I have indulged a desire long postponed, and that is to have a high quality working model steam locomotive. Though I do have the skills, I have realised that I am not willing to commit the time (several thousand hours) or the money for machine tools to build from scratch. Having got this clear, I decided to purchase a kit and assemble it. Though I would prefer 5″ gauge, such machines are extremely costly so having been watching the gauge 1 scene (1:32 scale, width between tracks 45mm) for several years, I decided to purchase a rebuilt Merchant Navy (RMN) kit for the princely sum of $5600 from Aster Hobbies who have been producing gauge 1 live steam models for the last 40 years or so. The models are produced in limited runs and I got lucky in locating the kit for this model (in England). Well, here she is, 35028, Clan Line.
I was born in 1957 and steam ended on the Southern Region in England in July of 1967 with 35023 Holland Africa Line hauling the last down steam train from Waterloo to Weymouth. She had “THE END, THE LAST ONE” written in chalk on the smokebox door. We lived in Farnborough, about 1 mile away from the main line from Waterloo. I can remember Bulleid Pacifics tearing through, 100mph speeds were known, a couple of times officially too! I once met a man who used to fire on Merchant Navies and he told me that though it was not sanctioned, 100mph speeds were not unusual. He quit the railway when disiesel came, too boring for an active, “up and at it” type. (Almost all British steam locomotives, being relatively small, were hand fired.) While I appreciate the sheer audacity of Oliver Bulleid in his design for the original “Spam Can” Pacifics in both Merchant Navy and West Country/Battle of Britain guises, (the later being referred to as light Pacifics having greater route availability), I think that the rebuilt locomotives were and still are, the finest looking loco’s ever, bar none. These locomotives have three cylinders each having a set of Walschaerts valve gear (unlike the Gresley Pacifics that had outside gear only, the motion for the the middle cylinder being derived from the outside gears using a system of levers.) The unrebuilt loco had outside admission cylinders and the outside cylinders were carried over into the rebuilt loco’s. The use of slide valves for the model naturally leads to outside admission and so the appearance of the valve gear having the radius rod connected to the combination lever below the valve spindle is correct. Forgive me but if you find all this baffling, I do give a basic explanation of the valve gear further into this narrative.
(The use of three or four cylinders was common British locomotive practice to overcome the cylinder diameter limitations imposed by our restricted loading gauge. Other than power, a big advantage of multiple cylinders, especially three, is that smaller balance weights for the reciprocating masses are required resulting in less forceful hammer blow on the rails* and thus greater route availability. The downside is horrible access for maintenance and oiling. The driver would have to get underneath the loco between the frames to oil the inside motion. I have never read of an accident occurring….)
*As a balance weight – located inside the rim of each driving wheel – comes toward the rail and then retreats the vertical component of the motion momentarily ceases, imparting an impulse to the rail just like a hammer blow. Damage to the tracks from this effect was known with large 2 cylinder American passenger locos when pressed to the very high speeds of which they were capable. The superb N&W J class 4-8-4 when tested on the Pennsy reached 110mph, and track damage resulted. (Note: No 611 is preserved and currently in steam. I was blithely unaware of her overhaul at Spencer shops NC and living in Greensboro NC on the route back to Roanoke, could have seen her in steam. Drat. I have been to Roanoke twice over the years just to gaze at her.)
A good reference source for all things Bulleid Pacific is “Bulleid Pacifics At Work” by Col. H.C.B. Rogers OBE.
Here is the box!
Here is the end of the box showing contents and serial number (141 200). A plate with the serial number is affixed to the underside of the right hand (fireman’s side) running board:
This kit requires much more work than simply screwing the parts together (using a multiplicity of tiny metric screws of various sizes). Having read the experiences of others I chose to start with the tender to get used to the instructions and diagrams:
Water tank and hand pump:
Top view with fuel tank removed showing fuel sump:
Complex brake rigging (faux):
The tender is functional and contains both the alcohol fuel and water. There is a hand pump under the cover on the rear deck to fill the boiler. The loco has an axle pump to keep the boiler level up as she runs. The front portion of the tender contains the fuel tank which feeds a triple wick burner, the wicks being around 12mm diameter, each having some 30 wick strands. The burner is force draughted in proper locomotive fashion by the hot gases being drawn through the two boiler flues (that contain superheater elements) by a miniaturised Lemaître style multiple jet exhaust ejector, albeit having 4 pinholes instead of the five 2.5 inch diameter jets that the full size loco is equipped with. This is not a toy, it is truly a miniature locomotive.
Moving on to the loco, the starting point is with the cylinders. To lap the machine marks off the valve and corresponding cylinder faces. A sheet of 1000 grit wet and dry is provided:
The 80 lb surface plate lives on top of my woofer under the CD player! It stays there too, I now avoid lifting such things alone though the CD player is also 80 lb! The amp next to it weighs around 250 lb, I am glad I made it so that the power supply and amp can be separated, it can also be rolled over forwards on the lexan side plates to permit access if needed.
OK, getting back on track as it were, here are the components for the middle cylinder with a completed outside cylinder. A slide valve can be see at top left with it’s steam chest at the centre bottom:
Completed outside cylinders and middle cylinder components with small bottle of steam oil:
Complete middle cylinder with crosshead and slidebars:
Herewith the crank axle (in this case, the middle axle) and eccentric for the inside cylinder valve:
I forgot to photograph the assembly of the frames that are held together and apart by members called stretchers. The instructions admonish the builder to take great care to ensure that the frames are aligned to each other properly, I used the surface plate shown in the cylinder/valve lapping process above to do this.
