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Locobox Sophie

by Chris Bird

The Loxobox Sophie was introduced in about 2003 - at least that is when it was reviewed in Issue 103 of 16mm today magazine. This one, named Hodder, was purchased by Peter Harling for the Pimlico Tramway and it was on the video of that line, in the "Narrow Gauge in the Garden" series that I first saw it. Since then, the line was covered in a Garden Rail magazine feature and has a page of wonderful photos on the site.

The first I knew that the Pimlico Tramway had closed was when I saw Peter's Ebay listing for Hodder - and I just knew that it had to come to the Summerlands Light Railway. I have fancied a small industrial type loco for some time, but my Finescale Hunslet is just too quiet, and my much modified Mamod is still....well.......a Mamod!

The day came and I had the winning bid - so Peter packed it carefully and queued for 35 minutes to post it. It arrived safely the next day and I eagerly unpacked it to find all was safe and in one piece.

Now Hodder is a very special loco, but I did have a list of jobs that I thought would enhance it. These were:

1. Fit a Summerlands Chuffer
2. Fit 2.4ghz radio control in place of the 40 mhz FM set.
3. Fit a new chimney (sacrilage - but the original is just too short in my eyes)
4. Fit a smokebox dart with handles.
5. Put rivel detail on the buffer beam.

Fitting the Chuffer
This was very easy indeed. Two screws on the buffer beam (now replaced with bolts), two screws on the smokebox and two from the frames, just in front of the cylinders. With these removed, the modified Mamod smokebox comes off easily to reveal a single 1/8" exhaust. This was cut with a hacksaw to the appropriate height and an SCGP1 Chuffer fitted.

I got ready to fire up for a quick test, but a blocked gas jet meant that I had to get the burner out - very simple on this loco. I took the opportunity to replace the mesh on the burner with nichrome and then all was fine. The chuffer chuffed, but the radio control started to glitch the moment I turned it on. This is quite normal here and is why I always replace with 2.5ghz.

Radio Control
Although I managed to charge the Tx battery pack just fine, I must have had the switch in the wrong position for the Rx, with the result that the first track test had to be aborted after I took the photos at the top.

To get at the radio Rx and batteries, I had to remove the saddle and side tanks, which are in one piece. Much staring at it revealed that these were held at the back by two captive (thankfully) bolts and at the front by a plate which goes round the boiler. With the tanks off, I had a real game getting the battery pack and receiver out. They were in with foam sticky pads, but the batteries (5 AAA) were in to stay. Removing the heat shields (which looked as if they were made from an unpleasant substance) helped. It was then I found that the Giantcod receiver was too big and the plugs would foul the motion.

There was no option but to cut a hole in the top of the tank so that the Rx could stick up into the coal basket. I marked it out, and with some trepidation, drilled a series of holes. With the piece removed, I could file it to a neat oblong and trial fit the Rx. For the batteries I used four NiMH AAA cels, siliconed to a new plywood heat shield and soldered up. I then used more silicone to insulate the ends and fit it in position. In the right hand photo below, you can just see the top of the Rx in the basket.

The most important thing is that it works smoothly without a hint of glitching ....on the bench!

A New Chimney
Now it may just be me, but the chimney always seemed to be a bit short - and this was not helped by the fact that the builder had threaded it into the smokebox at an angle of about 2 degrees. It leaned forward and it had to be sorted. By chance, when I visited Nigel (chuffer-maker) recently, he gave me an off-cut of brass tube and this was just right. I turned with a 1 degree taper and then turned a bronze cap.

The idea was that the taper made it look like the Kerr Stuart Wren, with a Baldwin type copper cap grafted on. Now as I look at it, one part of me says that it is too tall and the flare is too wide - but another part says it looks just right! Maybe the line between 16mm and 7/8ths" scale is getting blurred....... But it illustrates the joy of freelance modelling..........

Anyway - here it is:

A question of Balance

Looking at the loco, you will see that there is a fair bit of overhang at the back. In fact the loco is really very light at the front end and although I have not yet run it on the track, I think it will struggle with my usual heavy loads. So far, I have put a piece of 1/8" lead flashing in the top of the tank, which has helped.

