Building an European Railcar Part 2 – The Design

Last time, I spoke about how to start modeling a typical European style goods railcar. I have been speaking at length about all kind of fancy ways of making sure you understand your prototype. I hope you have been making notes because today we will immediately dive into the fun part: Building! Let’s just take off where we left now, shall we?

Step 4. Choosing your materials

After the scale has been set, it’s time to decide which part will be essential for your design. This might sound silly, but in my opinion every train model has 1 defining part (or technique, meaning several parts combined) around which the whole model is being build. In this case, I settled on the Lego Chair in brown, since I had a lot of them and wanted to get rid of them without selling. Also, the idea was that brown would nicely mimick the rust on the prototype (And trust me, some of them were far worse off than the one you just saw). Turning them into a railcar seemed to be the right solution. It didn’t work out as planned however…

As you can see, the whole thing looked horribly out of scale and didn’t do the prototype any honor at all. Also, the flow from the chairs to the SNOT elements didn’t work either. Well, it was nice knowing you, Mr. Defining Element!

Step 5. starting over again is no shame

After this failure it was obvious that a new Defining Element was needed. After a bit of thinking and re-visiting my pictures, I decided to use the 1×2 cheese slope. This is one of those moments that printing out drawings don’t work, because you cannot see this curve in your drawing, so luckily I still looked at the pictures I took in Ostrava on almost daily basis. I also decided to use wedges just as I had done in my first version, but now more sophisticated to make sure the flow was looking right. Due to some color issues (OK, I just like building in very, very dark grey) the first sketch of v2 was done in DBG, as you can see.

However, this solution created one drawback: building sideways inside out from both sides. And this in turn means that the whole structure turned out a bit less stable due to connection points. So, the solution: I used the 1×1 plate modified with clip light as SNOT element. Next to Mr. Defining Element, I think that choosing the right SNOT element is almost as important, when building fully sideways.

After this first sketch model of the second version, it was time to flesh out the details a little bit more. Because the prototype is nothing more than 2 identical copies that share a truck, I thought it would be a good idea to not demolish the first one, but instead build a second one. I have done so already several times and it really gives the possibility to re-think your design while building.

As you can see, the lines have greatly improved, not only due to the cheese slopes, but also because LBG just looks better on this model than DBG. While building the this part, I was able to get rid of most of the clips that had been used for connecting both studs-out parts of the model. Unfortunatley, I wasn’t able to fully hide them altogether, which was not pleasant looking in my opinion. Second, the reinforcements for the 1×8 tiles, needed for the sides, didn’t look that good either. In fact, it made it almost impossible to load the railcar with even a 6 wide trailer because the reinforcements in total were 6 plates thick.

Lastly, I didn’t like the row of cheese slopes on the ends of the railcars, meant to simulate the curving that the model had. The problem was that there were no proper ways how to attach a 1×1 cheese slope, meaning I had to opt for full row to not make it look too silly. This created another problem: in the prototype there is a gap between the floor and the part that rests on the bogie. In total, it meant that a lot of prototypical elements were sacrificed for a nice line, something which in my opinion wasn’t acceptable. The conclusion: Even though Mr. Defining Element now made sense, the 1×1 plate with light clip wasn’t the SNOT element I was looking for. Back to the drawing board again!

Step 6. Changing the internal structure

So far, I had build a v1 (failed), a v2.0 (failed) and a v2.1 (also failed). For me this is pretty normal, to be honest. Some of my models go through over 10 to 15 revisions before I really like the model. Again, this is one of the downsides of the way I build with those 1:45 blueprints, but it’s also just inevitable since Lego is a creative medium. It’s just not true to think that while building you get everything right the first time. I mean, even Lego goes trough dozens of sketch models before the have a model fit for production.

Anyway, I still needed to figure out a new defining SNOT element. Luckily, I had just bought a big bag of 1×2 inverted brackets, both the 1×2 and 1×4 model. After some initial construction I found out that this, together with the 6×6 tile, would be a great way of solving most of my problems. The structure of the railcar itself also became a lot more stable due to the 2×2 brackets which now connected the 1×8 tiles, making them an integral part of the structure (just like the prototype!)

As you can see, I still had not figured out how to build the ends of the car. This is actually pretty normal for me; when I can’t figure out a solution for a certain part of the model, I just ignore it and flesh out the rest of the details. Most of the time the solution then presents itself organically. In the worst case scenario, I will need to revisit this part in the end of the build again which gives me headaches for weeks a weeks, but again, these are just the perks of the creative medium that is Lego. Sometimes things just don’t work the way you would like to.

Step 7. Close coupling

When it comes to testing railcars (and locomotives) on Lego track, I turn out to be a tad lazy. This always backfires and forces me to do extensive rebuilds. I don’t know why I do this, but it seems to be part of my building method. This model was again no exemption to this rule; turns out that 2 studs clearance between the two railcars on the Jacobs bogie isn’t enough with such a length. A solution was needed: Close coupling! I don’t have a lot of proper pictures of this (also because I got rid of it again for making it possible to run for extensive periods on time on uneven surfaces at conventions), but the principle is simple: a rubber band connection the carriage with a pivot point on the Jacobs bogie. It’s not actually brain surgery nor rocket science, but it’s worth noting to check the rubber band is strong enough not to let the rest of the carriage slip off the bogie. The idea itself comes from Jason Allemann (the creator of the Lego Maze!) who first used it in his Bombardier Talent O-Train, model from 2005. Proving that even models that are over 10 years old, are still worth checking out every now and then.

Step 9: Fixing the leftovers

As you can also see in both the above and the below pictures, I finally managed to flesh out the ends of the carriages. As predicted above, this actually happened quite organically. I can’t remember having any issues with this part once it finally took shape. I do know that in the end I settled with the 2×3 wedges. Even though this in itself is not fully prototypical, it did create a really nice line, and it gave me the possibility to create the prototypical gap between floor and the part that rests on the bogie.

By the way, this last picture was made while waiting for my BL order. I didn’t have any 6×6 tiles, and due to other projects I also had to cannibalize on my 1×2 brackets, so for a short while this was all there was left. No fear, at the time this picture was taken, the BL orders were already on their way!

Next time, we will continue with Part 3; The Bragging (also known as “Hey, I actually finished something again!”)

One thought on “Building an European Railcar Part 2 – The Design”

  1. I too go through a similar building timeframe.
    Cruise right along for a few days, then reach a difficult part of the model and stare at it for two weeks before adding another brick. And then there’s the starting over from scratch every month…

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