Hall Royd Junction Box nameboard as preserved at the East Lancashire Raiway, Bury

Great Western Railway/British Railway Western Region Lower Quadrant 4mm
Waterslide Transfers (decals) for MSE/Wizzard & Ratio arms

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Step 1

MSE/Wizard brass GWR signal arm fret 4mm scale S0015

First, acquire one of the excellent brass frets produced by MSE/Wizard - their reference SOO15. Just so you know, you get: 1. 4ft plain distant arm (1 off); 2. 4ft plain home arms (2 off); 3. 4ft lipped-edge home arms (2 off); 4. 3ft plain home arm for sidings etc. (1 off); 5. 3ft lipped-edge home arm for sidings etc. (1 off); 6. 3ft backing arm (not installed after 1947) (1 off); 7. 2ft4in disc for use under platform canopies ('banjo') (1 off); 8. Goods line arm ring (1 off); 9. Cranked balance levers (7); 10. Spectacle plates (8 off); 11. Rule 55 track circuit diamond (1 off); 12. Backlight blinders (6 off); 13. 2-way route indicator (1 off); 14. 2-doll bracket (1 off); 15. Disc signals (2 off).


Note the fact that there are two variants of arms: with and without lipped edges. In 1933 the Great Western Railway introduced steel arms. These had a pressed edge which is immediately recognisable in photos, and from the back formed a trough along the top and bottom edge of the arm. However in 1951 the design was revised, with the edge being folded backwards at 90 degrees, so that the entire front of the arm was now flat. MSE quite successfully replicated the front on their etch, but the etching process didn't allow the companion trough to be formed on the reverse. Note also the existence of a 'banjo' 2' 4" disc on the fret. What did these look like on the back? And, looking at photographs of the Worcester Shrub Hill example, they too had the lipped edge. If you were to make transfers, how would you successfully photograph one in situ, up under the canopy?
I'm an LMS man at heart (Central Division you know), and although I have a love all things railway, and have snapped anything that crossed my camera lens, I didn't have exactly a bucket full of GWR signal snaps - although I did snap the brackets at Mallaig (how did they get there?). And there are less semaphore signals on the Network Rail now than there were, so except for some obvious Heritage Railway sites such as the DVR, SVR or GCR, there was a risk that after much travelling either there would be the wrong kind or arm, or the ones available would be located such that they couldn't be photographed - or only from one side. What to do? Blinding flash of the obvious, and thank you all those nice people on eBay who have sent me most of what's needed for considerably less than a tank of petrol... By the way, do check my eBay profile as in due course they will be put back on, as my wife has only allowed me to do this on the understanding they are re-sold once the transfers have been produced!

Step 2

GWR / BR(W) shunt signal arm post-1951 

GWR / BR(W) banjo disc signal for placing under station canopies

Step 3

Rear iof 1933 GWR steel home signal at Didcot Railway Centre 6 May 2013

What does a 1933 GWR Home Signal arm look like?

Visit your local GWR museum railway centre to take photographs of all possible signals, signs, huts, sheds, window frames, roof materials, etc for possible modelling projects. Ignore the large blue King type locomotive and splendid Steam Rail Motor 93 and Trailer 92 as they are DISTRACTIONS.

But on the basis that is it a beautiful Bank Holiday Weekend, take the photographs of restored GWR locomotives 'because they are there' 


Step 4

GWR pre-1930s ribbed home signal arm showing ribbing

Realise that although the Great Western Railway Society S&T Department has done a stunning job of recreating a section of running line correctly block signalled, and with an authentic collection of signal arms, they have made the huge mistake of mounting all their priceless signal arms on tops of tall posts - the rarer the arm, the taller the post. Despite there being a number of museums with signalling equipment, none could tell me whether they had ribbed arms...or any other form of arm for that matter. There is a regular crop of upper quadrant arms on eBay, and maybe about 1 in 4 are the Western lower quadrant species. But I had to wait from May till the end of November before two ribbed home arms appeared: one sadly has a terminal attack of the tin worm, but now 'armed' so to speak, it should be possible to make a trial set of GWR transfers over the Christmas break!
Front of GWR 1927-1947 steel Home Signal Arm showing ribbing.corrugations top and bottom
Rear of GWR 1927-1947 steel Home Signal Arm showing ribbing.corrugations top and bottom
Front of 1927-1947 GWR Home Signal Arm suffering from severe case of rust (tin worm): why not to put your signal arm collection in the garden. This shows ribbing/corrugations top and bottom of the arm.

