Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Isle of Man flag

IOM FlagKadet has a flagpole at the stern and without something fluttering, this looks a bit empty.

Not any more. At the recent Mobile Marine open day, Mike Allsop of Scale Flags sold me this lovely Isle of Man flag for a very reasonable amount of money (less than a fiver anyway). It’s printed on silk giving a diaphanous result. Actually I’m not sure how much is printed and how much is hand painted. Whatever, the result is a little work of art.

The instructions show how to roll the white bordered end around a suitable rope but I cheated and wrapped it round the pole itself. Glue used was Bostick Solvent-free and this has held well enough during sailing. I’m not sure a rope would work well in this scale and since the flag is stiffer that it would be in real life (Mike can explain how to drape the flag correctly but I prefer fluttering for this model) wouldn’t hang properly anyway. However if it was draped properly you wouldn’t see the design and I think that would be a shame wouldn’t it ?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Melbridge Box Company on ModelRailway.TV

It's live - 5 minutes or so of me talking without a script about the Box file layout. Actually, it's not quite as bad as it sounds, the filming is very impressive with lots of different angles and everything. The final sequence where the layout is packed away is the best bit but you'll need to log in (subscription required) to see this.

A slip of the knife

Warehouse errorAs I’ve mentioned before, my buildings are made from Daler board (2mm thick artists mounting board available from Art shops) covered with plasticard. The card is lovely and easy to work as well as being very cheap – five quids worth will be more than enough for two layouts this size.

My glue of choice for attaching bits of card to each other is Alphatic resin, a posh PVA used by the aeromodelling community. It sticks well and grabs quickly. This is handy when you screw up. I marked one of the windows too low and had to re-instate the rectangle I cut out. That won’t be a problem assuming the building progresses beyond mock-up stage. The plastic will hide it from view. However I’m quite pleased, a clean cut with a sharp scalpel and some good glue and it’s nearly as good as new. Perhaps I should have been a surgeon.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Warehouse planning

Measuring the heightLast week I mentioned the building that was to inspire the left hand corner of my layout in a box. Finally I’ve actually started working on it.
The first step was to measure the required platform height. I know there are standards for this sort of thing but they all need to work from the top of the rail to allow for different sleeper thicknesses. Not wanting to be bothered with this, I did some original research and came up with 18mm as you can see from the photo. In theory this will allow the doors of the van to open without catching the slabs. Pedants pointing out that the doors are part of a moulded one-piece body can shut up, they could open. Wanting to be on the safe side I’ll be aiming the platform top another mm or so lower, not that you can really see as it’s behind the siding so any discrepancies will be covered.

With this critical dimension, I was able to draw up a rough building side to see what it looks like. The windows are from Dornaplas and plonked on to give me an idea of proportions. They work out surprisingly well resulting in 10 foot high floors which I think is about right for a warehouse. They tended to vary from 6 and a bit ft upwards (I once did a show in the canal warehouse in Coventry. The ceiling is slightly barrelled and I had to stand in the tall bits and stoop slightly when walking around. The facia and lifts didn’t get attached to the layout that time) to today’s cavernous tin sheds.

Sliding doors have been arranged to match the position of van doors when the siding is in use. Presumably the 4mm scale workforce want to be able to wheel goods out of the van straight into store. A little fiddling made sure that when they slide open, nothing hangs over the end of the platform.
Warehouse start

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Slices of railway

Princess drive railway bridgeI drive under this bridge most evenings on my way home from work. A couple of days ago, while I was approaching, a Chiltern Railways train went over it.

This got me thinking – there is a special joy in seeing trains in transit. To me it’s more exciting than seeing them at a station. Well, unless I’m meant to be catching one that is. What I’m thinking of is those moments as you drive along when you see a train on the main line from the car window. Or like this where all you get is a glimpse of train between the bushes (this shot is nicked from Google Streetview, the normal angle frames either side of the bridge with greenery).

A few years ago, the Double O Gauge Association ran a competition where we had to build a layout or diorama in a box file. Most people laid the file on it’s back to get the most area for their work. One guy though used the file vertically with the front opening like the cover of a book. In this he put a backscene and a slice of viaduct. Obviously you didn’t get a full train, just a locomotive, but the result was a 3D picture so good he won the diorama class.

Now this got me thinking – the scene above could be modelled in the same way. What you need is a circuit of track and in the middle a very small slice of railway. The slice probably wants to be quite deep and possibly even modelled using forced perspective.

Better still, how about a fiddle yard at the back of the circuit which releases trains randomly. The viewer would sit, as though in a car, in front of the scene and get occasional glimpses of movement. Maybe this is more art installation or even something you could have at home as part of a test track than exhibitable model railway but it’s worth a thought.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


End on shotThis post was going to start with the lyrics from the theme of the TV series Fame. Then I took a look at them and realised just how rubbish they are, so nuts to that.

The reason for this trip into 80's nostalgia was that I have just made a bid for a bit of fame myself. Last Friday I visited the studios of Ashdown TV, home of several handicraft based Internet TV channels. With me was Melbridge Dock and The Melbridge Box Company as I was going to be filmed for ModelRailway.TV

The studios are in a business centre near Arundel. We parked up and met the crew, Jaspar and Tug who were camera, sound and studio engineers for the day. After a little discussion about the viability of getting the bulky Dock boards up a spiral staircase, the layout were taken upstairs by a straight run of steps and down a corridor. This was a bit of a surprise as downstairs is half a shed which normally acts as the set for programmes. Apparently this has been a bit over-exposed and the guys wanted to use the proper studio which allows for much better lighting.

Most of the Dock was set up. We didn't use the lighting or fascia - that later would have been in the way of the bank of ceiling lights that were carefully positioned. They felt these would be a better bet than a couple of Ikea spots ! Apart from a sticky point motor and a dry joint - both easily remedied - things were working well. That's more than can be said for the looks. We'd obviously put the model away with a touch of damp in it last time as mould spores were growning in the plastic cobbles ! These rubbed off OK with a bit of work from a damp handkerchief and stiff paint brush. I'll be taking a better look at this in the future. For now the layout is stored without any wrapping, it normally lives in a plastic bag, to let the air circulate.

