. Working the mines and running in the mountains, he had a very bright lamp, which he said was magic, promising that if any engine found it, they're wishes would come true in times of need.

I never thought I'd make this engine, but working on him I've grown to like him, as I feel he can play a bigger role in symbolizing the faith of the little railway. From shooting footage of the dioramas that I've made for him, and within a week's time of making him from start to finish, it was a fun challenge!


Starting with the basic parts, I form the body into shapes, first starting with the cab, working to the boiler tanks and footplate. All are cut from Bazzil Basics card, secured with  Midwest Products balsa strips. Scotch tape hold curved parts like the boiler and smokebox with Crazy Glue or white glue.

As it takes shape, painting and weathering takes place using acrylics from Plaid FolkArt, Apple Barrel and Deco Art's Americana. I have peelable gems that are primed to glue in place, and are naturally blended when painting. Stripes are also from colored card glued in place.

For the buffer beam, I used thick card, and added for painting. In addition to painted chains, coupler hoops are bent and cut using pliers, and paper facets hold them in place with Crazy Glue for a strong bond.

Buffers are rolled strips of colored card, to allow them to slide in and out! Wrapped around strong objects like a piece of balsa, a screwdriver or a marker, they're glued in place and cut. The buffer mounts are cut balsa, which are painted and weathered later.

Handrails and brass piping are Darice Craft Designer's 16 gauge wire in silver and copper, secured with strips of paper and glued. I use Sharpie metallic pens to color the paper to match the metal accordingly.

The whistle is made from wrapping strips if index card around for the top and bottom, and a cap on top. I also use metallic paints for larger or thicker parts.

Valve gear and coupling rods are made by hand using balsa and tooth pics that are painted and weathered. I test every part I make in motion with the LEGO Power Functions motor system to make sure movement is as smooth and easy to move as possible. Custom LEGO wheels are from Big Ben Bricks, painted and weathered.

You can read this post in detail to find out how I use LEGO to make my narrow gauge custom engines move.


For the Magic Lamp, I wanted to have it operational to make it generate flickering effects naturally with appropriate electrics. The finished model is pictured above, the lamp mount ready to be secured, and painted black with the wires.

The light is controlled by a transformer off camera, with the extended wires hidden away in the scenery as the engine pulls away from the camera, so that it turns on and off as he moves.

I used an HO/OO scale spotlight, which can glow very brightly. All I did to create the lamp is to wrap card in layers, which actually allows it to be removable. Thinner strips are added along the edges, and a body shell is added underneath. The handle is bent 12 gauge wire, painted white later and weathered.


The face is sculpted with Sculpy clay, using my fingers and both clay and wood carving tools. Once baked, sanding can make the sculpt much smoother for painting and detailing.

There is a controlled system of leavers from the cab that extend out to the front, which I used 16 gauge wire to bend and glue in place, the mounts made from card. Once painted, it's glued on the front, with an extended leaver from the cab.

 The finished face, pained in acrylics. The eye brows are drawn using ink pens, and the pupils are stickers to change position every clip of a sequence filmed.


After the model is complete, the diorama is ready to be set up. I imagined it to be an abandoned quarry siding where trucks were once shunted to be collected back down the Ulfstead mountains to the harbor. Once Boulder Quarry closed, it was left alone as a dissused service line and for shortcuts.

Here I'm testing how some key scratch-built 16mm narrow gauge rolling stock and accessories look on this diorama. I use Ashland deer moss mats, lichen, and moss overgrowth to add life to the slate storage shed's side yard. Ballast is natural road gravel.

Once everything is put together, filming can take place! I also had a warm living room spotlight to shine from a ballast truck yard on the side off camera to add a contrasting light source with the intense blue of the moonlight.

Like my old layouts, I brought out my green afghans for the gap and distant moorlands! The hill may be where an incline of some kind existed to haul wagons up and down to load them when brought here from the quarry. Now nature has reclaimed the industrialized valley, and where it once was a bustle of activity of narrow gauge, the land attracts wildlife. Digital layering of the moon and color grading add atmosphere.

For this intro shot, Proteus approaches the edge of the fell, looking over the landscape and any used narrow gauge tracks to keep an watchful eye over the little engines while they work busily in the dark night.

He is the guardian of the mountain, and a manifestation of the faith the engines keep to help them when times on the railway get hard. This shot is a reveal that he is still there, looking out for any misfortune.

With this color grade tests, the scene needed to have that extra dose of spooky atmosphere, but contrasted by the beauty of nature and light with the scenics and studio lighting.

Certainly the mood created from the light in these shots shows the goodness of the engines shine in spite of the darkness, from any fear and uncertainty. Though a local myth told by engine crews, railway staff and local villagers, Proteus and his light are a living symbol of the triumph of faith conquering fear to win the trials of life, and that burning fire is there in all who work the railway system, and holds them together.

This was a great project, and something different that I became passionate about with the challenge of budgeted time that has generated interest to describe Proteus' story in detail. I hope to make more to reveal it in new personal projects in the coming year.

Until next time!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

16mm Scale Power Upgrade

A few months ago, I decided to update the working parts for my scratch-built engines, and purchased a start-up purchase of LEGO Power Functions equipment.

