SAR Narrow Gauge Garrat

Backwoods Miniatures has put out the makings of a very nice model. At least that was what I thought when I saw the O scale version that David Steer built over 2004 and 2005.

This is a photo of what the real thing looked like:

The Prototype

Some assembly required!

For anyone not familiar with an etched brass kit, the photos below show what you get when you open the box.

Etching #1 Etching #2 Etching #3

Etching #4 Etching #5

There are also several packages filled with wheels, rods, screws and countless detail parts.

And, of course, a thick set of instructions.


The instructions in this kit are nothing if not compendious. For anyone, like me, who might audaciously (or stupidly, depending on your point of view) take on this as a first etched brass kit, it would have been helpful to have a few more sketches and a lot more photos.

Construction of the model is. conceptually, the construction of a bunch of sub-assemblies. The whole is a daunting task. Taken bit by bit, however, it becomes manageable - if not ever easy.

This has been a - very slowly - ongoing travail and a decidedly not easy hands-on, test and proceed, learning experience. I don't know whether my difficulties with this project are a the result of inadequacies in the kit's design or of my inadequacies of skill and approach to it.

In any case, I find I'm doing a lot of scratchbuilding or quasi-scratchbuilding to get this one right.

Sub-Assembly 1 - The Gearboxes

A logical first sub-assembly in the instructions is to construct the gearboxes for the model. This made sense to me, if only because it gave me a chance to make my first bends in etched brass simple ones. And, they went together reasonably well.

Gearbox step one Gearbox step two .

I do, however, have a few concerns about the basic design, which does not permit taking the assembly apart for maintenance or repair purposes. This seems to be a general feature of British kit locomotives. Perhaps nothing ever goes wrong with them after completion . Or perhaps they never require adjustment. Or perhaps they never run the model they build! (More on this later.)

Given that I have experienced few problems with gearboxes over the years, I decided to go ahead and build the gearbox as per the kit instructions. It certainly is compact and appears to function smoothly.

Gearbox completed


Sub-Assembly 2 - The Engine Platforms

The next step according to the instructions was to build the front and rear engine assemblies. These are a series of 'cut, bend & solder', 'cut, clean & solder operations' with first, regular solder and then subsequently with lower melting point solders as sub-assemblies get put together.

First, I bent the flat platform etching so that the pilot front of each platform went down at a 90 degree angle, and the v-shaped bottom of the pilot out again at 90 degrese. Also, the coupler mounting plate is bent back to the inside again at 90 degrees.

After that, the vertical platform stiffeners were soldered on with regular solder. (Different melting point solders are used throughout the assembly so that complex structures can be built and detailed without risking them falling apart from heat at later stages. Higher melting point solders are used for the larger pieces or those that go together first, with lower melting point solders being used later in the process.)

The next step was to sweat solder on the swivel plate (where each engine assembly will join with and support the boiler/cab assembly).

The nuts are soldered into place with the nut and screw screwed together. Flux around the outside of the nut allows it to be held securely without soldering the screw in place as well. This requires a degree of care. Otherwise it is necessary to try to remove the screw or nut by heating until the solder flow point is reached and then deftly unscrewing. Not easily done, speaking from experience, but possible.

Then another sweat soldering operation: The pilot front etching to the bent platform etching.

Next, I sweat soldered soldered the pilot tube etching to the pilot front. (This was done with Tix low-melt solder, which flows at a slightly ower temperature than regular solder.) The bottoms of the pilot tubes were soldered to the protruding part of the pilot with regular solder.

Next step was to solder on the front bolt strip. I found that the strips supplied with the kit as etchings bent out of shape when I embossed the rivets. To overcome this, I had to emboss new strips of rivets on 5 thou brass sheet with my NWSL "Rivetter" and then cut out the strips. The most difficult part of doing this was to keep track of the divisions as I advanced the spacing on the riveter in order to get the rivet embossings in close to correct place.

It ended up taking a couple of tries before I got a respectable strip.

The air hose, coupler and coupler cut bars will go on later. At least that's the plan.


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