Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Wilesco D415 traction engine kit

Last week, on an impulse, I bought a toy traction engine kit. It's made by Wilesco, a German company, and I bought it from a German dealer trading on amazon.co.uk as "colludo". This particular dealer is apparently able to undercut everyone else on Wilesco products by a significant amount.

Wilesco make several variations on the same basic mobile steam engine. You can have a traction engine or a steam roller, you can have it in colour painted steel or lacquered brass, and you can have a simple (and rather ugly) radio control. They also do kit versions of some their engines. I went for the D415 kit version of the D405 painted traction engine.

By the way, the British company Mamod is still going, and makes a similar sized traction engine. I think it's a cruder design though, with belt drive and an oscillating cylinder engine rather than the Wilesco's double acting slide valve engine.

Wilesco toy traction engine kit

The kit arrived very quickly - ordered on Tuesday midday, delivered on Friday morning. All the parts are held in a simple plastic tray and secured with clear sticky plastic. I assume the same tray is used for other kits, such as the showman's engine, which is why there are some empty spaces.

One disadvantage of buying direct from Germany is that the assembly instructions supplied are in German. Luckily I was able to find an English version online, otherwise I would have needed a few hours with a dictionary and still would have had problems.

I started assembling immediately and had finished by Saturday lunchtime. There were one or two tricky areas and I took extra care with the crankshaft assembly and drive gears. I needed extra washers on the crankshaft left hand side to adjust the flywheel position so it didn't rub on the intermediate gear. I also needed to bend the prongs on the drive gear so that it could slide far enough to the left do disengage fully from the intermediate gear.

Wilesco toy traction engine kit

The picture shows the fully assembled engine. I think I could have improved the fit between canopy and funnel by adjusting the canopy supports, but I decided to remove the canopy entirely instead. I think the engine looks better without it.

Wilesco toy traction engine kit

There are a lot of leftover nuts, washers and screws! I think this is probably because the same box of small parts is used for all the kits.

Wilesco toy traction engine kit

One upgrade I made immediately is to fit rubber tyres. There are several suppliers of these on ebay, with different price / quality levels. I went for some cheap ones which I think don't look too bad. They do have rather obvious seams though, carefully hidden when I took this picture.

By Monday I was ready to fire up the engine for the first time. I also made a video, using my DSLR in its video mode for the first time. I'm really pleased with how well this little engine performs and am looking forward to testing its pulling power once I've got a trailer to attach to it.

Wilesco toy traction engine kit

PS Today (Wednesday) I fired it up for the second time. This time was indoors, so I could see how the "WiTabs" fuel burned without any wind disruption. I tried prolonged slow running and was very pleased with the result.

Wilesco toy traction engine kit

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Upgrading my Raspberry Pi software

In a previous blog post (My first Raspberry Pi - day 3) I described how I'd set up my Raspberry Pi to boot from an external hard disc drive. In that setup I created a "spare" partition to allow easy migration to a new operating system. Now, 2½ years later, it's time to find out just how easy (or not) this is by upgrading the Raspbian OS from "Wheezy" to "Jessie".

I downloaded the Raspbian "Jessie" image from the raspberrypi.org downloads page and unzipped the file to extract the image file 2016-03-18-raspbian-jessie.img. Then I copied this file to the Raspberry Pi and installed it as follows.

Install kpartx and then use it to access the two partitions of the image file:
sudo apt-get install kpartx
sudo kpartx -a 2016-03-18-raspbian-jessie.img

Create mount points for the two partitions and mount them:
sudo mkdir /mnt/jessie-boot
sudo mkdir /mnt/jessie-root
sudo mount /dev/mapper/loop0p1 /mnt/jessie-boot
sudo mount /dev/mapper/loop0p2 /mnt/jessie-root

Copy the "Jessie" root partition to /spare. This takes some time as there is over 3 Gigabytes to copy:
sudo rsync -av /mnt/jessie-root/ /spare

Copy the "Jessie" boot partition to /spare/boot.bak. Note this is not the actual /boot partition, we don't want to change that until we're ready to boot into the new OS.
sudo mkdir /spare/boot.bak
sudo rsync -av /mnt/jessie-boot/ /spare/boot.bak

Move the "Jessie" home directory's contents to the /home partition:
sudo rsync -av /spare/home/ /home
sudo rm -rf /spare/home/pi

