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A Radio-controlled braking system.

by Dai

I have a fairly sloping site with some tricky gradients and it has been a bit of a problem controlling my manual coal fired Robert. If he had enough puff for the climb up, he sure as goodness found his freedom at the top and I have had to become a hurdler of Olympic proportions to keep adjusting the regulator. I do not have cab space for a servo, battery and receiver so came up with the idea of building a wagon to be close coupled to any loco to give radio controlled braking. As yet  I have no idea whether this will be sufficient to slow a loco down but it has been fun so far.
Atropos Ltd sell a very good brake kit in brass and it seemed to make sense to me to buy a wagon kit so that I could build it with the brakes in mind and not just adapt another wagon. I decided to make a semi-covered wagon since they are a little more interesting and, besides, what with the doors opening too, it allows me freer access to the gubbins loaded inside. I could have used a brake van kit and had I bought one from Atropos I would have benefited from the fact that the holes are pre-drilled to help the fitting of the brake support system to the solebars. As it was, the instructions that come with the brake kit made this very easy anyway
Here is the wagon finished.

I must say I rather like it and I have nothing but admiration for the quality of Atropos kits. The instructions are first rate with loads of full scale drawings. The wood provided is lime unless a part needs to be tougher, in which case, maple is used. The precision of cutting out and the finish of the provided parts leads me to suspect that martin at Atropos is something of a perfectionist. The brass fittings are ready to use without any fettling and the entire wagon simply fell together. I am impressed by the tarp provided, complete with stitched ropes, though it is a touch over scale uin thickness. The kit was a pleasure to make and in my opinion, head and shoulders above most I have tried so far. Wheelsets and axles are not included but are readily available from Brandbright and specific suggestions are made to ease that route.
The doors open on hinges provided. I chose to roof in corrugated iron after looking at several pictures in Desmond Coakham's excellent book on Irish narrow gauge rolling stock, using plastic sheet from Back2Bay6. I made the two end roof sections dismountable just as I do with coach 'lids'.
I know that there are those among us that are not comfortable to build their own rolling stock. I have to say that I am firmly of the belief that, were they to start with an Atropos kit, they would sail through it and never buy another wagon off the peg again. These kits have been so well designed and prepared, I can barely wait to do another one.
The servo is mounted on a set of wooden blocks poised over a hole drilled in the centre of the floor. Very little throw is required to activate the brakes so I was pleased to have the ability to tweak the servo using my Spektrum transmitter. The weight of the blocks, servo, batteries and receiver is counterbalanced by a lump of lead fixed on the opposite side with velcro. This renders the wagon, at 891g, heavy enough to allow some hope that it won't just skid along the tracks.
I have fitted it out as if it has been bought in from Ireland. Mostly because I like that 'flying snail' logo. The couplings used are John Campbell choppers, in my view, the best you can get.
The brake kit seems to be the pefect combination of simplicity with freedom of adjustment.

As designed it works by twiddling a knob on the cab roof that rotates a threaded rod, giving infinite control. This would be very useful in a brake van holding a rake on a gradient while you raised steam. I wanted a system thaat would work by remote control and was stuck with a servo that cannot rotate as much as the twiddling would require. I therefore substituted a M2 full length threaded rod that would connect to a quick link at one end and, with washers, bolt across the hole at the bottom
Brakes off

Brakes applied


A Brake Test

Here is a short video to demonstrate to the sceptics amongst us (including me) that the idea could potentially work.


Brake Test