Saturday, February 25, 2017

Scratch-Building Cora | 16mm scale

Ready for narrow gauge passenger and goods trains on the Skarloey Railway, Cora the guard's van is one of many unsung characters of the Thomas & Friends' Railway Series who have become a fond favorite of mine, and an essential piece of rolling stock for any train consist!

Inspired by the Corris Railway's rolling stock being shifted to the Talyllyn, Cora was once a goods van belonging to the Mid Sodor Railway, working with the original locos, Duke, Stuart and Falcon. Imagining her being a key force of order and cooperation, she would know how to control the troublesome trucks, encourage the steam engines who wanted to do a good job, and help put the cheeky engines in their place!

Later she and a few of the Mid Sodor's coaches were bought and restored for the Skarloey Railway, to the delight of the now renamed Peter Sam and Sir Handel, and becomes a key member of the railway's family in her reliance for discipline, experience, her clever whits, and her warm company with a story to tell.

Some of these ideas have been from my own inspiration looking into the history of Sodor's narrow gauge railways. She has such potential for being a strong character in the dynamic between brake vans and engines, as the crew communicates essential tasks with the guard to control the train.

This scratch-build features key details for any brake van, opening doors and working couplings, replaceable headlamps, and glass windows! Everything's made by hand, painted and weathered to make her look a part of the real world as an industrial piece of equipment, but well looked after by railway staff.


Construction of the body shell is made up of thick Bristol Board and Elmer's Card, braised in balsa wood strips. Everything's glued together with either Elmer's Glue and Crazy Glue for details like the handrails.

These are made from cut craft wire, with wrapped paper strips that act as facets, colored to match using Sharpies.


After giving the masked body shell a spray of gray primer, the blue van livery can be applied in layers using acrylics.

I begin to add details like the bolts, which are peel-able gems from the craft store! Sprayed with primer, the sticky "tack" is scrapped off with a craft knife and glued on with crazy glue to be blended in with the paint.

Here I have a figure to test how they will fit on the footplate, and ideal feature to have the guard wave a lantern or flag for the loco when traveling! Also on the body is a lamp iron, made from balsa on each end of the van, with a warning disc here that can be used in daylight instead of a lamp at night.

The door can slide snugly open and close freely with balsa guide rails to reveal interior details.

Characteristic of the Corris and Talyllyn railways, Cora like other vans has one door on one side, with the other boarded up. This is because platforms were constructed on one side of the railway track, and with it's limited clearances, it made it an unorthodox but interesting feature for these narrow gauge railways.

Inside, there is a craft wire brake handle, brass tubing, a toolbox sleeve on the wall, and a wooden seat for the guard to sit. For this prototype, as Cora is a spare passenger brake van, she also has the benefit of having a long passenger bench for busy weeks like on Market Day, so people can travel comfortably when overcrowding can be a common problem for the Local.

Next I apply generous weathering with dry-brushing, and some dark paint washes for the simulated planks. I hand-painted Cora's labels, for railway and brake van number.

A mock balsa and card pair of axel bearings on each side compliments the wooden step running along the one side for guard and passengers.

The roof is made from thick cardboard, spray-painted with gray primer and glued in place.


Cora's face has distinct character. Referencing the original illustrations by John T. Kenney, she has a long, thin face to fit her front panel boards, but has the elegance of a 1950s British female in her years, a subtle lip-gloss.

It was my wish to make her appealing, so with my measured drawings in hand, I drew a design to make a template to sculpt her first expression.

Made from Sculpy oven-bake clay, I use the various tools pictured here to work the face in shape ready for baking. Then I use acrylics to paint her final facial colors. Eyebrows are felt-tip ink pens, and the pupils are replaceable stickers.

Cora is now camera ready! With the air of confidence and elderly grace in her expression.

One feature I've always wanted to try is the drain guide typical of vans. Here I've glued and painted a strip of balsa along the subtle curve of the roof, and with some generous sanding to round the edges.


On set, Cora is ready for anything on the line, but quite fond of a quick photo! On the diorama, I'm quite happy with her final appearance. She looks quite natural with her work, keeping the trains in order, and dropping off the occasional delivery at stops along the day's journey.

Determined to do her part but with a genuine sense of sweetness in her old soul, she's a valued treasure, and a favorite of locos and rail crews, willing to please!

Until next time, happy modeling!