Here are the frames and wheels:
Steam valve gear is designed to allow the relative phase of the piston and valve motion to be shifted by 180° to permit reversing. The mechanism that does this also allows the percentage of the piston stroke at which steam admission is cut off to be varied so that as the loco gains speed, it can be “notched up” resulting in the steam being used more expansively. Various forms of this mechanism have been around since 1841, the earliest being called Stephenson’s valve gear but of course, it was not invented by him (a precedent for Edison I suppose). Belgium Engineer Egide Walschaerts came along with his mechanism in 1844, and it became the most common locomotive valve gear up until the end of steam on railways. The major component of both gears is the expansion link that oscillates back and forth with the rotation of the wheels. The link carries a die block that may be slid under driver control from one end of the link to the other to obtain variable cut off and reversing. In the case of Walschaerts, the expansion link provides one component of the valve motion via the die block and radius rod, the other component being derived directly from the piston rod, the two motions being combined at the valve spindle by amazingly, a combination lever! Whodathunkit? Stephenson’s gear also combines two motion components but differently, both being derived directly by eccentrics on the axle. (Don’t you just hate it when you get eccentrics on the axle?) Interestingly, the two motions sum to a somewhat square characteristic so that the valve opens quickly, slows while open and then closes quickly which is quite clever, especially when you consider just how long ago all this was thought out. It makes all the variable valve timing hoopla for cars seem somewhat less extraordinary.
Here is one expansion link with radius rod and die blot in the slot. The two plates sandwich the link/radius rod/die block and have trunnions on which the expansion link swings. The elbow connects to the rod that provides motion from a flycrank mounted on the end of the driving wheel axle. The slot in the radius rod carries a bearing on the end of the reverser lifting arm that allows the rod to move back and forth while being held at the required position in the expansion link.
Here it is assembled:
Here is a picture of the left side motion assembled. The flycrank on the rear driving wheel is where the speedometer drive is located, of course faux at this scale!
Here are the three cylinders installed in the frames complete with the middle valve gear, the pipes fitted so far are for exhaust. All three cylinders drive the middle axle. The shaft, sometimes referred to as a weigh shaft, will carry the three reverser lifting arms so that as the reverser is operated, all three die blocks and radius rods are moved together to the required setting. I made a point of drilling a small indent into the shaft where the locking screw for the middle reverser lifting arm engages since it will be hard to access later if it moves. The outside ones can be adjusted relative to the middle one during valve setting. I locked all the motion screws using 222 Loctite, that can be undone if needed. In particular, it is essential to ensure that the cross heads are securely screwed home on the pistons shafts, ditto the valve couplings.
Talking about valve setting, the point is to first align all the reverser lifting arms at the centre, then set the valve slides on the valve rods such that the port openings are equal at both ends of the cylinders and to do this in both forward and reverse gear. (Having the centre axle solid mounted as it is, must help this procedure.) The instructions suggest that if perfect settings cannot be obtained in both forward and reverse gear, to make the forward setting “perfect”. I did have to do that though the reverse settings are still very close to equal. Quite good.
Here, I have fitted the plumbing ready for an air test of the motion. The superheater and four jet exhaust nozzle are clearly visible:
This picture shows the drive system on the rolling road ready for an air test (that was successful). The stainless steel tubes are the super heaters that will later live inside each boiler flue. A fitting is attached where the steam outlet from the boiler would be to allow an air line to be connected. The two U shaped tubes at the front are connected to a displacement oiler. The oiler works (hopefully) by allowing steam to pass down one tube into the oiler where it condenses forming water that pushes the oil up into the other tube. If the top of the smoke box isn’t oily after running, there is reason to take a close look to ensure no blockages!
Superheater and manifold:
While we are on the motion, here is the underside much further along also showing the combustion chamber. The bogie with it’s side control spring and rear pony truck are fitted too. The axle boiler feed pump is between the centre and rear drivers, driven from an eccentric (the buggers get everywhere don’t they) on the front axle.
Now to the boiler, here we have the two superheater elements partially inserted into the boiler flues. The inclusion of a superheater is good news. Heating the steam out of contact with the water makes a lot more work available, furthermore, it saves wasting a lot of the fuel in getting the cylinders hot enough to prevent stalling on condensing saturated steam. Having some experience of small locos that do not have superheaters and having done three steam tests on the rolling road, I can attest that this scheme is much more than cosmetic!
Here is the combustion chamber showing two water tubes that sit in the rather fierce flame from the three large wicks. The flame is sucked around the back of the boiler and into the flues. The chamber is fully lined with ceramic insulation cloth. When the loco is getting up steam using it’s own blower, (steam nozzles located in the exhaust ejector) the flame almost howls! It raises steam VERY quickly. The steam blower is effective from roughly 2 bar (29 psi), half full operating pressure. Below that, it is necessary to use a heat resistant suction fan inserted in the chimney. I used a hand vacuum cleaner run from a variac with a couple of feet of copper tube from the chimney. I also drilled large holes into the tube to permit cooling air to be drawn in, also I used a box fan to blow the fumes outside. It works very well but I do not recommend it, the vacuum still got very hot and smelly, the fumes are most likely toxic too.
Here is the completed boiler, note the water level gauge glass. The long lever is the steam regulator and the small lever behind the regulator is for the steam blower:
Here, I am trying the boiler in it’s shroud, onto the frames. (It may be helpful to cut up a detergent bottle and make a thin plastic sleeve the guide the boiler into the shroud.) It took many tries to get everything aligned properly! If you look carefully, you can just see the water feed to the boiler between the rearmost driving wheel and the boiler. Getting this bend right was tricky, there is barely enough room to sneak between the corner of the combustion chamber and the wheel. The pipe as made had the correct curve shape but it was in the wrong place! I annealed the copper to get the bend out and reformed it where it needed to be. I have attempted to illustrate this in the problems area at the end of this narrative.