The Great Western Society on its Website suggests the ribbed metal type date from the 1927-1945 period. Adrian Vaughan in his 'A Pictorial Record of Great Western Signaling' (OPC) writes: "...but in 1925/6 came the first of thousands of tubular steel signal posts carrying a new rolled steel arm with a vitreous enamel covering and beaded edge top and bottom for strength, 4ft and 5ft arms were made." Peter Squibb in 'A Scratchbuilder's Guide to Semaphore Signal Consstruction' notes: "When the Great Western decided to introduce metal arms in 1930 it had to be different, The corrugations were at the top and bottom of the arms, Later, in BR days the simpler flat metal with two flanges, as used by the other companies, became standard."

GWR arms can therefore be summarised: pre-Grouping (pre-1923): wood; post-Grouping (1927-1947) rib/corrugation top and bottom of arm; Nationalisation (post-1947) flat with lips folded rearwards at right angles to face at top and bottom. Arguably this last change gave similar strength for greatly eased manufacturing process. Of interest, virtually all arms that appear on eBay are of BR vintage, and even these are stamped with dates surprisingly late in the process: dates as late as 1985 being common. This suggests that the arms perhaps had a working life of maybe 30 years or thereabouts. A good example of preserved 1927-1947 steel arms is at Bewdley with both home and distant arms displayed on the bracket signal protecting the station from trains arriving off the Stourport 'stub'

Metal arms were originally used with the same spectacle plates as used on the wooden arms, but the later type had a spectacle plate specially designed for metal arms. I have however seen references suggesting the change to the folded edge was made circa 1930.

Step 5

GWR transfer sheet 'work in progress' showing MSE fret with modified and unmodified signal arm images.

Home GWR ribbed steel arms are quite common: an actual distant arm in good condition in a location capable of being photographed has proved very difficult to track down. However, a prototype of a fixed distant has been located, although this is 'fixed' arm, so will require some manipulation (so lacking the spectacle plate and associated bolt work). But as a back-up, some 'wash-off' yellow paint has been obtained so that if all else fails, a full-sized arm can be photographed in 'yellow' and then the chevron and spindle and bolts added in PhotoShop. 

Step 6

Alternative screens for the GW route indicator transfer sheet.

The GWR made extensive use of 'mechanical route indicators', usually from Bay platforms, where a number of routes existed. Today, there would be a colour light signal with various feathers pointing in various directions. MSE include one of these in the fret, and suitable transfers would be required. There does not appear to be a standard text as such, each location being highly customised. Often these defined a destination, such as 'B'HAM' or 'PATNEY', but these have been avoided as it would be impossible to offer anything remotely sensible for the vast majority of modellers. If, on reading this, you have a suggested text for the two blank screens, drop me a line. The item itself is a metal frame, with a metal grid (large scale wire netting) attached to it. The metal letters are then attached to the netting. At a distance, the netting isn't really apparent, but can be seen when photos are magnified.

For those with a particular interest in route indicators, I would recommend Peter Squibb's 'A Scratchbuilder's Guide Semaphore Signal Construction'. Chapter 7 is entitled 'GWR Route Indicators'. Peter suggests they were mainly deployed as platform starters and notes the one at Yeovil Pen Mill directed trains to the Down Main, Shed, Up Branch and Down Branch. He writes: "All of these were abbreviated to use no more than 5 letters in each display." Apparently the signal survived - with just two routes - till 2008. Peter suggests that they were first introduced sometime between 1908 and 1910. Peter also notes: "The full sized slides were made of wire mesh held in a rectangular steel frame. The letters were soldered to the mesh so that they were clearly delineated against a white background. This was illuminated by a special lamp developed for the route indicators". Peter also notes that the GW lacked consistency with its abbreviations, so on the transfer sheet two unlettered frames are provided for customisation. As to the actual font used, the GW style is very close to modern-day Arial, which, when stretched, is very close. The only obvious variation is G and D, which in GW-style have a straight back/front. 