Once set up there was another surprise. Previous films had involved the layout owner and an interviewer. No one had mentioned it but I didn't get someone asking questions, the plan was for me to do the piece single handed. After a little planning my hospital radio waffling experience combined with the practise afforded by giving a few conference presentations stood me in good stead. I was asked for ten minutes and didn't shut up for twenty. One take, mostly remembering to look into the correct camera and hopefully not sounding too stupid. The crew were nice and said it sounded good, but I expect that the editing process will involve a certain amount of turd polishing.

After I'd finished one of the cameras went on a boom, the other was augmented with a macro lens and lots more filming ensued. Trains ran back and forth so all the camera positions could be tried. Being a bit of a novice here, I was particularly impressed with the camera on the boom which swung along the frontage as well as giving helicopter views..

Melbridge Town filmingLunch (sandwiches) was followed by filming for the box file. Again I gave it my spiel, mostly about micro layouts this time, and again this seemed to go OK. We've put a nice shot together for the end - me packing up the model and walking off.

The whole process took about 6 hours. I've no idea how long the finished product will be but will let you know once it's live. Unless I look like a complete idiot, in which case I'll be keeping quiet.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Excavating the stash

Stash of bitsAlong with all my other objectives for the layout in a box project, I’ve decided that I’m going to try not to buy too much in the way of materials of detailing parts for it. This is partly in the interests of economy but mostly to justify to myself the size of my cache of “bits”.

Like most modellers, leaving a show with my wallet full and bag empty doesn’t seem natural. Luckily I’m not a big fan of RTR stuff, preferring packets of bits and pieces found on scruffy and/or packed stands of goodies. A lot of these are parts for model buildings such as sheet materials and details. Over the years I’ve filled a couple of shoe boxes with this sort of thing and so hoped to raid these to supply the bits for the models I need to build.

This collecting isn’t avarice, on the contrary, it’s sensible planning. You can’t buy 4mm scale industrial windows in the evening or on a Sunday. In fact a good part of the cache is made up of various types on window. I know the clever modeller can make them for him/her self but I’m a bit lazy sometimes and prefer pre-made. Not just for convenience but because someone has worked out the sizes for me saving a load of research.

Anyway, the other night I dug out the boxes and randomly threw anything that looked like it might even be slightly useful into a big pile. A bigger pile than I’d expected actually but then my threshold for inclusion was pretty low. The build a building from individual bricks kits look interesting but I can’t face spending that long on an individual structure. Maybe I can do something ruined with them though. There are three different huts in there too and I know only one can make the cut.

[Pretentious bit] This is a bit like an artist preparing a palette. Unless he has a very clear vision of the finished piece, he squirts a little bit of every colour around the edge to give him the scope to do what seems right at the time. You can’t imagine Van Gough thinking, “Sod it, I forgot to squeeze out some yellow so I’ll do these flowers in red.” Can you ?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Finished Railcar

Finished Railcar

Job done. The Park-Royal Railcar is finished. At least it's completed to my satisfaction.

I know this isn't a perfect model. When Heljan eventually bring out their RTR version I'm sure that mine won't look as good, but then that wasn't the point. I had always wanted to build this kit and now I have.

Not all the faults are mine either. The side steps are incorrect as supplied and I didn't worry about scratchbuilding a new set of folding ones. There should be some side door handrails too, but these will be fiddly since they bridge the chassis/body divide and either need to clip into one or the other, or you better hope no maintenance is required...

Apart from this, well one side window (on the other side, you don't think I'm going to photograph it for the blog do you ?) is slightly fogged. I blame the passengers for breathing on the glass.

The lining isn't perfect but looks OK from  a normal viewing distance. In fact, to me, the whole thing looks fine that way. This has been a really satisfying project and one I'd recommend to anyone. It's not too difficult. If only I could get something similar in 3mm scale where I actually have a use for it !

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Variable people quality

Little people
Look at this lineup, perfect illustration of the variable quality of 4mm scale people. I dug through my miniature figure box to find some occupants for the seats in the railcar and pulled out this selection. They are either whitemetal or plastic and of varying ages.

Prize for best detailed person goes, I think, to the lady in the middle who I think is of Arifix origin. Her proportions are right and the face is nicely carved. OK, the plastic is a bit soapy and prone to flash if you get a late moulding (earlier ones are sharper I find) but someone spent money finding a good pattern maker there.

On the right hand end we have Slaters plastic figures. They are a bit of a cliche nowadays as you'll see the limited range of poses on everyones layout but they are cheap, crisp and a nice hard plastic which takes paint well and can be chopped around if required. My only complaint is that they tend toward the two dimensional being a bit thinner then real people. Maybe I'm just jealous...

On the left hand we have Replica railways drivers which are very nice indeed. Both are well modelled and the guy on the end is in a useful pose. I like them although the range is a bit limited being spares from the RTR lineup. Well worth grabbing hold of for the diesel modeller.

Finally, the lady in the middle in the dark brown coat. A fairly typical cheaply made whitemetal figure. What is going on there ? I mean the overall proportions aren't too far out but the head is at best mis-shapen and at worst the result of some sort of steam hammer accident. There is next to no detail either. No idea who the manufacturer was of this one but I hope I picked it up cheap.

Of course with all of them going to live in the railcar, none of this matters. I'll just sit mishapen lady by the isle. Nicer moulded figures will get window seats.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Headcode - Plan B

Railcar front endSo I tried to install my repainted headcodes. First I discover that you really need to do this before putting the etched interior in. The driving compartments are in the way otherwise. My solution was to cut a slot between the digits and slide them down. However I think that they are too small. At least they didn't seem to fill the windows for me - something I should have discovered before putting some glue on them but never mind.

As an added bonus the typeface appears to be wrong as well. Hmmm.

So, down to the computer and fire up the desktop publishing software. A few minutes with the ruler and then some nifty mousework, I managed to produce a sheet with a few versions of the headcodes on it. If you want the, download it from here (PDF file).

This time I separated the digits and slid them into place using tweezers and PVA for stickiness. The 1 is a bit wonky in this shot but the real thing was often less than perfect so I'm not going to worry. Actually the who roller blind thing on railways seemed to be less than perfect. Digits were rarely level because you would have to get out and look at the front to check, not something to be done on a wet day !