Here is a view of the multiple jet exhaust nozzle and the end of the boiler flues. The two longer jets are for the steam blower that is used to force the draught when the loco is stationary, the pipe emerging from the boiler feeds the blower jets and is controlled by a valve on the back-head. The top spigot is the steam delivery union from the regulator.
I forgot to take pictures of the smokebox construction however, I did find it necessary to open the smokebox after some runs. You can see the outside of the exhaust ejector venturi. The small pipes are for the lubricator.
Words to the wise on steam testing. Watch the water glass constantly to ensure that the axle pump is working. If water does not come out when you open the bypass valve, the pump is not working. For the first test at least, leave the return water connection off so you can see the return water flow. WATCH THE LEVEL IN THE TENDER! It gets through water surprisingly fast.
I did something VERY stupid. The fuel tank dispenses the fuel into an open well under the tender. There is a tube with a slant cut end that dips about half way down into the well and a needle valve opening in the bottom of the tank that lets the fuel run into the well. It maintains a constant level because when the fuel covers the end of the cut tube, no air is admitted to the tank, cutting the flow off IF YOU REMEMBER TO FIT THE FUEL CAP! I forgot on the second run and wound up with a nasty fire. I can’t smell wood alcohol* and it is hard to see alcohol burning until it has set something else alight! In mitigation, I did have a soaking wet towel ready and that saved the day, snuffing the fire out instantly with no mess. As with a frying pan fire, there is NOTHING to beat a wet towel. I am so glad that I knew this and maybe these words will save somebody else’s pride and joy.
*The British use methylated spirit that has a strong smell and is coloured purple. Very sensible.
Many components required significant filing to make them fit without forcing, certainly more than simply removing paint here and there.
One expansion link hanger was bent such that it was unusable, here is a picture showing the other side hanger for comparison. I held my breath and carefully bent it straight. Fortunately, the (lost wax) cast parts are brass, both tough and malleable!
Regarding the incorrectly formed water feed pipe, here is a picture showing the bend. You may spot the slight crinkles where the bend was and the pen mark I made to relocate the bend to sneak between the frame and the corner of the combustion chamber. The front corners of the combustion chamber are very close to where the frames rise over the rear horns and it’s width almost occupies the space between the frames making the fit very right. I studied things for quite a while before seeing how to relocate the bend because it is hard to see what’s so with the boiler in place, yet that is what must be accommodated!
All three reverser lifting cranks have forks that fit around the slot in each radius rod, these were all distorted such that I had to carefully tweak them open.
A much more serious problem had to do with the driving wheels. The centre wheels have no suspension by design. The front and rear driving wheels do have horn blocks and springs. I found that the centre wheels were barely touching the rails with the front and rear horn blocks topped out. I checked this by removing the springs and put engineer’s blue at the top of each horn. Sure enough, the centre wheels still barely made contact and there were two blue witness marks left on the top of each horn block. I carefully filed 20 mil (I trained as a toolmaker so precision filing is a skill that I have) off the top of each horn block. By the way, “mil” is NOT an abbreviation for millimeter, it is a correct term for 1 thousandth of an inch!
I found it necessary to work on the expansion link assemblies quite a bit, beyond the lapping of the inside surfaces per the instructions. I found it necessary to shim one pair of expansion link plates further apart, I use paper which provided a small by necessary increase of 2.5 mil. Here is the link with paper shims:
I also found it necessary to reduce the length of the die block pin on one radius rod, the pin was slightly proud of the die block causing the reversing action to balk, here it is after filing the pin down slightly:
I found that one connecting rod was fouling the underside of a slide bar. The lower slide bars are unfinished lost wax castings and looking carefully, I could see that one end was quite a bit thicker than the other causing the screw that secures it to project too far. Simply reversing the bar solved the problem.
Try to test the action of the axle pump when you do the air test, it is imperative that this works properly. I had a bit of a panic when I realised that the water had disappeared below the bottom of the gauge glass during the first steam test! The action of the inlet check ball must be correct and the clearance for it can be adjusted using the fibre washers. For the most part, I don’t use fibre washers, preferring metal to metal plus a smear of sealant so I had things too tight. David Stick speaks to this issue in his expert narrative:
I’m OK with these issues, I enjoyed the fitting challenge but the price of the kit at $5600 led me to expect better.
The vendor seems to think that no significant filing is necessary. I’m not clumsy or stupid, it was necessary. Interestingly, one area of fit that seems to have troubled many, the running boards, was not a problem for me. However, one of the lost wax cast steps up to the running board did need significant filing to fit. Oh, there is a hole on the frame side of both steps that does not align with the corresponding hole in the frames at all, they are only visible on very close scrutiny and contribute little if anything to the structure so I simply omitted the screws that are intended to be fitted. More than one experienced kit builder has suggested that Aster did not have such quality issues until they came out with the rebuilt Merchant Navy kit. The diagrams that come with the instructions are superb. The instructions need careful review. In many places, the order of assembly simply doesn’t work. I did not keep notes and I am not going to try to recall the details. Suffice it to say that trial assembly at every step is essential and it is well worth the effort! A handsome model indeed.
This post is part of my effort to complete and clean up loose ends as I disperse my collection.
I have two of these superb instruments, the final bow of the valve era for scopes and what a bow! Sadly though, that bow was assisted by a mostly transistor Y system. In mitigation of this heinous offence, the magical X system was mainly valved and could have been implemented using valves alone. I am not going to provide a full-blown discussion of the 547 scope at this juncture, rather to focus (pun intended) on a problem specific to the 546/547 models, failure of the HV system due to the substitution of epoxy for the traditional beeswax HV transformer seal.
