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Scratch Build of Gresley A4 Class "Union of South Africa"


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Here I go again .... another bl**dy locomotive.   I promised myself after spending many years (off and on) with my Flying Scotsman that I'd never make that mistake again.   The road to Hell is paved with good intentions they say.


Growing up as a wee lad in Fife Scotland in the 40's through to 1951 when we emigrated to Canada I was enamoured with steam engines ... the bigger the better.  I saw and travelled behind many an A3 and A4 and on my trainspotting days my favourite place to be was on an embankment across from the local station.   Frequently engines would arrive, detach from their train and shunt down a siding right 

below me to take on water from the stand.   I've never forgotten the feeling of being there marvelling  at these wonderful, machines, feeling the radiant heat, hearing the panting of the air pump and smelling the smoke and steam.  Ah, the glory days.


Of the LNER big Gresleys most I saw were of the A1 through A3 classes but then one day I saw the most wonderful looking machine imaginable to a young lad.  Union of South Africa passed our home where we lived on the 3rd floor and I heard that unique chime whistle as she arrived in Dunfermline fresh from Edinburgh and the Forth Bridge.  60009 always had a special place in my memories no matter how many other A4's I saw and, as an Edinburgh 

(Haymarket) engine, I saw her often.


Fast forward 70 years and here I am, still enthralled with 60009 and watching every YouTube video of her.   Only recently I've read that she is about to be retired and that she will be coming home to Fife to reside in a purpose 

built museum ... I hope I can see her one more time.


So, after waxing all poetic about A4's, there's only one logical step I can take and that's to have a go at scratch building one ... Makes sense don't you think?   Should be a piece of cake.


I've selected a set of A4 drawings off the web, scanned them, enlarged them to my scale*, printed them off then glued them to various cardboard and plastic backings.


I'm using my usual Renshape composite material to shape the body.   The tender, when I get to it, will mostly be made up from Arborite or Formica sample panels and the motion will be aluminium salvaged from various electronics, computers, cameras and whatever.


Off we go ....



* It's just going to be an ornament on a shelf.  22" buffer to buffer, same as my Flying Scotsman.  Get over it!


Here's my rough bandsawed block of Renshape.   It's a start.




Lots of power tools gets it soon down to a recognizable shape 




... and that iconic swoopy footplate is cut out and attached.   Body filler applied and sanded out ...






Kylchap double exhaust roughed out, shaped and filler applied.




I mounted the model on a board so that it's at the correct height so I can check the shape with a plastic cutout template.






It really helps to have the model sitting at the correct height and attitude.




Next I rough out the cab.   The sides are fabricated from Arborite/Formica sample panels which I like as they are so flat and strong.  The roof is cut from a sheet of steel salvaged from stereo equipment.   Bent it slowly to shape over a block that I shaped into a template.




Lots of cutouts and small sliders, vents etc added to it.




Gradually I make more external fittings, pipework, handrails, and give it a rough coat of paint to see how she looks.







OK, now onto the wheels.   As with the Scotsman I made a master driving wheel and one bogie/cab/tender wheel from Renshape.




Using my Dremel in a drill stand I ream out the spaces between the spokes.




Once the master is finished and sanded I fastened it into a container and poured silicon over it to make a mold.   




I want to use machined aluminium as the wheel rim so I set that into the mold first then pour a 2 part urethane casting material into the mold.   This bonds and hardens to the metal rim to make a usable wheel after some filing and sanding .




Here's the small set of wheel rims and one with spokes.   They will be cast in a similar method.






Next I want to fabricate the fairly large spring sets that are under the cab.   Since there's only one on each side I decide to fabricate both (rather than cast a pair).   I made them both from scrap aluminium.   There are ribbed gussets (?) on either side of the axle boxes and I found a perfect sized heat sink from a computer that let me cut out suitable gussets.






Lots of hacking and hewing later I have a decent pair of springs.   Mounted on a temporary backing here.




So here's an "in progress" shot with her older brother the Flying Scotsman whose tender she's pinched.   They don't look like it here but they ARE in the same scale.




Next comes the fun part. ... fabricating all the metalwork/motion that goes with the wheels.

I didn't take many pictures of making each piece as that gets boring.  I have an aluminium strap that is 1" wide by 1/8th thick and almost every piece is hacksawed, filed and polished from that.  The driving and connecting rods have a recess cut into their faces (a "U" shape) and I hog them out using cutting wheels on a Dremel.   Lots of filing follows.   It all gets bolted together using tiny bolts that I recently purchased.  If I drill the hole in the aluminium slightly smaller than the bolt then I can slowly screw the bolt in such that it cuts threads and can be removed and replaced easily after that.