Monday, June 21, 2010

Installing seats

Seats inIf finding colour photos of the outside of the railcar was tough, interior shots are impossible – unless you know different of course. If that’s the case and you tell everyone, I will have my fingers on my ears and hands over my eyes as it will be too late for me.

According to the Branchlines instructions, the floor is blue lino. Seats are blue moquette but there’s no indication if they are the same shade of blue. My feeling is that lino tends toward pale shades whereas seat materials are stronger colours. My eyes tell me that the windows aren’t that clear anyway and with the roof on some approximate colours will be fine. I have tried to be neat with the grab handles on the seat backs which are silver as these will be reasonably visible.

The interiors are a snug fit in the body but by flexing the sides slightly they will drop in with all the glazing in place. I used a couple of dots of superglue to make sure they don’t rattle although one half will also be screwed down when I bolt the chassis to the captive nut soldered to its floor.

One surprise – just how heavy all this brass makes the railcar. I still had to sneak a little lead in there thought in the entranceway which provides the best cover for a heavy floor. Mind you, if you were building this and fitting a quantity of whitemetal passengers, a test run or two over the layout would be advised to make sure the single axle drive can cope !

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Festival Modelling

Ingerland car

You probably haven't noticed, but there is some football going on at the moment. This gives me an idea.

There are a lot of model railway clichés. The bus on top of the hump back bridge for example, a bête noire of the 3mm Society Magazine editor. Every church has a wedding while around the corner a gravedigger surveys a hole. All of this takes place at the height of summer yet the passengers waiting on the platforms are wearing raincoats. Actually, that last one is more a symptom of British weather than anything else, so I suppose we can let it off.

Even the period the layouts represent doesn't very that much. At present the 1950/60 transition is the favourite, presumably as it allows for diesel and steam to run beside each other. The liveries are nice green ones too. As younger (in a relative sense, not actually young) modellers join the fray, we move forward to the early rail blue period of the 1970's.

Obviously there are weirdos like me who want to model things well before living memory but we aren't that common. Wartime layouts are starting to prove popular too, mainly because you get to make up a load of Airfix tanks. Or at least you think you do until a little prototype research shows that it's the soft-skin vehicles that predominated.

But, how about a break from all this. Why not model a very specific time ?

At present, on my drive home I see lots of cars with little England flags stuck to them. This will happen for around 2 weeks until they are dumped unceremoniously out of the World Cup by the Germans. Or Argentinians. Or Lithuanian Plumbers 11. Whatever happens, these flags along with those decorating houses and pubs, mark a particular point in time.

Therefore, why not model it ? OK, building a lot of limp (the car's aren't moving remember) flags won't be that exciting but at least the bigger ones will be relatively easy. Who know, if I'm wrong and our boys triumph, what a great way to mark and remember the event. People viewing the finished model will get a warm glow of nostalgia and recall how they enjoyed the “campaign”.

It's not just the current cup that can have this treatment. I'm sure alongside the big hair and tight shorts of the 1970's players, there were equally obvious shows of patriotism. Maybe the giant screen TV's didn't exist but surely people did something ?

If the beautiful game doesn't appeal, how about other major events ? What about a Coronation ? Or Silver Jubilee ? Both say streets full of bunting and shop windows specially decorated. Some towns produced special decorated trams for the occasion so I'd guess that the Parks & Gardens staff were busy at the same time. Royal Weddings generate plenty of decoration and doing this ties your model to a date in a way that's easy for non-enthusiasts to understand.

Looking bigger, Christmas layouts done properly are very uncommon. I don't mean raiding a cake decorating shop for plastic reindeer and spraying fake snow everywhere. I'm thinking about strings of unlit lights across roads and on the front of buildings. Notices and adverts mentioning festive stuff. Perhaps a Salvation Army band in the street and people trying to flog hats and mistletoe getting in peoples way. At the very least it's a good excuse to run some extra trains as passenger numbers are up. On top of this, the PW gangs will be getting ready to make use of the festive shut-down.

Of course this does introduce some interesting problems. Bunting, the traditional flags on a rope sort, won't be simple to make in 4mm scale requiring some dull time sticking little bits of paper to thread I suspect. The results should be pretty though. Those flags on cars could be made with a bit of wire and then some PVA to represent the furled material. Put a dot at the top and as it runs down I bet the shape won't be too far off. If you must have fluttery ones then take a look at the real thing - that material is going to be gossamer thin if it's scale. An etched flag (go on, someone make them) with a coat of paint is going to be chubby by comparison.

Whatever, this sort of thing ought to throw the dingy browns and greys of our models into sharp relief – a bit like real life really.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pete's train set

Railway bridgeLast Saturday, myself and a small group from the Leamington & Warwick Model Railway Society took a trip up north to see Pete Waterman's model of our local station (Leamington Spa, obviously). You have probably seen photos of this in some of the magazines over the last few months and very impressive it is too.

It's very weird looking at the rail bridge you drove under a few hours earlier, reproduced in 7mm:1 foot scale yet that's one of the first things I saw. 6 years into the project, the local area is very recognisable to us Leamingtonians. The Bath Street Railway Bridgecomplicated rail bridge you can see in the photo is at the bottom of Bath Street and the view is one I see (take a look at the real thing in Google Streetview) a lot while waiting for a post pub bus...

The layout is set in the early 1950's yet very little of the town has changed today. OK, so Avenue Road station no longer exists and it's corresponding bridge (behind this one) is long gone but apart from a single building beside some advertising hoardings, it all looks pretty much the same. An aerial photo confirms this. Obviously this makes measuring up a whole lot easier for the builders. That's a good thing really as they haven't been able to locate any plans for the current station despite Pete being friends with the current chairman of Network Rail !

The building construction is interesting. In an effort to avoid the warping that can occur in insufficiently braced models all are based on a perspex shell (the green stuff in the picture) with the surface material applied to this. As well as strengthening up the model it also results in pre-glazed windows.