The problem is typically that the scope will work when turned on and then, after some time, the HV collapses. If using it, this is first evidenced by the traces lengthening as the CRT sensitivity increases with the falling HV, though the traces actually brighten, at least initially. I first experienced it working through the lengthy calibration procedure. I discussed the issue with Stan Griffiths several years ago, he told me that it was thought to be dielectric absorption due to the epoxy. Hmm I thought, I wonder? So I baked a transformer out and it worked properly for a while, however it soon failed again; I am not the only one to have done/discovered this. My thoughts are: That the issue is not an intrinsic epoxy dielectric issue, rather power lost to heating of any moisture present in the epoxy; epoxy does absorb moisture (by diffusion) so what if I could dry it out and then seal the result? Knowing that beeswax is basically moisture impermeable, I decided to bake a transformer out in molten beeswax, evacuate it and slowly allow the pressure to return to ambient thereby sealing the newly dried transformer. I described my thoughts to Bruce Baur and Stan Griffiths by email back in May of 2014 but it has taken a while to get a “rountoit”.
Accordingly I bought a vacuum pot and pump for the quite reasonable price of $150. The pot is aluminium with a thick lexan top. The instructions provided with it insist that one MUST NOT continue to pump once the gauge has dropped to 29 in Hg otherwise there is a danger that the pot will implode! With respect, this is bunk. In round numbers, one atmosphere is 15 lbf/Sq in corresponding to 30 in Hg. Pumping down to 29 in Hg results in an external pressure of approximately 14.5 lbf/Sq in (or “squinch” as one of my excellent teachers used to say). Pumping down the final inch results in the effective external pressure rising to 15lbf/Sq in, that is to say roughly an increase of 3%. If this increase will cause the pot to collapse then it should not be on sale for this purpose. In fact for external pressure, vessels are customarily designed with a safety factor of 3*. That means it should be impossible to collapse the pot when pumping down from atmospheric pressure.
(*For external pressure, the design safety factor on yield has to be greater than that used for internal pressure because the failure mode due to compression results in failure by buckling which unlike direct tensile failure, is very difficult to predict accurately. Geometric factors such as dents are critical.)
I used USP beeswax that I bought from Amazon, for a fair price if there is any such thing anymore.
Here is the HV transformer and rectifier assembly partly removed:
Transformer removed showing heater power loops:
First, I put two transformers in a can with beeswax powder in the oven for 24 hours at 170 °F. (The melt temp is around 140 °F and the lowest setting for my oven is 170 °F) There was a nice smell of honey! To ensure that the wax remained molten as I evacuated the pot and returned the atmosphere, I needed to safely heat the vacuum pot. I heated a 5lb weight in a small oven at 220 °F that I then placed into the pot just before placing the transformers with their wax. The vacuum pot was placed into a large saucepan with water that I gently heated until I could just see wisps of steam escaping up the sides. (The weight also served to keep the vacuum pot firmly down in the saucepan.) I then transferred the transformers into the pot and evacuated it. I did go to far though because the wax started to boil below about 25 in Hg of vacuum. At that point, I turned the heat under the pan arrangement off and allowed the atmosphere to return by leakage, having turned the pump off. This took about 30 min and at the end, the wax remained molten as I intended. I then removed the top and hung the transformers over the tin to drip (having soldered on copper hook wires before starting the process).
If I do this again (I have a third transformer) the only change I would make to the procedure is to hold the transformer under vacuum carefully at 20 to 25 in Hg for some number of hours (with the wax molten of course) before letting it leak back to atmospheric pressure.
Ready to evacuate:
By the way, my mother always looked in the garage if anything was missing from the kitchen!
I ran the first unit for 10 hours straight and it did well. In particular, the oscillator screen grid voltage was a few tenths lower than when I turned it on (not powered it up, what a pretentious BS way of saying it). The HV had stayed dead stable; however stability of the SG voltage is the best indicator, it will rise if the oscillator load increases, topping out at 152V or so. Note the real meter (on the 3000V scale) on the HV test point!
The oscillator tube is run quite hard so you should check the transconductance. The few I have are around 25% down. The other thing is the B+ feed to the oscillator is via a 270Ω carbon resistor. If run hot, these develop internal cracks and that can be a reason for failure. The resistor in my unit measured 434Ω cold, most likely higher when hot so I replaced it with a wirewound resistor.
The question now is whether this fix will stand the test of time. I keep this equipment in an unconditioned basement and there are 10 weeks or so of high humidity left so if it works in the winter, that will be a solid sign that all is well.
8/30/15 Update: I have three of these transformer units, all three were failing in the way described and all three now hold up over a 12 hour period. I will test again at the onset of winter once the units have been exposed to what is left of the summer humidity.
5/14/2015: Update, The Benson (bottom of this post) is now working. Amongst many aspects of life that occasionally please me (I am something of a curmudgeon), are mechanical timepieces. I don’t have the money to collect top quality pieces however, really good mechanical clocks and watches are available at reasonable prices. Here is what I have amassed over the years: First, my parent’s long case clock (not a grandfather clock), that I bought in Guildford, England for my parents Ruby Anniversary with contributions from my two sisters, in 1987. My parents have now passed and the clock found it’s way to North Carolina. It has been overhauled once following being sadly knocked over by my father in his last year. (I have it screwed to the wall.) It hurts to reflect on my father falling, grabbing for something to save himself and taking the clock down with him, it is also life….. I can’t say enough for my parents, truly great people. I think that they both knew that I feel that way. It has a 66 BPM weight driven movement with Westminster, Whittington and St. Michaels chimes. I keep it on silent for the chimes are LOUD!
A wall clock that I bought new in Cary NC around 1993. It has worked without attention continuously so the quality of the modern movement (German) must be decent. It has a 80 BPM spring driven movement and the Westminster chimes are not too intrusive.