Illustrated are all of the necessary parts needed for operation. One loco needs a train motor, an IR receiver, a battery box with wall transformer, and a remote!

What I really like for the rechargeable battery box is that all you need to power it up is to plug it in a wall outlet with the extension cord, which is sold separately. While it seemed expensive at about $50 for the battery, it saves on having to buy so many spare batteries to power up more locomotives! You can of course get a batch of either Energizer or Duracell rechargeable batteries for other Lego versions.

While I was making a new model custom for Rusty the diesel, I made use of the new system and made a LEGO chassis to support the operating system. The body shell will fit over this once completed and detailed.

You can operate as many accessories with the IR receiver's linked to the same channel, and you can operate two separate engines at once with the two-knobbed controller.

Operation was very smooth. It runs at set speeds and aren't as gradual unless pulling cars, especially a heavy load which it handled well. I needed to be as close as 1ft - 3ft to make the loco start or stop when I needed to.

Also, because LEGO's railroad system is not battery powered, I don't need electric track! I could potentially hand-lay 2ft 3in track for these engines to scale for my dioramas to film.

I also got a set of Big Ben Bricks LLC's custom engine wheels, which I found run beautifully with the LEGO power functions very well. These are size large, both flanged and blind drivers for Skarloey and Rheneas, and other locos. Medium would be great for Duncan.

The counterweights were made from cutting card drawn to shape, and painted once the glue dried. This made the wheels look more believable as locos have varying styles.

I painted and weathered them using acrylics from Plaid FolkArt, Apple Barrel and Deco Art's Americana.This gave it that extra touch of realism for grime and ware, which would look good in motion for the finished loco to operate, once adjustments are made for the interchangeable chassis!

Rheneas is pictured above with his previous LEGO 9V engine motor fitting chassis removed. I have the train motor assembled to test the fitting of the custom wheels to see how much of the floor I had to cut with my craft knife to be sure it ran smoothly without distressing.

After I finished with the painting, I spray painted my wheels using a matte primer, so as the loco runs on the rails, the paint will stay secure and not scratch off in case of any wheel-slip.

This is how the LEGO 9V engine motor looked with custom balsa and toothpick rods and wheels overlays with glued card before painting. Although it looked good, the wheels felt out of scale, and needed larger wheels to not only look believable, but operate much more smoothly.

For Rheneas, I had a separate LEGO chassis assembled together to put in place. I needed to extend the back a little bit, so that meant that only one wheel could the motor power, which I haven't found to be a problem yet, and I may find I might need to customize with an extra set of LEGO gears.

The battery and receiver are set in place. I left room in between them for the wires to run through them with enough clearance.

The custom chassis is made from balsa and black card, with holes punched for the wheel connectors to slide through the motor each end.

For Skarloey, here is the complete removable chassis with balsa rods! The cylinder casings are also from paper card, with craft wire valve extensions.

Rods are from balsa, with bent paper card to model the connecting ends to the LEGO wheel facets, all painted with acrylics.

I found I really liked the longer length for him, and for Rheneas I could go longer to match his prototype.

Comparing Skarloey and Rheneas' new operating coupling rods. I find it highly satisfying to adjust the wheelbase to accommodate specific locomotives, like Rheneas' long chassis.

The best part about making a custom Lego motor chassis, I can interchange locomotive shells to have different engines running at a given time anyway I like, which makes these highly customizable and easy to put together.

Overall, I am very pleased with the upgrade. When I test the parts out before painting, I try making sure they run smoothly without any kinks before moving on to detailing. It makes a better operating system for the model when I take my time on things like this, because it can make or break how it runs on set.

Scratch-Built Slate Cars | 16mm Scale

One of my favorite type of Welsh narrow gauge wagons, these slate cars were a favorite of my latest to make for expanding my range of scratch-built rolling stock!

As they appeared from season 5 of the Thomas & Friends show, the design of these wagons were taller and larger in size, and weathered down in grime and rust. Other batches were painted in different liveries with lighter gray buffer beams from season 6.

Making the first batch, I used Midwest Products' balsa wood for the body and chassis, as well as the hinged brackets that fasten each side together. Rolled strips of index card were glued for the wheels' axle boxes, and the rows of support rods. Darice Craft Designer 16 gauge wire bent in shape were drilled in the buffer beams for coupler hoops, with working chains.

Painting with Plaid FolkArt, Apple Barrel and Deco Art's Americana acrylics gave me variety in blending colors, achieving a heavy industrial feel, like they were used for a long time.

Name plates are designed in Adobe Illustrator and printed in matte paper, cut to fit on the underframe.

Looking at some fine-scale modeler's process blogs, I got the idea to make slabs of slate using Elmer's foam core cut into strips and sanded for rounded edges. Laid out on paper and secured with masking tape, they are painted gray simply using primer, carefully painting all the sides.

Cut in varying lengths for some variety, they are stacked in tall rows in each car.

They work well as working rolling stock, and as scenic items as abandoned wagons at lost and forgotten quarries like that of Ulfstead's Boulder Quarry!

As I make more cars, more batches of these can be made and in different variants for the slate mine and quarry inclines, and Crovan's Gate Depot for storage. They would also look great with moving brake handles for those that have brakes, a steel body for the inside, and other details!