Copy /etc/fstab to the "Jessie" partition and edit it:
sudo cp /etc/fstab /spare/etc/
sudo vi /spare/etc/fstab

After editing the fstab file is as follows:
proc            /proc           proc    defaults          0       0
/dev/mmcblk0p1  /boot           vfat    defaults,ro       0       2
/dev/sda1       /old_os         ext4    defaults,noatime  0       1
/dev/sda2       /               ext4    defaults,noatime  0       1
/dev/sda3       none            swap    sw                0       0
/dev/sda4       /home           ext4    defaults,noatime  0       1
tmpfs           /tmp            tmpfs   size=256M         0       0

Note that /dev/sda2, which is currently mounted as /spare, will be mounted as / and that /dev/sda1, currently mounted as /, will be mounted as /old_os. This requires a new mount point to be created:
sudo mkdir /spare/old_os

Since my original Rasbperry Pi setup the network configuration file has changed from /etc/network/interfaces to /etc/dhcpcd.conf. As I use a static network address on one of my Pis (because it is my network DHCP server) I needed to edit /spare/etc/dhcpcd.conf before attempting to reboot.

Edit the new boot command line and set it to use /dev/sda2 as the root device:
sudo vi /spare/boot.bak/cmdline.txt

Backup the existing /boot partition, then make it writeable and copy the new boot code to it:
sudo mkdir /boot.bak
sudo rsync -av /boot/ /boot.bak
sudo mount -o remount,rw /boot
sudo rsync -av /spare/boot.bak/ /boot

At this stage it should be possible to boot the Raspberry pi into the new operating system and login as pi:
sudo reboot

If I want to go back to the older operating system at any time I should be able to do so by copying /old_os/boot.bak to /boot and rebooting.

All that remains to do is to add my normal user account jim and then install and configure the current versions of all the software I was running — dnsmasq, xinetd, esmtp, nfs-kernel-server, etc. Being able to view the old configuration files in /old_os/etc is a great help when doing this.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Titchener vs. Titchener

Listeners to BBC Radio 4's "The Archers" might enjoy this. The rest of you should go and read something else.

Court report.
The case of Mrs. Helen Titchener vs. Mr. Rob Titchener continued yesterday in the Borchester Family Court, Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot presiding. It concerns the custody of the Titcheners' five year old son Henry.

Mr. Tinklebury Snapdriver, appearing for Mr. Titchener, alleged that Mrs. Titchener is unable to provide a safe home for Henry, having shown herself to be incapable of basic motherly duties such as running a warm bath or making custard. Mr. Titchener's parents, Bruce and Arsula, have generously arranged for Henry to attend Narkover Preparatory School For Boys, a prestigious establishment free of any feminising influences.

Mr. Cocklecarrot interjected that he has no idea what a feminising influence is, but Narkover School is well known for the consistency of its custard and the temperature of its showers. Polite laughter was heard from all sides of the court.

Mr. Snapdriver went on to consider protecting Henry's identity, as his mother is soon to be the subject of a high profile case in the Borchester Crown Court that is likely to attract much media attention. As has become normal practice members of the public had been invited to suggest names in an online poll. After discounting frivolous suggestions such as "Henry McHenface", "Titchy McTitchface" and, bizarrely, "Boaty McBoatface" all that remained was "Hoover". Mr. Snapdriver observed that this is a strange choice, but it is at least better than "AB" or "CD".

Dr. Smart-Allick, headmaster of Narkover school, had written to say they already have a boy called Hoover in the school, so Henry would be known as "Hoover Junior" upon his arrival. This revelation provoked much hilarity in the public gallery.

After order was restored Mr. Cocklecarrot asked why the name "Hoover Junior" was the cause of such merriment. At this point twelve red-bearded dwarves arose and began to run haphazardly around the courtroom, holding their hands out in front of themselves and making buzzing, whirring and humming sounds.

After order had been restored for a second time Mr. Cocklecarrot demanded to know how the twelve red-bearded dwarves were involved in this case. One of their number, a Mr. Sean O'Connor, explained that they were due to appear before Mr. Cocklecarrot later in the week, but because on several occasions recently one day's events had been spread over several days they no longer knew what day it was. They were now in the habit of arriving early for appointments to be sure of not being late.

Mr. Cocklecarrot saw no alternative but to clear the court and adjourn for the day.

The case continues.

(With apologies to J B Morton, author of the "Beachcomber" newspaper column.)