I'll admit to not running any trains myself. Our visit was shared with some guys from Manchester club and they seemed keener to get some controller time which was great - no responsibility for 48 wagon trains yet plenty of watching them go by.There were even some nice sound effects coming from a diesel (Class 44 I think, one with a pointy nose that isn't a 37. Or Deltic.) as well as a pannier (different effects obviously). I'm sure the layout can be run very realistically to a proper timetable but to be honest we weren't there for a serious session. Besides, who is going to get tired of full length trains working Hatton Bank ?

The quality of modelling is very high. Pete gave us a quick demo showing how he paints teak coaches. I've read various techniques to reproduce this finish and all seem like a lot of hard work. This simply involved a spray of a suitable (from the Just Like the Real thing range obviously) undercoat followed by careful application of Ronseal teak stain. The trick is not to mix it fully and "pull" the stain as you apply it. This is exactly what you don't want to do when painting normally but this time it causes the pigment and shellac to separate slightly resulting in a very effective wood grain./ A second coat builds this up and if you want darker wood, keep doing it. When the finish is dry, the coach is lined, varnished and then weathered using powders.

Personally I preferred the demo of modifying the frames of an express locomotive with a Dremel and burr to stop the wheels shorting against the, Apparently the loco was built from an early JLTRT kit where the frames are a little too scale. A bit of violent modification saw the model traversing tight crossovers without upsetting the DCC though.

I really look forward to seeing progress in the future. The current station building is still to come as is quite a lot of detail. Once complete (if any layout this size can be complete) it's going to worth seeing. Good fun too.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Purple - WHY ?

HeadcodesAt the front of the railcar is a route indicator. Behind the rectangular windows should be some lettering. Someone very cleverly decided that the easiest way to supply this was to print it on the instruction sheet. This could be cut out and stuck into the model So far, so good.

Back in the days of old money, Airfix instructions were in black and white. To be honest, when this kit was designed, everything was in black and white, colour not having been invented. By the time the kit I bought was produced, some numpty graphic design bod at Dapol presumably decided this wasn’t radical enough and opted for dark purple instead. (I know it looks red in the photo - I assure you in real life it's a regal purple)

Now, I’m no expert but I’m pretty sure that British Rail never used purple as a background on destination or indicator blinds. Not even your new fangled railway companies with their crayzie liveries have tried this one. Therefore I’ve got to fix this. The ideal solution would be make up new blinds with transfers. That’s not a goer as the typeface is a bit weird (does anyone know what it is called ?) and the only transfers I have in it are for a Class 20, whose headcode box is a lot bigger than the one on the railbus. I’m not buying a pack of letters for 2 digits on one model – far too tightfisted

Plan B involves doing something on the PC. I probably could find something nearly right but to be honest that meant going downstairs and switching the thing on and quite frankly I couldn’t be bothered.

Which leaves plan C. Paint over the purple with black. The result doesn’t need to be perfect as the “glass” it will be visible through is s scale 8 inches thick. Careful brushwork is giving promising results although I think I’ll need to do the white as well. If I can find my white gell pen and it hasn’t dried up then that will be the tool for the job.

If not I’m back to plan B.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Glazing the railcar

Glazed front endThe place where an injection moulded plastic kit scores over all others is when you get to glazing. The parts are moulded so they fit nicely in the openings and the result is flush with the sides. This is especially important on the corners where the prototype designer incorporated curved glass. The only other way I can think of achieving this effect would be with some vac-formed plastic and even then it would be a fiddle to fit, albeit slightly clearer. Bending flat styrene would never work as the natural spring back would defeat any glue used to hold it in place no matter how much bad language went into fitting it.

Anyway, the first job I did was painting the bars on the side windows that represent those greatly missed opening sections. Matt aluminium from my nearly empty Humbrol pot (why don’t they do this anymore, it’s so useful) applied with a fine brush looks good. Where the paint ended up in the wrong place I used a sharpened matchstick to move it before it dried. Not a totally successful trick but better than nothing.

Glazing started at the front. I found that separating the four window part into two side and windscreen pairs made the install a lot easier. The gap between the flat panes could be reduced ever so slightly with the resulting join invisible behind the pillar. Working my way around the body I tacked the “glass” in with plastic cement (Revell Contacta) and then washing some Mek Pak along the top to get a nice strong join. Handling the parts with tweezers meant only one slightly fogged corner and that I can write off as weathering.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Inspiring warehouse

Wood StreetThey say that you should always build models from life rather than copying things that someone else has done. That way mistakes aren’t perpetuated or even magnified when the copier compounds errors made by the person they are copying. No Chinese whisper type modelling please ?

What they don’t say is that you can’t be influenced by other people. Look at this scene from the 7mm scale layout Wood Street.

Now at the back of the layout in a box there are some sidings, just like the picture, and I have a fancy to put a loading bay alongside one of them. In fact the track work has been arranged to allow enough space for this. The platform won’t be wide but I should be able to achieve the Board or Trade regulation 6 foot minimum – or did this jut refer to station platforms ?

The canopy is easy enough but I think I’ll skip the boxed in loading hoists as too pretty for me. There are some plastic industrial windows in the stash of bits so I have that problem solved. How I do the round toped brickwork above them I’m not sure at present. Scribed plasticard is my usual trick but if anyone can suggest something better I’d appreciate it.

One area I won’t be copying is the cobbled track. It’s not that easy to do properly and less common than you’d expect. Also, you only infilled track where vehicular access was required, not likely to be an issue on my little line. I fancy some fine ballast up to the top of the sleepers for this area. Unless I look at the finished product and change my mind again.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dirty underframe

Dirty underframePhotos of the Park Royal railcar are surprisingly difficult to find. Colour pictures appear to have been taken on film based on unicorn skin. The only ones I’ve found, in "Scottish Region Colour Album No 1" by George C. O'Hara, are gloomy and really only show the vehicle end on.

Only a single picture gives me any indication of the state the sides got in after a little running. Basically the underframe is filthy. Really filthy. This contrasts with pretty clean bodywork. At a guess these things were looked after by the shed staff who cleaned the shiny bits and ignored the rest. I’ve never entirely understood this, surely you want the mechanical bits kept clean as well so the dirt doesn’t stop them working ?

