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A web-site by Rob Speare


The building of 'Wincanton'  -  Part 1

Words and pictures by Mike May.

I'm Mike May, currently nearing the end of a project that the original builder began back in the sixties.  The model is a 3.5" gauge representation of a rebuilt Bulleid Pacific, originally to be named as 34013 'Okehampton' but now destined to become 34108 'Wincanton' for reasons that will be revealed in due course !

I've always been a Southern fan and grew up watching its locos (particularly Bulleids) in action near my first home at Walton-on-Thames.  I spent many hours as a schoolboy trainspotting on the station there, and later bunking Nine Elms and other sheds - a similar story maybe to other contributors to this site ? 

After many changes of house and job I ended up living in Somerset and had almost forgotten my enthusiasm for Southern steam, so this purchase was very spur-of-the-moment.  In 1991 I'd been left a small sum of money and saw the loco, riding wagon, and some track advertised in a Taunton auction on the day of the sale; drove there in a rush, bid and bought it in a rush, and have since been able to repent (well sometimes, when things get difficult !) at leisure over the last 30 years.

Actually, I've never regretted the purchase and the opportunity to learn new skills that it has brought me.

So what did I get for the the £500 I paid?  The original builder (OB) had started the model back in the mid 1960s, so it had already been in work for 25 years before I bought it.  He'd got to about 60% completion but had then died leaving a lot still to do, but thankfully the boiler (Heilan Lassie), chassis, the three cylinders, some of the motion and all the wheels were complete. 

There were also some boxes of fully and partly-made components but there were no plans, just a folder full of freehand sketches and dimensions, so there was a lot to work out in relation to what I had, what was missing, and how the various systems were intended to fit in.  It was, however, very clear the the OB was an extremly talented guy - his platework and machining are excellent.

The real problem was that I knew absolutely nothing about model steam engineering !  I'd always been an aeromodeller and had raced and maintained F2 stock cars, but that gave me only the barest set of skills for what I was getting into. 

So I bought Martin Evans' book and read it through several times and soon realised that this was going to be a long-term project with a lot of on-the-job learning. 

So I found myself an old Myford ML4, a small Psimat101 lathe and a mill/drill and learned how to use them, as well as getting to grips with silver-soldering.  I spent many hours decoding the OB's notes as best I could (and I still learn something everytime I refer back to them), then began to work first of all on assembling the riding trolley that came with the loco  - simply because there wasn't much for me to wreck there - and I also learned how horrible cast-iron can be to machine (the brake shoes)!

After several years of evening shed-work I'd taught myself enough to complete the trolley, and to make and install the missing parts of the loco's motion (return cranks, crank pins, eccentric rods, slide bars and more), boiler-feed clacks, safety valves, axle pump and mechanical cylinder lubrication system. 

Perhaps more importantly, I'd finally installed the portside steam cylinder, timed the valve events and got the chassis ready for test running on air using an ancient deVilbiss compressor that I'd bought from the surplus store at work (Westland Helicopters).  I couldn't believe it - the compressor wheezed, the wheels turned, then the loco ran !  I was absolutely astounded.

In 2001 my first wife kicked me out for indiscretions unconnected with Bulleid Pacifics and we divorced, so all my tools and the loco had to be packed away and they remained in storage (except for the Myford, that had to go) in the loft of my new house for 18 years - no time, no money and (worst of all) no shed!

In early 2019 I rediscovered the loco again while clearing out the loft and in a fit of optimism took it down to my newly-built workshop - I needed a challenge having just retired, and there it was on those beautiful BFB wheels!  There are some photos included in this post from the early 1990s showing what I started with.  This last pic for this posting shows the chassis pretty-much completed in December 2020 to show that things really have moved on.

I've got to say here and now that I'm awestruck by the amazing locos constructed by the other contributors to this website, and of course their engineering skills and dedication too.  I will never have those skills nor have the remaining years left to me to reach their heights, but I have made myself a private promise that (DV) this loco will run under steam before I go to that great locoshed in the sky!

I'll describe the model's features and a little about what I've achieved since restarting work on the loco two years' ago in my next post - spoiler alert: watch out for a few unconventional ideas...