Clear as a bell

In the last weeks whenever we’ve had hung visitors to our property I’ve taken them into the shop to look at the train. The visit includes climbing into the train engine cab and trying out the whistle and bell – much to the delight of the kids. While I also took delight in the loud noises I was watching how the kids used the equipment, taking mental notes on how to improve things. The kids couldn’t resist twisting the various taps (as intended). With the operating controls of the train on the right side the bell cord was on wrong side for the kids to pull. Back when I installed the bell I decided to create a fixed mount with the pull cord on the clanger. I noticed the younger kids pulled hard on the rope but didn’t instinctively let go. The resulting CLANK wasn’t right. Since I was gong to remount the bell to the other side of the train I decided to make a swing mount instead. While the old mount was made by hand we would have some high tech help this go around.
Using the brass bell as reference I drew it up roughly to scale, then using the drawing tools in EnRoute created the fancy shaped bracket. It would weld to the side of the steam dome of the locomotive as there wan’t room on top. I combined the crescent shape of the bracket to the mounting flange. 
The bell bracket was a fun little project taking about two hours from start to finish. It’s a whole lot easier to ring now and is a lot louder than previously. Kids are going to love it!
The pull arm was as simple as creating the arm shape and a donut on top and bottom. Once again the combine tool
I decided to add a few more holes in the bracket to be a little more decorative. The shaped would be welded into some 1″ flatcar to create I-beams.  The top piece (with the hole in the centre is to be welded at right angles to the shape just below it. The bell will bolt to this piece and it will pivot to ring.

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Each day another piece

As I work on the train project a little each day I find the modern tools make it so much easier than when I started the project more than a decade ago. Back then I was happy to use the hand held plasma cutter – a huge step up from the acetylene torch we had used up to that point. But the curves were always a little shaky and there was still lots of grinding to do – especially when I was making multiples of a piece.

Now it is as simple as designing a file in EnRoute on the computer and then sending it off the the MultiCam CNC plasma cutter. In seconds the part is cut perfectly, needing little more than a touch with a sanding disk before I weld things up.

Over the last weeks I’ve been spending a little time each day, designing, cutting and fabbing up the needed brackets, bits and pieces needed to mount the electric motor, transmission and cable brackets. We are getting close to getting this thing running!

Back when I designed the train I was planning on using four eight volt batteries to power it. After much research I discovered that six – six volt batteries would power the train longer and last longer too. We took delivery of the batteries yesterday. As I suspected six batteries won’t fit into the battery box I had previously built. An easy fix was to design a steel box and weld it to the back of the cab for the sixth battery. I’ll make it look like a toolbox and it will be just fine.

Making the box was dead easy… as it was only four rectangular pieces of steel. I decided that to make the box look intentional a couple fancy brackets were in order. Creating the file in EnRoute was quick and easy.  I started with a seven inch by five inch rectangle to establish the needed scale. Then, using the drawing tools I created a curved line.

The jigsaw tool was used to cut this shape out. I then deleted to original rectangle and curved line.

Lastly I used the offset tool to create the hole in the bracket.

The file was then ready to send off to the MultiCam plasma cutter. In a couple of minutes the brackets were cut from a sheet of 1/8″ steel. While they were cutting I had welded up the box and the brackets were added to it in a hurry.

I then measured, centered and tacked the box onto the back of the train engine. It took a few minuted more to run a welding bead up each side to make it permanent. In the next session I’ll fab up a hinged lid to keep the battery out of the weather but also allow easy access for servicing.

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Every day a little progress

Each day I try to spend at least a few minutes each day to do a little work on the grampa train. Most days it is a short time but it’s enough to build a file in EnRoute, cut a piece or two on the MultiCam plasma cutter, pull a couple of welds or do a little grinding. I managed to assemble and finish the train controller yesterday. Today I cut some holes in the floor of the cab and fit it into place. I’ll now work on the electric motor throttle (which will resemble a steam throttle) and fake firebox.

The backhead of the ‘steam engine’ is a beauty and should be a lot of fun for the younger riders who ride in the cab with me. I’ll run the functional controls while they of course will be able to ring the bell and pull the whistle cord. There are also plenty of (non-functioning) taps to adjust to make the engine run perfectly.


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Hand control one

I love to design and fabricate somewhat complicated things using EnRoute and CNC tools. For the grampa train project I could have used a simple push/pull choke knob to accomplish the adjustment of the drive controls. It would have worked just fine but it wouldn’t be very authentic. Now I’m not at all a rivet counter kind of builder where everything has to be prototype down to the last detail but the thing I am modelling has to appear to function as it does in the prototype but in a fun way. The throttle of a steam strain is a lot like an old fashioned lever hand brake and I considered using an old one. But as I looked at historical pictures I decided it was just the kind of fun project I love. Using EnRoute to build the file and the plasma cutter to do the work would be relatively easy. Best of all I could easily scale it down to our train size and yet keep it chunky and slightly cartoon in keeping with the style of the grampa train.

The pieces would be cut from 1/4″ and 3/8″ steel plate. I designed it as a single piece and then broke out the different pieces and separated them according to thickness.Everything was designed entirely in EnRoute using the various vector tools. The MultiCam CNC plasma cutter made quick work of cutting the files and they were plenty accurate enough. A little touchup with a sanding dis is all that will be required before I begin assembly. The quarter inch thick files looked like this.

The 3/8 thick files were these.

As soon as the pieces were cool enough to handle with my bare hands I mocked up the pieces to see how it looked.  It’s going to be very cool and should work real well to control the train. Now it’s time for a little grinder work and then I’ll light up the welder and wrenches to fasten the pieces together.

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Electric grampa train

It’s long been a dream of mine to won an electric train. Every Grampa should have one to share with his grand children. Only I wanted a very large train with the tracks circling the entire yard. I started the train project back before our first grand child Phoebe was born, almost eleven years ago. I made great progress on the engine and two rail cars – all built out of steel using nothing more than a hand held plasma cutter and a welder. The name and number plates were routed from Precision Board. We even managed to lay about four hundred feet of track down the driveway when we put that in but things slowed down as we did all kinds of big projects for customers, built the new house, landscaped the yard and a thousand other things.

With the grand kids and other important young kids in my life growing up so very quickly it is time to get in high gear on the electric train.  This past winter we gathered enough rail to get the rest of the way around the yard which will make the track about 1,100 feet long. That will go in as soon as the Viking ships are sent on their way. But the little engine was still without power. Through the years I had considered many power options and decided electric was the way to go. An old electric golf cart that didn’t work donated the electronic controls. A friend brought us the thirty-six volt DC motor. Our good neighbour Gord sourced an old, variable speed hydrostatic drive. The necessary cables, gears, chains, batteries and other bits I could buy fairly inexpensively. With our CNC plasma cutter and welders I would easily make the needed brackets and custom controls.

The only thing I needed was to make the time and get in gear. With the shop finally empty of Viking ship pieces and me all rested up I decided today was the day. I used the forklift to lift the engine off the tracks and take it to the shop. I then crawled underneath the train and undid a few bolts and lifted the body off the chassis so I could take some measurements. Then it was off to the parts store to get some gears, chain and pulleys. Time flew as I worked on the train but by dark I had bolted on all of the new parts and created the cut files to create some exciting new pieces. These pieces would mount the controls, motor and the drive mechanisms. I also created the cut files for a custom scaled throttle bar and brake lever. It won’t be long until we head down the track at long last!

I’ll be posting the progress on the plasma cutting and fabrication in coming days. Stay tuned…

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