Anyway, in mode form my solution has been to paint everything below the body with Precision Weathered black. This was dry-brushed with some rust and gunmetal. Then the mechanical bits are airbrushed with a few dilute coats of track colour. Finally I brought the body and chassis together and wafted more very dilute brown along them both. The look I’m going for is a railcar that is in service and has been cleaned but not recently.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Etched Brake Van in Hornby Magazine

This month's Parker's Guide in Hornby Magazine shows me building an etched ballast brake van from MARC Models. It's an interesting kit for an unusual prototype and goes together pretty well. I think I can claim a tiny bit of credit for this as I had the pre-production kit and made a few suggestions to improve assembly. These were taken well and the changes ensure things drop into place.

The article itself looks IMHO really good on paper - one of the best results I've seen. The pictures came out well and the designer has created a really lively set of pages. I know this isn't anything to do with me (well the pictures are but the layout isn't) but when this works I can't help feeling a bit chuffed.

MARC Models

Hornby Magazine

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Prices of models

Some things never change. This letter and its reply are over half a century old and yet seem strangely familiar to anyone who read the current magazines letter pages...

Model Railway News - September, 1946

An Open Letter to the Trade

Dear Sir,-One year after the war shows the model industry just beginning to open up again, and many of use who have had pipe dreams were hoping that soon we would be able to begin to realise some of them. Instead, many of us are finding that we will have to give up our hobby, and turn to aeromodelling instead. Needless to say, there is only one reason, and it is the high prices. Aero-model kits cost but a few shillings, whereas it looks as if at least fifty pounds is going to be needed to obtain the nucleus of a model railway system in the future.
I, and many others, saved ten or so pounds in the hope of restarting after the war, when things and prices, we hoped would return to normal; but it hasn't worked out that way.
The second-hand market was of no use to us because of the ridiculous prices being asked; for example, a Hornby Princess Elizabeth, costing five guineas before the war, is very often today offered second-hand today at prices varying from fifteen to seventeen guineas.

Of this, I say little, because anyone who is foolish enough to be fleeced thus, deserves all he gets, but what of the new models now appearing on the market ?

Messrs. Bassett-Lowke start the ball rolling with a kit of parts for building a Mogul. This, pre-war, cost £3 15s. 0d., but now I see that the price has risen to £9 9s. 0d., plus purchase tax. I cannot see myself how such a large increase is justified, but, no doubt, Messrs. Bassett-Lowke can explain. Practically everything has risen in price since 1939, but seldom more than 100 to 150 per cent. Some things even remain practically the same, except for purchase tax, and to give examples I will merely quote Messrs. Hover, with their vacuum cleaner, and things like electric light fittings, and certain domestic fittings.

Many of these things are made of the same materials as our models, so the increase cannot be caused there, and I do not think that labour costs, wages, etc., have risen 200 per cent.

I have not picked out Messrs. Bassett-Lowke for any other reason than that they are first in the field, bit I think that I, and many hundreds more, would like to know how we stand. Are the model firms going to cater for the masses, or only for the lucky few who can afford to pay big prices ? Don't kill the Golden Goose.

Lastly, I should be very interested to hear the views of the Editor, the many firms concerned, and my fellow readers, on what I think is a very important question.

Yours faithfully,

D. S. Codner

London, W.2.

Model Railway News - November, 1946

Post-war Prices

Dear Sir,-We are very interested to read Mr D. S. Codner's letter in your September issue with reference to post-war prices of productions of model manufacturers.

Might we preface our remarks by stating that we do not think that there is any manufactured article, where skilled labour is involved, which has not had its retail price doubled (exclusive of Purchase Tax), unless the price is reduced by a subsidy from the Government. We would also point out that, as stated in the House of Commons recently, the present purchasing value of the £1 is now only 8s. 5d.

Now as to the special case stated by your contributor, our kits of finished parts for building a "Mogul." The original price of £3 15s. was an estimated price before any of the sets had been produced and immediately the first production had gone through the works, it was found that the price was very much under-estimated and the actual retail price was altered to £5 5s. until the out-break of war. As far as materials are concerned, these have not increased to an extent of 100 per cent., but it must be remembered that the cost of the materials used in models is very small proportion of the total cost. However, owing to the shortage of materials, and the small qunatities obtainable, it is very often necessary to produce goods in small batches, which adds to the cost.

Labour is the most important item in the cost. In pre-war days, the process of upgrading labour from boys of school-leaving age to journeymen of twenty-one produced semi-skilled labour between the ages of eighteen to twenty years, which at present is not available owing to the calling-up of workers for the Forces. Thus this leaves unbridgeable gap between the unskilled and full-skilled labour.

In common with most employers, youths who were called up for the Forces now return as men, and are being reinstated. The four to five years which they have been away resulted in the loss of the experience they had in the skill of model making.

Skilled labour, including tool-makers necessary in the production of our goods, costs at least twice what it did before the war period.

Overhead expenses have not increased to the same extent but, owing to the Limitation of Supplied Order, a smaller quantity of goods have to carry larger overheads.

Some engineering products, we agree, have not increased to 100 per cent. above pre-war prices, but these are in cases where skilled hand labour is almost eliminated and where huge quantities of a single article are made at one time.

We can assure your readers that the whole of the industry is anxious to keep prices as low as possible, consistent with good wages (which were very rare in pre-war days), as we hope the rate of pay of the expert can be maintained in the future, according to his skill, always taking into consideration the relative cost of living.

We also hope that production will soon make it impossible for extravagance and high prices to be charged for second-hand pre-war goods.

Yours faithfully,

Bassett-Lowke Ltd.

(W. J. Bassett-Lowke, Managing Director)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Back to the 70's (part 2)

Pola bungalowI'm sure this building was in the Hornby Railways 1978 catalogue. I remember it well be cause it inspire to me to do some real model making.

In case you don't recognise it, this is a modern bungalow manufactured by Pola and re-sold by Hornby. There were several models in the range including a very un-British coaling stage with bucket crane. Despite being HO I doubt anyone cared much as we didn't have much choice in those days. Apart from a few Airfix models, plastic kit buildings were something Johnny foreigner enjoyed. We Brits had Superquick or scratchbuilding. Every so often someone would write a magazine article showing how you could bash a continental kit into a reasonable looking UK station.