Here's a work-in-progress shot.  The Phillips bolt heads will eventually be filed flat and six-sided to look appropriate.  The "body" has had the paint stripped and some fairing has been applied.




Thanks for looking in.   More to come.



Edited by albergman
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14 hours ago, Mjwomack said:

Having a South African daughter-in-law its no surprise that this is my favourite Gresley! Masterpiece

Well that's as good a reason as any to like it.   Thanks for chipping in.

8 hours ago, Corsairfoxfouruncle said:

Ok Taking my seat for this build. 

Looks like it's not going to be crowded guys!   Glad to have some company.    CF4U ... I see you're in Illinois (I'm in Ontario) and I'm wondering if you're a fan of British steam ... or you just like empty theatres?

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12 minutes ago, albergman said:

Looks like it's not going to be crowded guys!   Glad to have some company.    CF4U ... I see you're in Illinois (I'm in Ontario) and I'm wondering if you're a fan of British steam ... or you just like empty theatres?

Im a fan of rail in general, mostly due to the brute power and designs. Im particularly fond of the later steam era from the 20’s, all the way to Diesel electric through to the 70’s/80’s. The steam era art deco period, and early D/E where locomotives are more streamlined are really my favorites. Im also quite impressed with your scratch building so that is another reason for following your build. In another life my brother and I had an HO railway but i haven't been able to get back into it since 1995. Mostly due to costs involved with everything but space is also an issue. I have also had the pleasure of working in a locomotive dismantling yard here in Chicago. I was in my 20’s and could climb and crawl around them all night. That was a fun time in my life. 


Edited by Corsairfoxfouruncle
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26 minutes ago, bentwaters81tfw said:

Hi Frank. How close to DoC are you for reference?



DoC is in Montreal so about 400 miles.   Guess you're thinking I might go there with a tape measure and make my own specs?   Possible I suppose but I'm not that much of a perfectionist.   The plans I've found are pretty accurate but they're in low quality and when blown up to my scale they kind of break down.   


Still, it would be nice to see DoC someday especially since she got a makeover while in the UK recently.



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29 minutes ago, Bandsaw Steve said:





I LOVE this build.


Thanks so much for sharing it.



Thanks Steve.   You two have set the bar high for me.   😁    It's still looking pretty rough and I have to rein myself in to keep from getting the paint on too soon.   Can't believe how fast this one is proceeding after the anguish and confusion of doing FS.    The starboard side (old sailor here) metals are 100% done and fitted now and the port side about 80% so that's a major hurdle cleared.


Have you thought yet about how much of the motion/metalwork you'll try to make and what you'll make it from?    




24 minutes ago, bentwaters81tfw said:

These may help

Thanks for these BW.   I have collected quite a few pictures and video captures already but there's always a need for that special shot that shows me something I need.



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Made a bit more progress lately as I finalized and fitted all the motion components on the driver side of the locomotive.   Got everything installed on the frames today and bolted down with appropriate sized tiny bolts.   I hope I don't have to remove any of this as I progress.   The other side has most of the parts shaped and is now awaiting assembly.


Took a few shots of the engine under an overhead lamp so the lighting isn't great.    The Flying Scotsman has been shunted off its little bit of track for the photo shoot and his tender is standing in with the A4.


As you can see I've stripped the paint off 60009 as it was getting scratched up with all the handling.   Just for fun I blackened in the nose with a big felt pen.






On to the other side!   Should be a breeze.





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21 minutes ago, Corsairfoxfouruncle said:

Impressive work, will it be static or operational ?  I didn't see any kind of motor’s but that doesn't mean anything. 

HA!!    Static for sure.   Since everything is hand made I just don't have the precision needed to make things move.   Actually thought about it though ... briefly when I started but realized  I don't have the skills to make it happen.    The reversing lever works and several parts attached to it move too but that's it.   


Thanks for stopping by CF.

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Superb work , very impressive.  I live about 35 miles from York so I also went to the Great Gathering.

IMG_0442 (1)

Here is a view of 60009 that you normally do not see.

IMG_0459 (1)

And in case you want inspiration for your next loco....


Regards Bob

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2 hours ago, Jinxman said:

Anything to do with '09 is a winner for me. My partner thinks it looks amazing - it's her favourite engine after all. 😀


Watching with anticipation.