For anyone building a 7mm working route indicator this book is highly recommended.

Step 7

GWR Home Signal arm with dimensions in inches

Here are the dimensions taken from the actual arm. Note there is a taper, the arm narrowing towards the spectacle plate end. Click here for dimensioned drawings of Home, Distant, Shunting and Subsidiary arms, including the spectacle plate.

Step 8

Comparison of MSE GWR distant arm with scaled down photograph of an actual arm to show differences.

The MSE fret is a delight, particularly the spectacle plates. For those who like to get these things spot on, there's a (very) small amount of fettling that can create a more accurate profile at the spectacle plate end, but there is an issue with the 'sharp' end, so to speak. The top arm in the photo on the left is as made by BR Western Region. Note that the pointy bits do not go to a point, but are cut short. However, the MSE distant fret does have pointed ends (arm three), so transfers will be provided both for scale arms and for the MSE frets. Ratio, with their excellent plastic kits, have done something similar with the distant. Interestingly, Ratio have missed a trick in their steel-arm (round-post) kits by only offering BR Western region arms with the folded horizontal edge, 2 home and 2 distant. A very small tweak of the original artwork would have allowed them to offer the true GWR steel ribbed arm. The square post signal kits feature the wooden arms, which are not currently the subject of this exercise. But having now looked more critically at the 'working' kit 462 GWR Home and Distant have to say it looks a nice model, particularly with the brass bearings inserted into the post. But right now, it's a distraction!

Step 9

A comprison of the 4mm scale MSE brass -etched GWR distant arm with the Ratio plastic arms


There has been further discussion on whether there should just be a one set of arms for the MSE fret, or whether the Ratio plastic arms should also be allowed for. The first step was acquire a set of Ratio GW items, and then compare them with the MSE arm. The first revelation was that the arms in the 468 Ratio GWR Round Post (1 set Brackets/jcn.Signals) kit and 467 GWR Round Post (2 single post signals) kit, although notionally for the same single type (steel, folded edge), differ. The image hopefully shows these differences. Firstly, the spectacle plate is a different share, and one has solid lenses, and one has holes for self-glazing. But more problematically, they are different widths!

We've shown the three arms separately, and then a combo shot. The final solution will be to provide three sets of arms: a correctly shaped 'scale' distant; and then transfers for the MSE and narrow Ratio arms, so three in all for some arms. Ratio - thankfully - don't do backing or shunting arms, so only one set is needed for these items. 


Step 10:

Sample GWR 4mm scale transfers for steel Home & Distant arms showing folded edge and ribbed types

Once the multiple arm sizes were established (and having also discovered Mainly Trains produce a fret), the project hit the modeller's equivalent of writer's block. However a timely e-mail from Steve Hewitt suggesting I just concentrate on the arms he (and by extension, most people) needed has helped move the project forward again. This has resulted in sheets for the MSE frets for now, and then returning to Ratio variations at a later date - and, of course, the true scale distant for anyone making their arms from scratch. Steve has kindly offered to 'test' the first trial transfers on his current signal, and once Steve gives the 'all clear', will offer the first sheets for sale. There will be four different sheets this time: Home & Distant folded edge; Home & Distant ribbed; Shunting and disc signals, and mechanical route indicator slides; and a sheet for the Ratio arms.

Posted 13 December 2014

Stage 11:

Sheet of OO scale GWR signal transfers for steel folded-edge arms.

Sheet of OO scale GWR signal transfers for steel ribbed arms.

Sheet of OO scale GWR signal transfers for steel shunting, discs and mechanical route indicator slides.

Sheet of OO scale GWR signal transfers for Ration plastic steel folded-edge arms.



Now available for purchase!


Stage 12:

Build! Here's is a YouTube clip showing how Steve Hewitt built a splitting bracket using the transfers.