Here is a pre-WW2 Kienzle 160 BPM Westminster chime movement, given to me by a good friend in Durham NC. The clock had been dropped and the case smashed. My father made this oak bracket for it back around 1994 during a visit to me in NC. I have had it repaired, it turned out that the mainspring arbor was cracked. Since then it has run well with pleasant chimes. It lives on top of a Tek 191 constant amplitude signal generator on the top shelf of my lab bench.
I have long been attracted to carriage clocks and here is a nice Turner & Blight (British) brass one with bevelled glass that I bought on Ebay for $100. It has a 300 BPM balance wheel movement having 11 jewels. It is in perfect condition. I did have to strip it and lubricate the mainspring. Since then, it has kept very good time, certainly better than 1 minute per quarter, rather good I think. Although the balance wheel does have balance screws (presumably not just cosmetic given the accuracy), I doubt that it would keep time so accurately when subjected to the jolts of a carriage!
Several years ago, I bought this beautiful blue faced Franchi Menotti watch for $200 on Ebay. I don’t know the history of it other than it was cosmetically perfect complete with a virgin Franchi Menotti band. However, it didn’t run for long as one of the legers dropped off the face. I had that repaired and then later, the winding stem came out! It is so pretty that I broke down and had it repaired. I was told that it is quite old and needed amongst other things, a new mainspring. This still surprises me because the case and strap were perfect, completely free from signs of wear. It does have a ETA (Swiss manufacturers association) type 2824-2 25 jewel 480 BPM automatic movement. The 2824-2 has been extremely well copied by the Chinese and so that may be the origin of this one, however, if what I was told regarding its age is true, it will be a genuine ETA movement. Who knows? Other than what the repairer told me, I can find no information on it at all. It has cost me $400 for repairs, putting the actual cost in the same range as the Tissot:
The Tissot Le Locle, also has a ETA 2824-2 movement. In contrast with the Franchi Menotti, it is somewhat chunky and together with its black face is more handsome than elegant. I keep them on a winder and in that state, they are accurate to better than 5 seconds a day. When worn, the timekeeping does change but not a lot. They both have display backs: the Tissot also has some rather fine engraved decoration on the back.
Here is my paternal grandfather’s pocket watch. In America, this is considered a “ladies” watch due to its small size, my grandfather was no lady however! It has an English gold engine turned case that has had the movement replaced with a gorgeous15 jewel 300 BPM piece by Waltham that according to a site on Waltham watches, would have been made in 1908. The evidence for replacement of the movement is that it does not fit the case perfectly. (I imagine that if I could read the hallmarks on the case, they would indicate date the case to be well before 1908.) It does run however there is a story behind that. Around 1970, it stopped and the local jeweler (R. J. Hibberd, Ltd of Aldershot) claimed that the main staff was broken and that it was “not worth repairing”. Thinking about that, it seems unlikely, I cannot imagine an event that would break the main staff and not also the balance staff. I recently asked a repairer about it and it turned out to simply need cleaning! It now runs, Hmmm. The Waltham movement is top quality and has removable jewel settings.
The classic engine turning is very worn.
Next is my mother’s Vertex Revue, bought at the aforesaid Hibberds and given by my father to my mother at Christmas of 1965. I remember that it cost £20, an online inflation calculator suggests that would be £375 today (2015) which sounds about right. The 330 BPM movement still runs.
I think my father may have purchased this one sometime in his retirement. It is both ornate and pretty, also the centre of the dial is lightly rose-hued (I was not able to capture this in the picture though it does show on my cell phone but not my Mac). It runs but is weak and badly off beat. The quality of the case is clearly superior to that of the movement, unlike my grandfather’s watch where the replacement by Waltham is a very fine American movement. I have dismantled it and on the back of the face it says James Ducomann, successeur de Fritz Voegeli, with the number 20. So, it is clearly of French origin, at least as a brand. It has a bar movement with cylinder escapement, and the following note comes straight from Wikipedia: “The horizontal or cylinder escapement, invented by Thomas Tompion in 1695 and perfected by George Graham in 1726, was one of the escapements which replaced the verge escapement in pocketwatches after 1700. A major attraction was that it was much thinner than the verge, allowing watches to be made fashionably slim. Clockmakers found it suffered from excessive wear, so it was not much used during the 18th century, except in a few high-end watches with the cylinders made from ruby. The French solved this problem by making the cylinder and escape wheel of hardened steel, and the escapement was used in large numbers in inexpensive French and Swiss pocketwatches and small clocks from the mid-19th to the 20th century.” So we can see the French connection and as expected the movement is “inexpensive”. However, the case is superb, beautifully made from silver (not sure what carat grade yet) and I surmise that these watches were intended to be primarily decorative. The cylinder escapement is not popular with watch makers and technicians. We will see if I can get it in beat. Cleaning and lubricating it comes first. Fortunately, I have a partial movement that I can use as a source to replace some of the screws that are missing. It has 9 jewels, 2 each on the second and third wheels, 2 on the escapement wheel and 3 on the balance wheel (see repair notes below). The cylinder is hard metal, not jeweled as far as I can see, it is extremely hard to see! Something I noted as I dismantled it that I do not like is that the spring barrel is not supported on both sides, it has just one bearing leaving it cantilevered. Surprisingly, it does not seem to be sloppy however, this feature cannot make for even engagement of the barrel with the first wheel.
