Large Scale Central

Stirred into Action...[long]

the story behind the Fn3 MoW van I built last year. It’s a long piece and - in the magazine article version - has numerous snazzy images. However, many of these were posted by my good friends here on the LSC forum at the time, so, in order to save bandwidth, they have been omitted.

Here 'tis, so pull up a chair, get a mug of decent coffee, and read on…

STIRRED INTO ACTION – an MoW Caboose is born

It all began last year at a coffee morning in support of a certain disability organisation. Mrs tac, making teas and coffee for the organiser, an old friend, noticed a large paper bag filled with coffee stirrers – the kind that are used with great lack of effect in the usual coffee shops that are littering the nation these days – Starcost, I believe they are called… Concern of litigation prevents me from using real names, but you all know who they are. Strange to relate, that bagful of unused ‘stirrers’ was going to be returned whence they came after the event, but Mrs tac, ever vigilant for freebies that might become useful when viewed from a railroad modelling viewpoint, audaciously requested that the majority of them should be donated to yet another worthy cause.

Our railroad.

She looked pretty smug as handed them over on her return to our hut by the stream in rural East Anglia, rightly so, as they looked, she noted, just like little planks, and made of real wood about six inches long and a quarter of an inch wide, and wouldn’t they be useful?

Well, they did, and they were. Undeniably useful, too, since a quarter of an inch in Fn3 is just over 5 inches full-size, and most railroad car side sheathing is five or six inches. Now, what to do with them?

As some of you know, my main interest in model railways lies in, uh, model railways, and to say that my collection of large-scale stuff is eclectic only demonstrates that you know what the word means. Our Fn3 – also known as 1:20.3 scale - collection is based on 3 foot US narrow gauge, with live steam and electric motive power, and far too many cabooses/cabeese[?] for my own good. It is here that I must admit that, to me, the caboose is the cuddly puppy in the pet store. I love ‘em, and have many. Some I’ve built from scratch, some partly from scratch, and four or five I’ve bought, but in general, I only have to see an appealing caboose looking at me from behind the glass for me to just have to take it home. My last effort was a free-lance item based loosely on the Denver & Rio Grande Southern, courtesy of Phil’s Narrow Gauge [see end notes], and it was going to be a very hard example to follow. It was very expensive and very rare - Phil only ever made forty or so as a limited edition. There are, for instance, no less than fifty-something grab rails – each held on with two square-headed brass bolts, and a further 200+ bolts sprinkled around - and after that, it gets into some serious detail. So unless you see mine, I doubt you’ll ever see another one in your life.

So I didn’t bother.

Instead, I decided to use one of three identical Bachmann Spectrum-series Pacific Coast rail flats I had acquired a while back from a fellow modeller, and convert it to a maintenance-of-way workers caboose – MoW in railroad parlance.

Truth to tell, the high-falutin’ title describes nothing more than a glorified and often tacky-looking workshop shed, more often a kind of chicken coop with a stove inside, perched on the back end of an old flat car, with a storage box/crib at the front end for storing, well, stores, or anything else. Tools, such as cutting gear, railroad-fixing items, oil drums – anything. So having set my sights low to begin with, I was confident that I could make something that looked even worse, with great ease. Not for nothing are some versions of this kind of car nicknamed ‘crummies’. Paint would seem to have been an unnecessary luxury in most cases, but I would produce an up-market and painted version, just out of the shops of our railroad.

Ah yes, our railroad. Some explanation is needed, y’see, my dear old friend Dick Smith [he of Port Orford and a true maven in our model railroading circels] and I can reasonably lay claim to the largest narrow gauge model railroad on the planet, namely, the Port Orford Coast RR – POCRR for short. That’s because he lives in Port Orford, on the southern end of the Oregon coast, and I live mostly in rural East Anglia, where I handle the lumber end of the enterprise with Shays, Climaxes, Heislers and so on. So our shortline is actually almost 6000 miles long, although I have to admit that there is somewhat of a gap in the line there, what with the North American continent and the Atlantic Ocean getting in the way of a truly continuous trackage. Such an unavoidable omission just has to be recognised, so, in remembrance of the late Port of Tillamook Railroad disaster of 2007, in which almost a mile of trackage along the bank of the Salmonberry River was washed away, I have renamed the Atlantic Ocean the ‘Salmonberry Gap Sub’. Both are equally unlikely to get ‘un-gapped’ in the foreseeable future.