None of this mattered to me. My pocket money didn't stretch to anything as exotic as a plastic kit like this. What I did have was a sharp knife and cornflake packets. As I recall my version was the same colour and, to my eyes, every bit as good as the one in the catalogue. That's not to say I wouldn't have loved to take the trip to the local toyshop and buy the plastic version but in the end the experience was character building and helped get me where I am today.

Please note: This is my 1500th post to this blog. That means I've either assembled a terrific body of work, or been wasting far too much of my time ! Now as a thank you, how about you all club together and buy me a Tamya Sand Scorcher. Go on. Pleeeaase !

Friday, June 11, 2010

Starting the engine shed

engine shed startWith things working, I can start planning for the scenic detail. In the engine shed I want to install a locomotive inspection pit.

Looking at photos of prototype installs, it appears that inside the shed the floor was flush to the bottom of the rail. I'm going to try decorating filler for this but first I need to get the sleepers over the top of the pit out of the way. Knowing this was ahead I didn't stick them down when the other track was fixed. Hence a soldering iron and screwdriver is enough to flip them out of the way and back into the spare pot for the next layout. At least I didn't think I did but you can see leftover glue marks that give lie to this.

Under the rail I've glued a length of sleeper strip usually employed for pointwork. The rail is soldered to this using a Tracksetta to make sure it's both straight and to gauge.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Wiring the frog

Point motor wiringThis post is dedicated to everyone who has written an article on a model railway and included a phrase along the lines of "I don't understand the wiring..."

Here we see how the polarity of the point frogs is changed. The black wire goes from the common to the frog. The red wires go to the stock rails either side of the point. Thus the frog takes the polarity of whichever rail the operating rod is nearest.

I know this could be a bit slicker and wire the feeds from the underboard stuff but this method means less wire under the board and more simplicity for stupid people like me.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Book Review: The Manx Electric and Snaefell Mountain Railways, A Modellers & Historians Inspiration

Plenty of title there for your money !

The basics: A4 sized softback book. Full colour throughout. 180 pages.
I'm a sucker for books on Isle of Man transport so you won't be surprised that I have been looking forward to this publication since I first heard of it a couple of months ago. Seeing it in the Ian Allen bookshop, I wasn't disappointed.

The author, Robin G Winter, starts the text with a potted history of the lines. Next the routes are described, so far so standard and I don't see anything that a Manx enthusiast isn't likely to know already. After this though, things become a bit more serious (some may say the book gets more anoraky) with descriptions of the permanent way, power and traction infrastructure, the sheds and rolling stock. Next there are photos and plans of various tramcars on both the MER and Snaefell lines. Again, the information isn't new, just brought together in a single place for a change. After all, not everyone has dug through piles of old model railway mags !

Liveries get excellent coverage and if you fancy some modelling action the various colours are shown and model paint equivalents are listed. Even the visible wood versions are there with suggestions of base colour and grains.Should you care, and I'm probably nerdy enough, then even the traction pole paint is detailed. Who knew they changed so much over the years ?

The back of the book covers suggestions for models of the systems and then some examples of those that have already been built. Suppliers get a mention too - obviously this section will date but with the pace of MER/Snaefell models and kits being produced, not very quickly.

In summary, this isn't a dry and dusty tome. If you want a truly scholarly and dull approach then you'll need to go elsewhere. For those who are really interested and fancy building a model of one of these lines then it is the business. My only complaint involves the reproduction of the photos. There are a lot of them and the colours don't seem to have much "punch". That's partly due to the age of some of them of course but a lot is down to the printers. It's a minor quibble though and for me, this book is well worth the £24.90 it cost.

Buy the book from the TLRS website.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


DroppersYou gotta love PCB track - if there is one thing it makes easy, it's attaching wires. No need to fiddle around trying to get solder to stick to the side of the rail - especially "entertaining" if the manufacturer has coated with with an anti-oxidation chemical. Me, I just get to solder the wire to the sleeper.

Some people use a bit of copper wire for this and then attached the cored wire to this under the board. I can't see the point of this as it's just another joint to go dry and fail. Maybe if you are using some big fat welding cable to channel your electricity, this might be neater but for those of us employing normal wire, there isn't much to choose. Once the ballast is in place, the wire will be invisible.

In the photo you can see a couple of other things of interest. The point motor wire hasn't been properly cut to length yet. I'm not sure what it's made from but only my biggest wire snips will attack it. In the end a slitting disk in the minidrill completed this. There are motor shafts more cuttable than this material.

The other is the black ended tie-bar. That's permanent pen to stop me soldering the switch rail to the stock one, or at least try to stop this happening !

Monday, June 07, 2010

First run

With the point motors attached, it's time to play with this little model railway. Sorry, I mean start a comprehensive testing programme to make sure everything is set up correctly.

At this stage I dont' have any wiring in place so frog polarity is arranged with long fly leads. Obviously this limits things a little but not enough to stop me playing. At least I know all the track is gaped correctly.

The test loco is "Billy" from the Bachmann Junior range. These locos are ideal for this job if you are a OO modeller. The wheel standards are the same as the "proper" range but here is no extraneous detail to get knocked off when the model finds a duff bit of track and falls off. Slow running is adequate and the wheelbase is short enough to show up dead sections. Best of all the models are cheap - this one was well under 20 quid from Howes a couple of years ago - so if you do damage anything it won't be some hundred quid beast you saved up for.

And if you are thinking "That loco looks like a certain blue engine normally seen with a number 1 on the side" you'd be right. It's just that Hornby has the rights for that range in the UK whereas Bachmann can produce them in HO abroad...

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Interesting prototypes make dull exhibition layouts

Watching Arne Warf at Railex last weekend, I was reminded of a sad but unarguable fact.

The Hellingly Hosptial Railway is dull. Not too look at, the visual riches on offer would keep anyone happy for many a day. Nor is the history of the prototype anything other than fascinating. Rather, the problem is that despite all this, it’s not very interesting to operate. That’s why when you see it at a show we are so happy to talk to you. Well, that and we are nice people who love to share information obviously.