The Buffer Beam

The buffer beam is a rather crudely cut piece of steel which, for some reason, was glued to the front apron at a slight angle. I decided to make a new one from thick brass and add some rivet detail using som 3/64" rivets I bought when getting some for Matthew. The question for me though, was whether to follow the original shape, or to go for the more Quarry Hunslet style I have used on other locos. I decided on the latter - but am not sure as I write this........

The job went reasonable smoothly until it came to drilling for the rivets. Although they were marked out carefully and centre punched, I still had drill-wander. You can see the result below - and please note that it is all just balanced together for the photo. Oh yes - looking at the photo I see that I also made a smokebox dart!

The question is still whether to mill out the curved cut-aways or leave it as it is..........

Well the question is now resolved - as I sat, re-reading the Garden Rail article on the Pimlico Tramway, I decided that I had to try the cut-aways. Knowing that I could re-make it in a couple of hours, I found a very large end mill (bought from a car boot sale) and mounted it in the chuck of my Myford lathe. With the beam in the vertical slide, I took two bites out of the beam. You can see it below - and I thnk it looks better.......

Please note that it is still balanced together for the photo so all looks a bit crooked. Those beam bolts will be level when finalised  - honest - even if I have to start again!

Well it is now a couple of weeks later - and I mave made the rear buffer beam. Not a great success! I suffered from drill wander again while drilling the rivet holes ans asked advice from the local model engineers. As I have written elsewhere, the reassuring bit was that drill wander is normal - it needs precision centre punching with the punch absolutely vertical. I was also advised to use a Slocombe centre-drill to start the holes and and indexing vice on a milling machine........... A slightly simpler solution, as suggested by Graham is to drill the holes bigger and alighn them when soldering....

Anyway, my biggest problem with the rear beam was that I fell into the trap that awaits the make-it-up-as you-go-along modeller. I marked the spacing for the rivets at 4mm centres which is different from the front. I drilled them before realising that the closer spacing meant that I didn't have enough. For the verticals, I had to use 1/16" instead of 3/64" and, due to a compounded error caused by marking out with a caliper, they didn't line up........aaaaghhhh! I filed off the vertical ones and it will have to do for the moment. I will make a new one when the rivets arrive!

Oh yes - and this morning I have just realised that the centre buffers (which turn out to be glass filled nylon) are at Mamod height instead of the standard 25mm.........

The Lamp Bracket

Originally, there was a lamp on the front of the wing tank, but this came off while trying to determine if the lamp would be parted from the bracket. I made a bracket to fit on the chimney (as per Cranmore Peckett etc.) and silver soldered it on.


I decided early on that I wanted to retain the original finish if possible.  Hodder's paint appears to be Humbrol (I now think it is probably a Phoenix Presision enamel) - which means that degreasing with white spirit is a no-no.

I stripped the smokebox back to bare metal and, after a struggle to secure the new chimney (I had to make a boss to fit inside to give a turn-lock) I etch primed it and sprayed with Hot Spot BBQ paint. After having carefully made a bronze top, to look like copper, I sprayed it all black - which looks better I think.

In the process, I discovered that this paint is soluble in spray degreaser (like Gunk but clear) so that gave me a bad moment!

Buffer beams are satin black behind and Ford Radient Red. I really struggled to get a good finish in the cold workshop, even with the fan heater method. Lucky I am going to re-make them!!

The roof was blackish when it arrived, but white spirit removed this and left it green as per the loco. This is shown in a photo below but it has since been stripped and sprayed Brooklands green underneath and matt black on top.

The floorboards in the cab were a bit glossy - so I gently rubbed them down (as seen in the photo below) and have since toned them down with acrylic.

The roof supports and rails, cylinders and piston rods (except the part which goes through the gland)  were stripped, etched and sprayed satin black.

I attempted to chemically blacken the wheels - but that was a failure so they will have to be painted. I have chemically blackened the smokebox dart since the photos below were taken. I used Carr's and warmed the piece first.