Well, I have cleaned and lubricated it. Then, came trying to “improve” the beat of the escapement. The balance wheel has quite a bit of end float, maybe 10mil (0.01″). On the face end of the pivot, there is an end jewel, that is probably intended to take end reaction due to the escapement wheel ramps. I noticed that it’s setting was not seating quite flat and removing it and investigating, noted some tiny burrs on the seating area. I took a sharp blade and carefully pared the burrs away and the setting is now in visibly more intimate contact with the seating area. The next thing was that I noticed that the two outer turns of the hairspring were coming into contact as the balance swung. Much extremely fiddly work with bright lights, a loupe and a needle and amazingly, I actually managed to prevent the turns from touching rather than ending up with a mangled hairspring. The balance amplitude is now greater than 180° when nearly run down which is a big improvement. Now, it runs about a minute fast face up, and a minute slow face down and pretty much on beat (300 BPM) when held vertical. This is a huge improvement and though the timekeeping is poor by our modern standards, for what is after all a vintage dress watch, is quite good. I am happy with the results of my amateur fiddling!
Finally here is a Benson railway watch in sad condition. My father had a pristine example of this watch when I was a kid, I think it was stolen. (From him that is!) The dial is chipped and the balance staff is broken. It has a Swiss 15 jewel movement which is very likely original. J. W. Benson once was a fine London manufacturer however in WW1, the company was badly bombed and thereafter became a retailer of Swiss watches and also those of the English maker, S. Smith & Sons.
I purchased a replacement working movement from Ebay. Unfortunately, though it is of the same type it must have been from a different model and has arabic numerals (with black hands, one of which was missing). Still, it is nice to take two partial old watches and create one working time piece, otherwise in the natural course of things, at least part of the resulting watch would continue to be junk. Initially I intended to take the working balance and install it into the original movement. This plan was scuppered when I realised that one of the pallet jewels was chipped, this most likely occurred when the balance staff was broken, there is a small but deep dent near the rim of the outer back that had printed through onto the inner back also. It must have been dropped quite hard. Here it is, cleaned up and working with the original gold hands, very classy.
I lubricated the movement using a synthetic watch oil, hopefully it won’t harden with time. I then timed the 300 BPM movement and it indicates about 30sec slow per day, both when vertical and horizontal, suggesting that the escapement is in good order. (I use a free Android App for timing called “Clock Tuner”.) A view showing the hallmarks inside the outer back. This watch has two hinged backs in the manner of a key wound watch. The inside back is also halImarked, it is quite a bit of extra silver. I can’t imagine why they kept the second cover for this keyless type. However, all other examples that I have seen have two hinged backs.
This is a post that I started many months ago. Now that I am winding up my restoration activities it is time to post it, complete or not:
I probably paid too much for this, but it did come with the manual and these machines appear to be rare and most definitely have a place in history, for it seems likely that Hughes beat Tektronix to the market with a storage oscilloscope. The seller did not know anything about it, sadly it had been pillaged of its 8 12AU7s and 2 12AX7s. (I am giving the seller the benefit of the doubt here.) Fortunately, I had enough strong 12AU7s and 12AX7s on hand to replace them. This example has serial number 635.
It is quite nicely made but not even close to Tektronix standards. The bandwidth is a very limited 500kHz* and the timebase triggering is fussy at best. The timebase does not have a trigger shaper (usually a Schmitt trigger followed by a differentiation CR), this probably accounts for the general fussiness of the timebase. The Tektronix 564 storage scope came out soon after and offered 10MHz, a proper timebase, dual timebases if desired, not to mention a wide range of X and Y plug-ins. It was also usefully smaller. Speaking of the Hughes manual, it is awful, there are several circuit and description contradictions making it difficult to follow the (extremely limited) calibration directions. At the age of 56, even with diopter 2 reading glasses, I need a magnifying glass to read the schematics.
* The WB/4 Y plug in limits this further to 250KHz.
The ESSENTIAL thing with these CRTs is to NEVER place them face down. I don’t yet know on 1/30/2014, if this one is OK.
Here, I provide a description of the principal of operation of the Memotron tube, that I have stolen from the manual and re-written somewhat to hopefully make things either more clear or less muddy.
The Memotron tube has two electron guns, a writing gun and a flood gun.
There is a dielectric storage mesh placed before the viewing screen. The flood gun sprays the dielectric storage mesh with a (supposedly) uniform barrage of low-velocity electrons leaving the dielectric surface at the flood gun cathode potential. The high-velocity electron beam from the writing gun charges regions of the storage surface positive by secondary emission*, thus creating areas which are partially transparent to the flood electrons. The flood electrons which pass through are accelerated to high velocity producing a continuously visible image of the positive electrical charge pattern stored on the dielectric surface: as long as the flood gun is emitting, the positive and negative potentials of the charged pattern on the storage surface are maintained thus sustaining the image.
A second mesh called the collector mesh interposed between the writing gun and the storage surface is used to discharge the charge pattern on the storage surface the image by briefly lowering the voltage of the collector mesh.
This technology is sometimes referred to as bistable because a given area on the storage mesh will either be at flood gun cathode or collector mesh potential.
*Bombarding electrons can impart enough energy to surface electrons to cause them to break free, electrons breaking free in this way is known as secondary emission.
* 2/2/2014, well I know now that the CRT does store but I suspect it is not in its prime! The contrast is poor and the background brightness has to be quite high before the trace can be seen, more on this in the design notes below. I knocked up a “pinger” consisting of a 3H choke in parallel with a 1µF cap in series with a 10k resistor. I placed about 20Vdc across the circuit to store energy then quickly disconnected it resulting in the following damped oscillation (timebase is 20mS/div):
Contrast Enhancement Oscillator.
There is a blocking oscillator that applies +15V, 10µS positive pulses at a rate of 1000PPS to the storage mesh, supposedly to enhance contrast by decreasing the background brightness. Though the pulse amplitude is adjustable, adjusting it appears to make no difference at all. This is most likely due to the condition of the tube, however in truth, I have not made the effort to fully understand the action of the pulses on the CRT storage system.