You see this again and again. Little layouts are fun to build but rarely offer much in the way of operating potential. The trouble is that the most interesting prototypes such as those out of the way unusual lines simply didn’t generate much traffic or have any real complexity of trackwork. If they had they would be major concerns and someone the exhibition circuit would be knee deep in models of them. Hence every Great Western modeller has had a crack at Ashburton and yet models of the Rye and Camber Railway are thin on the ground

Think of all those atmospheric pictures of bucolic branch lines. There will be a loco simmering at the end of the platform. A few passengers will be waiting for the train to depart so they can see friends or loved ones off. The station master will be checking his watch. A porter stands by barrow loaded with luggage. The signal drops and with a whistle, the loco hauls the short train off into the distance. Apart from bird song and cattle lowing, all is silent. It’s a scene I’ve looked at in photographs many times and wished thought some magical process to be transported to.

Sadly it doesn’t work in model form. By the time the train has made it as far as the home signal, the audience is clamouring for a crack express in the other direction. In fact even if you build a stretch of main line, for entertainment purposes trains have to be thrashing though constantly.

All of which leaves me with a problem. I like unusual lines. I love the history and am drawn to the oddball rolling stock that initially makes my display stand out from all the others at a show. Now, you could point out that the phrase “It’s my train set I’ll do what I like with it” crops up regularly around here so I should just take my own advice and do what I want. That’s fine but I also love taking models to shows. As someone who prefers building to operating, the whole thing seems a bit pointless without an audience.

This comes back to the lines on my “to do” list for the future. A little bit of Isle of Man Steam railway for example. Pretty and interesting to me and many others but, we are mainly talking passenger trains running between small stations. What freight there was travelled almost exclusively tagged on the back of the coaches. At their destination the wagons would be detached and shoved in the appropriate siding. Not much shunting action there. I actually considered Knockaloe internment camp which would make a fascinating looking model but was little more than a couple of sidings which wagons were propelled into – not even a runround loop.

Worse, the infamous Groudle Glen Railway idea. There were only ever two locos on the line at a time (working ones anyway) except during the modern preservation era. The odd works train, a wagon or two taking water to the cafe on the cliffs. Apart from that, lots of passenger traffic that travels from one end of the line to the other. The loco runs around and then takes the train back again. Despite this, the model would have a bucket load more atmosphere than yet another 1950/60 BR steam/diesel layout.

Perhaps I need to formalise this. Design a sliding scale with “Maximum historical interest” at one end and “Maximum crowd pleasing” at the other. Layouts could be graded accordingly and exhibition managers would then have another balancing act to add to their desire to get full coverage of scales and eras. At one end you’d have things like the Necropolis railway, at the other a modern image fictitious midlands stations with a train every 10 seconds. It could be called the “Parker Boredom Scale”.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Railex 201

CottageLast year’s Railex was great and I was really looking forward to my trip to the 2010 show. A train to Princess Risborough, quick look around GRS and then a delicious sausage sandwich from the cafe was followed by the short hop to Aylesbury. From there a gleaming Greenline double decker bus, beautifully restored, dropped us all off at the edge of suburbia, five minutes’ walk from the show. The only dampener was that the threatened rain arrived just as we disembarked but no matter. And if you were the man in the front upstairs seat who abandoned the sport part of the Daily Mirror on the seat – your Mum wasn’t around but don’t worry I tidied up after you and put the paper in the bin beside the stop.

Even late morning there was still a queue to pay to get in. What those making use of the gym in the building foyer thought of a load of middle aged people filling the place up I’m not sure. At least we had the decency not be wearing lycra !

The hall was crowded but that didn’t surprise me. This show has a good reputation and is at the end of the “season” so just the place to stock up with all those goodies from the trade before the summer break. More worrying was that my hands had swelled up although I put this down to carrying a heavy (it wasn’t that quick a trip around GRS) rucksack by the handle on the top so as to avoid walloping people when I turned around.

Plunging through the bodies there was plenty to see and many old friends to catch up with. One objective was to go and gently remind some of the traders coming to the Leamington show in January that it was time to return their forms. It might be over 6 months away but we need to know how much space they will be taking now so the layout of the hall can be planned.

Making birdsThe first stop I made for a proper chat was with the people from Pendon. On the front of the stand there was a handy demo showing how to make 4mm:1ft garden birds. I’ve used whitemetal versions in the past on layouts and they have been great fun for visitors to spot, but actually making them from scratch hasn’t ever occurred to me. However, with a bent bit of wire, some solder and very careful painting I too can make a blue tit for myself. On the same stand was a stunning thatched cottage and vegetable garden. We had a bit of a chat about methods – I’ve mentioned before that I think Pendon style modelling is just the thing for the recession, material costs are little more than pennies you just have to put in the time. Of course like most modellers, I kid myself that I could do this but in reality am far too impatient to scribe all the bricks myself. It’s nice to dream though.

By this time I was scratching as random bits of me developed uncontrollable itches. Chatting to Chris Nevard in front of his tiny but beautiful layout, Arne Wharf, saw me rubbing my palms on the nice cold metal barriers to get some relief followed.

Deep crowds stopped me enjoying much layout viewing although the Ffestiniog layout with steam drifting out of the loco chimneys. If I’m honest the effect does little for me which is a shame as the modelling is very nice and the setting of the scene in the lines prime an excellent idea.

Over at Judith Edge kits stand I found out a bit of wallet-lightening news. In the autumn we can expect to see a kit for a class 01 diesel. The prototype kit was on the stand and looked really nice. All versions will be available thanks to an additional etch to make the one-off later version. Since scratchbuilding the loco years ago on a Dapol Pug chassis (same wheelbase and diameter) and subsequently losing the model to theft, it’s been on my list to build. This way I don’t have to cut the material myself.

The other news is that the 3mm scale Clayton (Class 17) kits will be with Dave Finney later this week. For a Scottish branch line a 17 is a good choice – not totally prototypical but near enough for me. It’s a handsome prototype and once I’ve already built in 4mm scale (Heljan, pah. Give me whitemetal so the model weighs as much as the real thing...) and do have a dodgy 7mm kit stashed away so something I can actually use sounds good to me.