There was a redundant switch hole in the side of the cab, and there was soon another hole when the charging socket was moved from the prominent position on the side of the wing tank. I made a brass bracket, fixed with araldite, to move the socket up inside the tank, to be accessed from below.

I was about to make some patches when I spotted the etch of small signs given away by the 16mm Association a year or so ago. A couple of these were used - plain side outwards. I am still trying to match the paint...............


Raising the Roof

I had thought that the taller chimney would need a slightly higher roof line to balance it. I made some 9mm extensions - bit it looked quite wrong on what is intended to be a small loco........

Coal Loads

The coal baskets on Hodder were just tacked on with a spot of epoxy at the front and had loose coal. I resprayed the baskets and then cut plywood to fit in the base. Where the receiver sticks up through the tank, I had to laminate the base to clear it.  I painted the plywood matt black and then place each on a square of cling film before pushing it down into the basket. I was then able to fill the basket with small coal and drip dilute PVA glue on to it.

I left it to dry overnight on a radiator and then was able to remove the loads and cling film for the final drying. When ready I placed the baskets in position and then siliconed the loads in place with a dab of black silicone on the bottom.

The photos below show the coal loads and you can just see the receiver through the holes. The cab roof and smokebox dart are also finished in these shots.


After some pondering, I decided to paint the wheels green - but after degreasing, priming and three coats of Humbrol, I realised that the green was too light. Luckily I had some GWR Precision enamel and was able to mix a reasonable match.


Roy Wood came over on the 11th Jan and as the weather was reasonable (well dry anyway) we managed to make a film. I tried some on-board filming again, this time with some from the front. Not much is usable as there is lots of house, cars and us, but it alows for a bit of variety.

Hodder really is incredibly docile and potters round on low pressure and little regulator. The downside is very little chuff (though the one fitted was an experimental one). She would make more sound with a heavy load, but her acute balance problem means thet the front lifts and she de-rails. I must get some more lead up front.......

Anyway - here is the video:

YouTube Video


After soaking in paint stripper for some while, with no result, I realised that the rather large centre couplings were made from black, glass filled nylon. They stay nice and cool for picking up a hot loco, but really were a bit to large. When I realised that they were set at mamod height though, they had to go. Roy Wood kindly donated some multi-height couplings made from white metal and these have now been fitted. I drilled out the centre dummy rivet on either side and fixed them with small head 8BA bolts. I took the opportunity to strip and re-spray both beams - though they are in need of a little weathering.......


I had a pair of the Roscoe lubricator castings at the Exeter show, but when I came to use them, I found there were gaps in the wheel rims. The original pattern must have used tiny press studs for these valve wheels, but a search in the sewing box drew a blank. I ended up repairing them with solder by tinning each side of the gap and then drawing some slder across with the iron. It worked quite well, after a bit of filing, but I had to paint the valve wheels. Red seemed like a nice valve colour.

I had to take the tanks off the loco to fit them. I opted for the tank front position as the smokebox is so low. Puttin them there would have made the tank look even bigger. And yes I know it takes a bit of imagination to work out how they are plumbed in!

More Weight

While the tanks were off, I took the opportunity to add another sheet of lead. It is not really far enough forward, but does improve the balabce a bit. The problem comes from the fact that the rear wheel is in the centre of the loco. It needs a pony truck, but the servo boxes are in the way......

Number Plates

The sharp eyed will see that Hodder now bears the number 14.  I have to admit that there is no logic to this as the plates were purchased at the Llanfair Show in 2009 for the then No 14. That was the last I saw of them until on Saturday morning, while looking for a parking permit in the car, I found them wedged down beside the seat!  The bit of bling at the back balances up the lubricators I think....... ;-)

More Chuff!

When I stripped Hodder to put the lubricators on, I replaced the test chuffer with a standard SCGP1.  I found time to run her yesterday, and the difference was amazing - she is now back in full voice!
And you can see and her in action on Roy wood's Holt Wood Light Railway below. It was a cold January day with cold hands and a very small camera!

YouTube Video