This simply reduces the CRT collector potential to nearly zero at the same time as briefly stopping the contrast oscillator.
This is a simple DC coupled long-tailed pair with gain such that 9v pk-pk on the input terminals will produce full scale deflection of the CRT beam. The amplifier is served by a plug-in that in this case is a DC coupled differential pre-amplifier type WB/4. A dual channel chop/alt plug in WB/D1/11 was also available.
The sensitivity of the WB/4 is 10mV/div to 50V/div with a bandwidth of 250kHz. The legend on the front says “wideband”. Even during the era of this scope, 250KHz was not wideband! The chassis is mounted on rubber anti-vibration mounts however, the sensitivity of the unit does not seem to warrant such a detail. Perhaps this is more important when capturing the slow events that this scope is clearly intended for. I would think that it was used to observe mechanical systems, especially since an aircraft company (Hughes) put for the effort to create it. There must have been a critical need for it. It would be interesting to learn just what is was used for, maybe something, in the arrogance of hindsight, that we now regard as obvious.
This DC coupled amplifier is similar to the Y amplifier except the degree of coupling between the cathodes can be varied to control the gain. The gain is set to cause the sweep to occupy exactly 10 divisions across the screen, best done using a marker generator. The amplifier may accept an external sweep and in this mode the gain may be continously adjusted by 10:1, a further 10:1 being available on the Ext Sweep portion of the Time/Div switch. The sensitivity is 0.5 to 50V/div with a bandwidth of 250KHz.
The timebase is switched on and off (trace, flyback) using a bistable multi-vibrator which is pretty typical practise. However, there is no Schmitt trigger between the vertical signal and the control multi. There is a cathode coupled trigger amp thats allows triggering on positive or negative going signals. The DC output level of the trigger amp is variable so that the trigger signal may be shifted relative to the DC trigger point of the control multi, in this way the DC level on the signal at which the timebase starts may be set of varied. Because there is no fast squaring (Schmitt Action) of the triggering signal followed by differentiation to produce a sharp trigger pulse, this system is unsuited to fast events.
The timebase essentially consists of a bistable control multi and a positive going sweep generator. The multi is anode triggered with the triggering signal being applied via a diode (so that it is negative going) to the input tube that is off, awaiting a trigger. This forces the anode voltage down, this change is communicated to the grid of the on tube causing it to cease conducting and the multi to flip states and the off (input) tube turns on, the anode voltage falling further. The multi remains in this state for the duration of the sweep. The resulting negative pulse is used to turn the timing capacitor discharge tube off and the capacitor starts to charge. Linearity of the charge process is ensured by bootstrapping the charge to a control tube across the charge resistor, maintaining the voltage across the charge resistor constant and thus the charge current also. The sweep voltage rises approximately 90V and is communicated to the grid of the off tube of the multi, causing it to turn back on resulting in a positive going pulse at the grid of the sweep discharge tube, turning it on, and discharging the timing capacitor. With this action, the input tube of the multi is now returned to the off state and the circuit is ready to receive the next trigger. Delay between the discharge process and the next sweep to ensure that the discharge is complete is accomplished by an RC time constant on the grid of the discharge tube causing it to turn on a little after the multi flips back to the sweep state. This is a simplified hold-off, in better designs the hold-off time constant is switched to different values with the sweep range switch. There are 6 ranges, 10µS/div to 1S/div together with a 1X, 2X and 5X times multiplier such that the range of the timebase is 10µS/div to 10S/div. There is also a 10X continuous multiplier control.
This is a clever solution to the problem of coupling the unblanking signal (positive pulse from the timebase control multi) to the beam control (usually grid) element of the CRT. What Hughes did was to turn a self excited oscillator on and off using the unblank pulse. The oscillator runs at around 10.5MHz. The oscillation is fed via a low impedance transmission line to a receiving coil and capacitor that is tuned to the same frequency as the oscillator. The resulting voltage is doubler rectified and applied to the grid of the CRT. Neat.
This consists of a HV oscillator driving an air cored transformer at around 300KHz. A sample is taken from the rectified output and via an amplifier is used to control the screen voltage of the parallel oscillator tubes thereby regulating the output in the usual way. The PDA voltage is 4.3KV while the grid and cathode supply is around -2.85KV.
“Low” Voltage Supplies.
Per Tektronix (and everybody else after Tek showed the way), there is a precision -200V rail, this is used as the reference for stacked +200V and +450V rails. There is also an unregulated +325V rail.
The first job was sorting out replacements for the missing tubes and using Deoxit on all the tube sockets. Then came replacing burnt out power supply protection resistors, a couple of the caps required re-forming and most probably replacement soon. Once this was done, the regulated supplies came in a little low but all in tolerance, the drop-out point was well below line voltage. It was not long before I realised that something was not quite right with the HV (CRT) supply which is a 300KHz high frequency oscillator type with the oscillator amplitude being modulated by amplified DC error feedback from the output to the oscillator screen grid regulator. It uses 2 1X2B rectifiers and on checking them, the negative supply rectifier was very weak so I replaced it too. I was then able to get the negative (-2.85kV) and PDA (+4.3kV) supplies in tolerance though the regulation is not solid and the voltages do vary a little as the intensity control is operated. I can find no obvious reason for this, all components are good and the screen regulator amplifier tube is good too. Here are a couple of views of the HV PSU:
I particularly like the air-cored, pie-wound HV transformer and the intensity and focus control universal joints. The rectifier heaters are supplied by the loops around the base of the transformer.
