Friday, February 24, 2017

Putting the fun on the page

How good should a model be to appear in a magazine?

I ask, because for the last few months, I've been watching and taking part in a couple of model railway groups on Facebook. these are filled with people enjoying their hobby - but not in a way you see in print.

Posts often include photos of the latest Hornby train set purchased or roundy-roundy layouts on large boards in spare rooms and attics. There are also videos taken of people running trains.

There are two common features:

1 - The models would look terrible when subjected to the scrutiny of a camera
2 - The owners are having terrific fun with them

I remember a friend describing people leaving shows with a bag of track - "They are going home to do the train set tonight".

It's true. That bag of track represented a great deal of fun. Not the fun of the sort of modeller who obsesses over every detail or worries about the correct setting they are creating. The sort of fun that says you can have a Blue Pullman and US "Big Boy" on the same layout because you really like both of them.

The people you see in print and at shows are, I suspect, the top 20% of modellers. That's top in the sense of producing the "best" quality work, and it's little more than a finger in the air guesstimate of numbers.

In addition there will be a large number who never actually make anything but even then, I bet half the people in this hobby only ever get to see their models in print in the "Readers layouts" pages of a magazine. I wonder how many people skip over that as the pictures don't generally match up with those taken by the professional staff on all the other pages.

It's a bit like the "Gallery" section of Take Hart, a TV show I remember from my childhood. When I hear the tune Left Bank Two, I still shiver from the memory of the dull bit where were were exposed to the daubs of other children my age. At the time I just wanted to see Morph do something funny or Tony make some more art but in hindsight, I can only imagine the pride any youngster felt seeing their picture on telly.

Those readers models represent some of the great fun on offer in our hobby but it's nearly impossible to encapsulate this on the printed page. Even on video, watching someone else's railway full of straight from the box ready to run models thrashing round can't to convey they pleasure the owners get from them.

Every so often, someone will say that models in mags are too good and we should have some more attainable stuff on show.  How do you define attainable though? Straight from the box? For many that's as far as they go, but would they then want to see lines of factory fresh models in a magazine they have paid for?

Railway modelling is fun. And it's fun in many different ways - all of which are equally valid no matter what some keyboard warrior tries to say. To my mind, even if you just run a train around a circle on the dining room table, it's better than sitting slack-jawed in front of the TV every night.

Maybe it's not possible to show all this. Perhaps only experiencing the joy of model making can explain what we get out of it. I'd like to think that there are other angles which is why I've written this post. I'm thinking out loud at the moment. Please join in the conversation in the comments.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Book Review: The Hovercraft. A history by Ashley Hollebone

Publisher: The History Press

ISBN: 978-0752-464794

A5 Softback

188 pages


Unusual forms of transport fascinate me. When that involves a machine that was once seen as "the future", it's even more appealing. Because of this, I love hovercraft.

Ashley Hollebone also loves hovercraft. Unlike me, he's done more than take a day trip on one, he re-built a personal hovercraft (Starbreeze RX-2000) and then wrote a book on their history.

The books is more comprehensive than anything I've read before. Starting with the very early days and Christopher Cockerell, we progress through the SRN-1 and its first crossing of the English Channel right up the present day.

Along the way there are rather more manufacturers on the scene than you might expect. I'd never heard of Cushioncraft for example, but as the cover shows, they produced some fantastic looking machines. Some were not a million miles away from the Star Wars land speeder seen back in 1977. I wonder if they were any influence on the design?

Technical fans will enjoy the chapter on how a hovercraft works, not just the "blow air out of the bottom and it floats bit" but the way that this is carried out in a sophisticated way so the craft rises in a controlled manner. It turns out that while a skirt might make a hovercraft more efficient, it isn't essential. Should you feel the urge to add one though, it's far more than a simple curtain around the edge of your platform.

Hovercraft, like faster than sound passenger flight are possibly one of those technologies whose time has been and gone. The wonderful giant SRN4 craft are no more than museum pieces now. The service to and from the Isle of Wight still runs, but there is a lot of pressure to build a fixed link to the island which would surely kill it.

For the moment, the future is with military service. Cost is secondary to speed and maneuverability here so there is a real advantage in moving men and machines on a cushion of air.

The text is very readable, this is a page-turner. Better still, plenty of photos illustrate many of the points as you go along. There were places I felt could have benefited from more pictures and others where the photo could have been in a more appropriate chapter, but nothing major.

The main criticism of the book is that it tries to cover too much. Maglevs are NOT hovercraft to my mind and neither are ground effect vessels. Yes, they float and don't fly, but to me, if it doesn't blow air then it's not a hovercraft. I'm happy that the French Aerotrain makes it in, but we get next to nothing on the British Hovertrain.

Oddly, the chapter on rescue craft ignores the RNLI hovercraft but these them pop up in the Griffon Hoverwork chapter at the end.

These are niggles though. This book did its job of inspiring me to want to know more. Not because there was anything missing, but because it sparked my enthusiasm for more pictures and videos of interesting and obscure craft. Rather a lot of my time recently has been spend on the web performing searches for things I've just read about.

Buy The Hovercraft. A History from Amazon. Or do what I did and borrow a copy from your local library.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Warehouse Wednesday: JC Amore

JC Amore Steel Spinnings

Another photo from my wanderings in south Birmingham. JC Amore were steel spinners, and I'm not sure what that means. Making cables perhaps? 

Anyway, the building is lovely if derelict when I took the photo. Aside from the variety of wall finishes, the signage is very of it's time with nice clean letters (arial?) on the glass and wooden fascia. It's almost a shop front, not uncommon in industrial areas dating from the days when people would walk in an place an order.

Not a big building but reasonably simple in outline. The window detail wouldn't been to difficult to model, unless it's right at the front, scribed perspex filled with paint would be OK. The hoist adds a useful feature although the door it services looks very thin to me.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Soldering people

File this one under "Things most people probably do but it's only just occurred to me."

Needing to both assemble and modify a 7mm scale "Heroes of the footplate" figure, I decided to fire up the low-melt soldering iron and fix him together with something other than superglue. 

Why haven't I done this before? It's a heck of a lot easier than using glue - the solder fills the gaps around the arms and more importantly, it's very, very fast. Within 5 minutes, all the bits were in place, including the ones I'd broken off when trying to re-position the legs by clamping them in a vice and shoving the rest of the body hard. The joins were good enough that I could file chunks off the bottom of the feet for final fitting in place. With a coarse file.

A little filler around that leg and he is good for paint. Next time, I'll remember and put the glue away.