I can see our editor urging me to get to the point, so I’ll move rapidly on to the build. It’s no use asking me for plans, because I don’t have any. Or measurements either – I just make it fit, just like the real thing. Basically, I have an image in my mind of what it should look like, and then I make it to match, continuing to just make it until it’s finished, and then, I stop. Some may say that that explains a lot about some of my railway stuff. You can see for yourselves just how easy it all is from the images – they really are self-explanatory, and if you need instructions on how to glue bits of wood together so that they fit then you really ought to be looking at a book that tells you how to glue bits of wood together so that they fit. It hardly needs to be said that the same construction process could equally be used to build in 1:22.5 or even 1:24th scales - even 16mm scale if you have a mind to - although the StarCost ‘planking’ would start to look a little big in the latter application. This, friends, is where the famous ‘Scottish’ chain of roadside and mall diners come in – THEIR coffee stirrers are just right for 1:22.5 or 1/24th scale structures and car bodies, as well as the afore-mentioned 16mm scale (that’s 1/19th linear scale, BTW). And for those who care to build in in all or any of these scales, I’ve concocted a handy tri-scale table of measurements, specifically designed for the use of scale-sized wood – email me and I’ll send it to you.

The fixtures and fitting are a mixture of Ozark Miniatures 7/8ths and Fn3 scale white metal castings from fellow director of the POCRR, Dick Smith, and Phil’s Narrow Gauge brass nuts/bolts/washers. Also used in the construction were a lot of scrap wood bits and few scraps of Plasticard and Evergreen shapes. The natty-looking smoke-stack was made from a rigid plastic transit tube from the company that sold me the Evergreen T-sections that I used for the roof framing, and the windows were resin castings of unknown origin, but were very handy when I found them in the scrap-box. The Accucraft side-lights were from the scrap-box of ‘generous donations’, too, but would probably have cost a not-inconsiderable sum, and the internal battery box and switch came from a yard-sale toy.

I made the two structures - shop and crib - so that they could be removed with ease, leaving what appeared to be an otherwise intact flat car, should the unlikely need ever arise for me to do so. To that end I applied a couple of strips of double-sided sticky tape to the flat car, and that, dear readers, was that. Oh, yes, a bit of paint too, so that there was a reasonable match of hue 'twixt the sundry parts. I have no idea how much it cost – as I mentioned, most of it came either 100% free, or from the scrap-box. All it took was a deal of time, and since I’m a practicing insomniac I have more time on my hands than folks of a more somnolent nature.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I find the whole process of using teeny planks of free wood to build a planked structure to be very satisfying, and I greatly enjoyed the whole procedure. Although I got my ‘plankettes’ for free, those of you who frequent the establishments where are also free can avail yourselves on your no-doubt frequent visits, although increasing the number of visits simply to filch more planks may get you noticed. They can also be bought - although perish the thought - from the usual on-line mart – a thousand for around a fiver here in UK. Like me, though, you might baulk at the £5.99 shipping charge. That’s almost $42 in dog money, fer gosh sakes!! Paying for them might enable you to sleep nights, but free is better.

As ever, my thanks go out to my friends in the hobby here on LSC for their encouragement and support, and to ‘StarCosts’, for their unwitting but very welcome philanthropy.

Tac Foley

Youtube – tac’s trains

Sources of materials -

Phils Narrow Gauge Models

Ozark Miniatures

Dick Smith [my dear nephew and friend] of Port Orford OR

…and StarCosts.

Organisations - - THE web forum for large-scale railroad/way modelling

Ottawa Valley Garden Railway Society ( – my Alma Mater)

Fenland Light Railway []


16mm Association

Nice article, it would be nice to have the link to the pictures you mention, for us newer LSC’ers so we can oooh and aah.

If the sculpture is even half as fun and interesting as the literature … (

There ya go!



You’re at it again, young fellow…now it’s a smaller Van (Caboose) but again a great one…just trying to get Paul Norton to post your pictures here, of it…The pictures tell a wonderful tale of great modelling skills, done by a modest, loving, generous GENTLEMAN, who I call a GREAT friend.

In reading over your build tale of the Boom Car (Work Caboose), I see you claim to be a true relative of “Tricky Dicky Smith”, Yukon gambler, touring “Gunsmith”, dentist, flyboy, and retired Port Orford Mayor, and handyman…come railroad promoter, of the narrow gauge type.

BTW…I daringly attended the cash register location in a similar brown dishwater place, here in Ottawa, not less than a decade ago, and purchased several boxes of those stir sticks, for somewhere around $4 (1000) a box. The owner was hard pressed to remember what he payed for them, and we settled on $4 price without gunfire or lost fingers…all were unused and free of stains. The ones I acquired had flat ends, and about 90% of them were rather on the straight side. I took the road of purchasing them, as I dislike the mere thought of attending those places of ill repute, and avoid them like chicken /rooster shit, on a Sunday morning. (I haven’t partaken of the foul brown bile in over a decade)

BTW, have you or Dicky, ever read the novel; “The Sisters Brothers” by Patrick deWitt ? interesting short novel, full of the nasty business of killing, but in a rather pleasant form…!!

Fred - you are way too kind, Sir, so I guess that you are mistaking me for somebody else whose mien, skills and decorum more closely resemble the paragon that you have described so well.

Alas, the writings that you describe has thus far eluded me. Do I take it that you commend this title to me as a good read?

All the very best to you, and to all here.

tac, ig, ken the GFT and the New Year Firework Band Boys