Interestingly, while the PSU reservoir caps were OK (well, after reforming 2 of them anyway), I did find it necessary to replace the regulator output shunt caps. (Caps that are not designed to handle rectification charging currents are less robust, insulation-wise.) One of them was tucked at the lower back corner of the PCB with the power transformer on the foil side so I had to remove the power transformer from its mounting. If you click on this picture, you will just be able to make out the offending cap behind the wiring in the lower right-hand corner:
And here is the transformer side with the plug-in cage, the CRT and shield and the HV PSU removed:
If you click on the picture, you will be able to see that the power transformer is off its mountings and actually could be swung right out of the corner to reveal the foil pads for the offending capacitor. While you are there, look for the nice universal joints near the front panel that drive insulating rods that connect to second universal joints on the intensity and focus pots in the HV PSU.
Having decided to dispose of my collection, this is the first item I put on ebay and it sold in the first day, clearly I priced it too low at $135 however, it is the first thing I have ever sold on ebay, live and learn!
My ebay name is triodeguy.
I have many items that have not yet made it to the blog and as I sell them I will post the description and pictures so as at complete this documentation project, albeit without the technical and restoration narrative.
Here is the description I used on ebay:
GE regulated power supply used to power a transmitter modulator. Who knows, you may have listened to your favorite station when powered by this unit!
I fitted a terminal block to the cut wire ends. The wire nut connects the line to the B+ transformer to allow the B+ to be remotely switched. A B+ time delay could be installed here.
The raw B+ supply is configured as choke input, given that the massive 10H choke is rated for 340mA and that there are 3 6AS7/6080 series tubes, I would expect this power supply to be conservatively rated for 300mA.
The rotary switch allows the meter to indicate total current, current through each section of each series tube or output voltage.
I have powered it up and it delivers 300V DC that can be varied from 255V to 415V.
I load tested from no load to 300mA (at 300V) and the voltage did not shift more than a volt however, it IS old and I will not guarantee your satisfacton.
This is pro gear and has just one electrolytic capacitor, the rest are paper in oil.
Use vintage the pictures to form your own impression of the condition of this unit, NOTE, while testing it, I did find one dead 6AS7 section so I replaced that tube with a good 6080.
Again, being vintage, I DO NOT guarantee proper operation so this unit is sold as is.
It weighs 58 lb and measures 13″ x 10.5″ x 18.5″
And here are the pictures I used:
3/19/2015: I sold 7 scopes, 2 meters a power supply and a signal generator this weekend, 4 of the scopes are full size (Tek 500 series and HP 150A). I am experiencing a sense of relief that this wonderful equipment is wanted and going to good homes. I am also relieved to know that the burden of stuff in my home is steadily reducing. I have moved into a new phase of my life and want to be able to move freely without having to deal with (literally) tons of stuff.
11/5/2014: I have decided that it is time to start letting go of stuff. If you are interested in acquiring any of the items I have written about, please comment on this post and I will get back to you.
8/9/14, UPDATE: I took and passed the general class today. Now the learning (leaning) curve begins……
One area of vacuum tube technology that I have not (yet) explored is (amateur) radio. I have a technician license and have been putting off doing anything more because I found the antenna (and ham jargon) issue daunting. One thing is that I want the feedpoint at the house, not in the middle of the yard! This makes a classic dipole less attractive given my house and yard. A friend (ham mentors are called Elmers) suggested a loop and sent me an excellent article describing the setup and performance of a loop antenna. Because it is a loop, the feedpoint can be anywhere so I have mine where I want it! The loop length is made equal to the wavelength of the lowest frequency of interest, in this case 3.7MHz giving 272ft. The larger the area enclosed by the loop the better, so the ideal shape is a circle. Mine is a pentagon because that gives me the best compromise given the wire length and the trees I have. The feed is RG8X 50Ω coax. I now need to learn how to use it!
I have a Heathkit SB-102 transceiver that I have repaired and checked out into a dummy load. It has a solid state Variable Frequency Oscillator (VFO) that is supposed to be significantly more stable than a tubed VFO. Using a MFJ Deluxe Versa Tuner II with the Heathkit, I obtained Standing Wave Ratio (SWR) figures of 80M, 1 to 1.1; 40M 1.2 to 1.3, 20M, 1 to 1.1 and 10M 2.5 at best. I need to upgrade my license so that I can use voice (SSB) on bands other than 10M! Some people use a 2:1 balun with a loop and I do wonder if this would yield better performance at 10M? I am a beginner….
By the way, the J in MFJ may stand for junk. The vanes of the variable condensers in my unit were rubbing due to massive slop in the spindle bushings that allowed the vane assemblies to flop around. I bought the unit on ebay however, it shows no signs of use much less abuse, so I think this issue is due to rubbish quality parts. I was able to slip plastic strips into the spindle bushings and remedy the problem. Even so, I would not use it with solid state transmitter finals.
The wire is 14ga stranded and insulated house wire. I placed loops of rope around the trees / branches that looked to be good locations for suspension. The loops are fitted with pulleys. Each suspension point on the wire is fed through an insulator tied to another rope (1/4in Daycron) that passes through the pulley down to ground level. In this way, the suspension points can be dropped down to ground level when the wire snaps (it will for sure). The length combined with the elasticity of the suspension ropes provides some accommodation for tree sway however, the mid-point suspension has a dead weight load consisting of two house bricks. (The dead weight tension method is used for the suspension of railway power catenaries.) At the lowest point, the chimney it is 24′ high and at the highest, around 40′. I hope this arrangement will accommodate most wind activity! The feed point is tied to the chimney of my house (which seems a better scheme than tying it to my neighbours house). It consists of a small plastic Radio Shack project box fitted with an eye bolt for the anchor. The ends of the antenna come in, then out and back in again through small holes providing sufficient grip to prevent them pulling out. The feed cable comes in through the bottom of the box and a tie wrap inside prevents it pulling out. All the entry points are sealed with silicon goop.
Oh, I had great fun playing with a potato gun to launch 3 of the suspension points……….