The other big purchase was from High Level. I needed a gearbox for an HO scale shunter and had been struggling to work out what would fit. 5 minutes with the man on the stand and I was sorted. What impresses me is that the parts are made into a kit on the spot – he doesn’t have big stocks of ‘boxes ready to go so not too much stock is tied up at one time. Very sensible. Oh, and the Pacer motorising kit looked just the thing for another railcar I have in my pending pile...

FarlieBy this time the scratching was getting really bad. Stopping for a cup of tea and the best carrot cake I’ve ever had in the cafe, my arms looked like I’d been carrying bundles of stinging nettles. Mind you, it wasn’t any more than annoying and so I went back into the hall to carry on looking. The passageways were a bit emptier as theose early arrivals had gone off for lunch making access easier.

At Eileens Emproium, I was just buying a new retractable scalpel handle when I felt woozy. The change and tool were chucked into my bag and I headed for a chair by the open outside door. A dose of fresh air helped but not much. Calling over a steward identified by the walkie talkie he carried (it turned out to be show manager David Lane) soon saw me attended by the shows first-aider (Tim, who is a doctor) and the centre manager, also trained in first aid. I’m not good at being ill and borderline passing out in a hall quite a long way from home isn’t my idea of fun, fortunately the attention was exemplary which helped a lot. I was offered a trip to the first aid room if required but after 5 minutes or so of sitting I was well enough to walk and make my way back to the entrance via the outside world. I made the bus easily enough and noticed that someone had come along just to make sure I was OK as far as the stop – top service.

So, I’m afraid that my show report is a bit shorter than expected. Apologies to anyone who saw me and wondered why I was scratching so much – I don’t think I was contagious. Thanks are due to the club members and centre manager who looked after me. Let’s hope I don’t need anything next year !

Just a little Railex photo album this year.

Railex website.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Adjusting screw holes

Hole fillingThe model railway in a box will be using Seep point motors as they will fit in the space available under the board. I've not fitted these before but essentially they are held in place with two (not provided) brass screws that go through holes in opposite corners of the PCB baseplate.

Toe fit, a hole has to be made in the tie bar sleeper. Then the point motor is offered up and screwed in place making sure that the centre of its throw is that same as the centre of the point throw. That way the ends of the throw will see the switch blades hard up against the stock rails and the polarity of the frog will have been switched.

All this relies on getting the fixing holes in the right place. And when you don't, like me, being able to do something about it. In this case, gluing sharpened match sticks into the badly placed holes to fill them up. The excess is cut of with some flush wire cutters and sanded flat. Then I can make new ones a few millimetre to the sides where they should have been in the first place.

Actually I did quite well. After the first motor, I had got my eye in and did the others without any problems. Or matchsticks.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Gapping sleepers

Slitting disk workPCB track is wonderful stuff - easy to build and very adaptable. The only downside is the chore of putting a gap in the middle of each sleeper to keep the opposing polarities of electric juice apart.

The tool to do this with is a slitting disk in a mini drill. I suppose hand tools can be used but you can't get something like a saw in everywhere and anyway, it just takes too long.

The biggest decision is how to cut the copper. I favour a thin and deep cut. Others try and wear away the metal across a wider area but only remove the metal. My methods is easier and if you are conscientious, allows the gap to be filled afterwards. To be honest I usually can't be bothered with this last step but perhaps I'll do better on this micro layout, detail matters, even the fiddly time consuming stuff.

Obligatory safety note: Slitting disks are one of the more dangerous tools we use. The disk is brittle and will snap with bits flying around the room. Protective goggles are aren't a bad idea especially if you don't wear glasses. The dust isn't good for you either so don't try and hoover it up with your nose.

Obligatory sanity note: The disk is brittle and will snap with bits flying around the room. You can't stick them back together and most shops don't stock them. If you are going a sleeper gapping on a Sunday, stock up.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Slingshot racing round 1

Slingshot No 9First round of the KMBC Slingshot racing series occurred a few days ago. Last year I didn't get down to many races so my tally of laps didn't make it into double figures. This year I had already exposed the boat to the water just to make sure things were OK.

Sadly they weren't. After a year of inaction the Ni-cad batteries held little or no charge. One lap at speed followed by what is best described as a trundle was all I managed. Consulting with people who know about this stuff, it appears this is a known problem but if I cycled (charged & discharged) the batteries a few times, they might recover.

A fellow club member had arranged a good deal on Thurnigy Accucell-6 chargers for us so I had upgraded my equipment - to good effect as it turned out. As suggested I put the batteries through a couple of cycles and by the time of the race was not only able to stay the course, but was on the pace well enough to win my first heat with 13 laps in 4 minutes. Money well spent by the look of it.

In the final I wasn't quite so lucky. A lap of touring with a weed covered propeller didn't help followed by another delay while the boat was turned the right way up after a racing incident (not my fault) involving another vessel. The final total wasn't bad but I reckon a little more luck could have bought me 3 or 4 more laps on the score board.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Wiring diagram

Layout wiring diagram

The great thing about micro model railways is the lack of wiring. It's a job I hate, not because I find it difficult, just dull. Lots of joining bits of wire followed by wondering why things don't work as expected. In fact I dislike pretty much everything electrical, especially debugging old cars which make no sense to me at all.

Anyway, like it or not I need wires to channel electric juice to the locomotives or the whole thing will be a static diorama, so I had to get on with it.

If you read articles in the model railway mags, electrical stuff will be prefaced with some mention that it's all a mystery to the author with the implication that he just threw wires and solder at the layout until it all worked. Alternatively the writer will be the sort of person to not only colour codes the wire but tags them and has a folder showing schematic diagrams.

Me, I like to keep things simple which leads to very few rules. Those there are are simply applied repeatedly until electric gets everywhere I want it. At this point I should mention I'm doing this with DC, you can keep your fancy DCC thingamybobs thank very much. If I want my trains to make noise, I'll do it myself in the style of Ivor the Engine...

Anyway, the rules are that all feeds are at the toe end of the point. Facing points, for example a crossover, need a complete electrical break between them or the little electric people bump into each other as they run away from the feeds and explode into sparks and things stop working.

What this means for the layout in a box is that there are feeds where I have put triangles and breaks where the double lines are. Simple but effective. A bit like me really.