IT’S ALL A MATTER OF SCALE
CREATING A MODEL TRAIN HARNESSES THE SAME SKILLS AS REBUILDING A CLASSIC CAR
They say that variety is the spice of life. So it is in the shed. For Taranaki mechanicaldesign engineer Michael Wolfe this means working on projects as diverse as rebuilding a high-powered 1970 American muscle car through to intricate work creating a model of a classic Swiss 1960s train. Michael rebuilds and maintains full-size classic cars, and in his spare time modelrailway construction keeps him busy.
“The skills needed are much the same,” says Michael. “It’s really all a matter of scale.”
His handmade creation of a replica of an iconic Swiss electric train, the RAe TEE II, is unique — probably the only one in the world. Panel construction, lathe work, welding, woodworking, and even creating parts with a 3D printer have all been part of the job. In the world of model trains, this is a big one. Each of the six cars that make up the luxury train is about 800mm long. Michael started off with some plans, photographs of full-size trains, and books, all of which he used to create initial drawings.
These were put onto a CAD file so that the bodies could be cut out from 0.9mm thick electro-galvanized steel — steel with a zinc coating — with a water-jet cutter. The steel was cut and folded, and then carefully spot welded with Michael’s UniMIG 160 welder. “I had it on a real low setting, as this is pretty thin steel,” he says. “It’s really the same as making a full-sized car body but all in miniature.” Some very careful filing and finishing with a fine putty-coat filler was next. The roofs of the cars are made of wood. Michael used pine. He used the water-jet cutter to cut thin strips of aluminium that he carefully glued to each roof to make ribs. Next up was a primer, then a top coat of automotive lacquer applied with the panel-shop spray gun and an air brush for fine details. The metal parts for the bogies under
the carriages Michael made from mild steel, and the wheel units, with tiny ball bearings, came from America.
Grant Hall of Vital Signs in New Plymouth made all the decals and signwriting using his computer. He also made little venetian blinds from white strips of film, and frames for around the windows. The window glass is made from plastic packaging.
The detail is great — there are even little menus on the tables of the dining car.
Finishing plastic pieces were made on Michael’s 3D printer. The figures in the train were made by Preiser of Germany, which specializes in making little people for models.
There are LED lights, front and rear, which change from red to white, depending on which direction the train is running.
The Trans-Europ-Express (TEE) was a premier train in its day, running through Switzerland and to Germany, Austria, and Italy.
The train is a gauge-one model, built on a scale of 1:32. Gauge one is one of the biggest model train sizes. It needs a very big track and Michael has built
“It’s really the same as making a full-sized car body”
six units for the train, a power car, and five carriages. The power car is in the middle of the train, which can move in either direction.
Time-wise, he compares creating the model train with rebuilding a classic car.
“It probably took me about 300 hours to make the train. It’s very detailed work,” he says.
Michael has a big metal lathe for car restoration and a miniature Unimat model lathe for turning tiny pieces for the train. He shows The Shed the tiny insulators on the train roof, each one a few millimetres long, that were made on the model lathe.
The power car has 16V AC motor units and a computer that drives other functions such as sound effects, including the humming of the motor, air brakes coming on, and announcements for stations.
Michael is also an auto restorer looking after a collection of classic cars owned by Bryce Barnett (see The Shed, February/ March 2017). He has featured with a mini caravan that matches his Mini Cooper car
(The Shed, May/June 2017) and his own
The detail is great. There’s even little menus on the tables of the dining car
two model-railway layouts (The Shed, July/August 2017).
Some of the finishing parts were made on a 3D printer. Michael’s son Nickolai is the computer expert and he and Michael made up windows, vents, and covers for the bogie wheel with the printer.
The printer looks like a simple affair, with a base panel and a nozzle, both of which move independently. A spool feeds the plastic filament into the printer and it is reduced to a 0.2mm fine strand, which is squirted into the required shape.
To make one of the bogie wheel covers for the train the printer took about 15 minutes.
“It’s a really great tool,” says Michael. “If you break or need any parts, you can just make them yourself.”
Scanning the plans
Michael created the model for Wellington train enthusiast Douglas Parker, who has a gauge-one layout. There are very few gauge-one tracks in New Zealand. Due to the size of the trains, these layouts take up a lot of space.
Douglas scanned in the plans for the
cars from books and scaled them up to 1:32 (gauge-one) scale in height/width, but only to around 80 per cent of that in length.
“The coaches are shorter than scalelength, so they can more easily handle the tight radius curves on my model railway,” Michael explains. “The power bogies on the driving-trailer are from Aristo-Craft — their wheels were designed for the higher-profile rails of American gaugeone model railways, so a friend in the Märklin Club turned the wheel flanges down for me so that they would run OK …on aMnädraklpiunbgauge-one track.
“The wheels for the rest of the coaches are from Bachmann, with ball bearings I purchased locally.”
The decoder is a LokSound XL decoder, from the German company ESU, mounted under the power car. The decoder controls the motors in the power bogies, controls the lighting in the coaches and headlights, and plays realistic sounds through the 78mm speaker also mounted under the power car.
“To get the sounds, I downloaded the ESU sound project for the RAe TEE II from their website and uploaded it into the decoder. It contains sounds from recordings of the real rail car, matched to the operating status of the train — acceleration, track noise, and brake squeal. Horn and station announcements play when prompted by commands from the controller,” he says.
The six sections of the Swiss train
Fitting the concertina section that joins the carriages The plans and photos used to create the initial drawings that were put into a CAD file
Above: The Unimat model lathe Michael uses for miniature turning Left: The metal frame of the train before finishing work begins
Detail of the roof. The tiny red insulators were turned on Michael’s model lathe
Michael cut out the frames for the bogie wheels from mild steel