I'd say you've got a winner there Jinxy.   What better thing can one say of a partner than "She likes A4's"?


Lucky you "Retired Bob" to live so near to the Gathering.   Must say I never warmed to that LMS streamliner as a lad but back then I only had eyes for the LNER.


Thanks for looking in chaps.

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Some more progress.   Finalized all the pieces of motion for both sides and have them all bolted together.   Quite a fiddly, challenging task to get it all sorted.  


Did some fairing of the topsides and got a coat of flat black primer airbrushed on just to check for scratches and dents.   Wish the camera wouldn't be so unkind!   I always think it looks better in the flesh than what a digital camera sees.


So, for better or worse, here's where we are today.








No pictures yet but I did cut the plastic for all windows and made the fine wooden framework that the side windows are set into.   Forward-looking ones done too.   All thesee will wait for the Brunswick green to be applied before installing.


Lastly, steps shaped and installed under cab ... both sides.





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1 hour ago, Corsairfoxfouruncle said:

Very good work on display here. Did you build the Green Locomotive behind this build ? 


Yes ,that's my Flying Scotsman that I started in 2006 and slowly assembled over 10 years ... still not entirely finished.   There's a build log here if you're interested.   This one is a display model too and to no known scale but both engines are identical scales.


1 hour ago, Bandsaw Steve said:

Great results here. And so quickly done!

Thanks Steve.   Been able to get a fair bit of time on it these days and I'm really keen about this engine.    Now that the motion is fabricated and fitted I feel like everything else will be a breeze.     I don't think you saw my last reply to you but I asked how much of the motion you plan to make and what materials will you use?




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4 hours ago, albergman said:

I don't think you saw my last reply to you but I asked how much of the motion you plan to make and what materials will you use?




Hi Frank - embarrassingly enough, I’m not sure.  I don’t have any machining tools or such like so don’t think I can use cut & shaped aluminium like you have.

Possibly rectangular section brass rods soldered together? 

Bicycle spokes?

knitting needles?

Plastic rod?

Discarded cutlery?
Open to suggestions.



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  • 2 weeks later...

Here we go again.


The engine is pretty much completed and I've moved on to the tender.   Should be getting paint onto it in a couple of days  ... if the weather warms up here in Ontario.  


Not a lot of pictures to show as I've just been plowing ahead with it.


Started off by making a "master" for the 8 spring/axlebox sets I need for the tender.   I used it to make a silicon mold and then pour eight urethane castings in that.


Put as many pieces into this master as I can so that each cast has less pieces to make manually.


The master ... keep in mind the brass spring is less than an inch wide.




Here's the 3 components ... master/mold/casting




These castings are amazingly detailed and this is a great way to save time and effort instead of making 8 duplicates by hand.




I thought I was going to use the same sized wheels on the tender that I cast for the engine's front bogie and cab wheels but soon realized that they are way too small!    So I cast a long "cylinder" of urethane that was big enough to machine the right sized tender wheels ... for the record the cardboard tube in the centre of a roll of toilet paper is just fine!!   So, this tube of urethane is put in the lathe and I turned  8 wheels ... sorry, no pictures.


Next I made a lower "chassis" frame from Renshape that I can glue the wheels into.




Next is the tender itself and it's already well on the way at this point.




So here's where I'm at.   Just about ready to get some paint on it and make it look better.




Took a couple of pictures of some handrails I was fabricating today.   Turned some brass rod on the lathe to make the ball ends I need.






That's about it for now.   Thanks for looking in.


Back soon.

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Just a small update for a fun little article I had to make.   Needed the coupler (buckeye?) for the aft end of the tender and it needs to have a certain "heft" to it.   Aluminium is my choice so into the scrap bin we go.   My preferred "heavy" aluminium comes from computer hard drive chassis ...




as they are cast in a relatively soft alloy which is nice to work with hand tools.   Unfortunately they aren't quite thick enough to give the thickness I want so I cut 2 separate pieces and glued them together with CA.   Now it's just a matter of lots of hacksawing/filing/polishing to shape a coupler.




You can see the seam where the two pieces were joined.   I sliced out the gap for the moving piece with an abrasive disk on my Dremel.   




Drilled a hole through the pieces and mounted my swivelling piece ... sorry, don't know the proper names.


Finally it gets bolted into the tender.




That's all for today.   The tender just needs a couple of safety doors fabricated for the cab end and it'll be ready for paint.



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