According to Chris…
His grandchildren call him ‘Granddad Trains’ and he’s been a dedicated railway modeller since the 1960s but, despite popular legend, Chris Leigh doesn’t remember when dinosaurs roamed the Earth!
Chris discusses motors in locomotives and using them with older controllers.
Coreless motor. What was your reaction to those two words? Curiosity? Annoyance? Anticipation of another war of words? There’s little doubt that, to some modellers, the words are instant provocation. It reminds me of the reaction to ‘VHS’ by a Betamax video user, or to ‘cassette tape’ by those committed to vinyl records. I’m not sure that I ever heard, among those same folk, a similar reaction to ‘45rpm’ when their gramophone would only play at 78rpm. But I’m sure everyone thought that the stylus was an improvement over the steel needle. But back to coreless motors. They are not a new thing but developments in motor design and construction have meant that a coreless motor can offer major advantages in a model locomotive, particularly where space is at a premium. It does, however, need to be the right coreless motor for the job, as the down side is that they produce less torque, and consequently generate more heat. The other down side is that we haven’t yet become accustomed to them. Not that we’ve really had much chance to become used to anything because, as in every technology, change and improvement has been ongoing. When I started work in 1963, Tri-ang’s X04 and Hornby-dublo’s Ringfield
Many of us are reluctant to throw out old stuff if it still works
were ‘state of the art’. The X04 may have been less powerful, more basic and cheaper, but it won hands down because it was also smaller. It was adopted as a staple for powering kits too, until superior motors with the same dimensions came along. In the meantime, Tri-ang took things down one more size with the XT60 motor, developed for the 12mm gauge ‘TT’ range. Everything changed again in the 1970s with the return of Ringfield magnets in the so-called ‘pancake’ motor adopted by Lima and Tri-ang Hornby. By using this in tender-drive mechanisms for steam locomotives and motor bogies for diesels, serious savings could be made in the manufacture and stocking of parts. Overall, however, modellers did not like them. The spur gearing was relatively unsophisticated and slow running was hit-and-miss, while a steam locomotive pushed by its tender was seldom a convincing sight. That other bane of 1960s modellers, traction tyres, also returned with a vengeance on these six-wheel drive mechanisms, usually affecting the number of power-collecting wheels and degrading performance even further. Since the move to Chinese manufacturing in this century, there has been very little standardisation of motors. At first there was a move from three-pole to five-pole motors, and to enclosed ‘can’ motors. In recent years, with motors often housed in inaccessible casings, the motor has become increasingly integrated with the chassis and gear train, making it difficult for reviewers to ascertain exactly what type of motor is fitted. We’ve even had instances where different production runs of the same model have had different motors, Oxford’s ‘Dean Goods’ being a case in point (initially five-pole, later three-pole). The coreless motor offers a double advantage in a better power:size ratio and quieter running – ideal attributes for potential DCC sound installation. Though not a prerequisite for all modellers, a 21st-century locomotive tooling does need to make provision for this developing aspect of railway modelling. The downside of coreless motors – and some other modern types – is that they are not tolerant of the current ‘spikes’ which can happen with older model railway controllers. It seems that 1960s model railway controllers, though unsophisticated, were built to last and some modellers are reluctant to update their equipment. Many of us are disinclined to throw out old stuff if it still works. As a result, I was surprised to find no fewer than five ‘generations’ of controller at home, three of them in regular use on my layouts. Only one of those controllers still in use is analogue, and that’s on my British ‘OO’ gauge layout. It is around 15 years old and is Gaugemaster’s controller for double track. It is probably time I upgraded again, but it is compatible with modern motors and still in production so there seems little point. The oldest of my controllers is an H&M model which was used for reviewing models at Model Railway Constructor back in the 1960s. I keep it for historical interest and because its six switchable circuits enable me to provide variable power for lighting or powering accessories when nothing else is available. I can’t imagine any circumstance under which I would use it to power trains as, at 60 years old, it is at least twice the age of any locomotives that I operate. Technology moves on, and what other 60-year-old electrical appliance would we even consider using?