Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Wanted: A Captain

Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
What scale is this boat ?

It doesn’t say on the packet so I suspect the makers did it all by eye. It’s certainly not based on anything real as far as I can tell, just a generic cruiser. Not that this matters except when it comes to finding a captain.

If I planned things properly then I’d have picked some suitable figures up at the Harrogate show or one of the model shops I’ve been in recently. I didn’t so it was into Leamington to try and find something.

Another element of my lack of planning was not to work out what size person I needed. This meant wandering around a town devoid of toyshops or anywhere else apart from the local railway model shop. This is excellent but mainly 2 & 4mm scale so their figures were likely to be too small.

So during my wanderings I found a man in a JCB (£2.99 bargain), a Harry Potter rip off, G scale Bachmann man and a 1/32nd scale toy soldier.

It looks like the JCB man and the soldier will do the job with the others heading for the spares box to be used again one day. They both need modification but that’s part of the fun.

Monday, February 26, 2007

This is not my boat...

green boat
Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
…but mine looked a lot like this. Perhaps not with a green bottom though.

There we were racing around the pond. I’m in the lead (just) and going well. Then I clip a buoy flipping the boat upside down. No idea how it happened, just lucky I suppose.

This means waiting for the wind to blow my model to the side. None of us had anything suitable to drive the boat rescuing devises – all we had was fast electric and you need slow manoeuvrable models to rescue other boats. Nature and a garden rake had to take its course.

Suprisingly the Slingshot seems to have taken very little water on board. Something must have gone though as a couple of laps into the next race, the propeller screwed itself hard up against the shaft so I stopped dead. These craft don’t have a reverse gear either so that wasn’t an option.

The only thing for it was to return to the bench, take the top off the model and fix things. Still, while I was in there it seemed like a good idea to get painting again.

My racing career isn’t going too well though. I definitely seem to have deja-vu about all this.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Ready for racing

slingshot man
Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
On the last Sunday of every month at the model boat club we are racing Ripmax SlingShots. Last year we tried Tomkats but they proved to be pretty unreliable so races turned into tests of reliability and luck not driver skill.

I have one of the early batch of Slingshots which needed a bit of work. The coupling needed some glue to stop the collar at one end from slipping. I also superglued it to the motor shaft as there was a bit of slipping. The prop shaft end already had a flat filed to allow the grub screw to “key” properly.

With the top off the boat I painted the figure on a whim. Originally I fancied just painting the area around the driver black but this became a desire to give him a different colour helmet. Picking fluorescent orange wasn’t clever – the paint slipped off the supplied red colour. I suspect a matt paint would have worked better here.

The top was taped back on the boat with black insulating tape as the original stickers don’t take kindly to removal. This looks pretty nice if neatly done and anyway, most of the boats in the club have long since lost the original graphics for the same reason.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Swimming platform

swimming platform
Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
Let me start this post with a warm welcome to readers who have found my blog via Modelboat Mayhem. I also need to apologise to you as the link you’ll have followed will have brought up only the posts relating to model boats – and there haven’t been any new ones for a week ‘cos I’ve been writing about model railways. If you want the full, unexpurgated version of this blog try this link. You might want to dig back in the archives as well because there is a lot of boat content in there that predates Blogger’s facility to categorise posts.

Anyway, there has been a bit of boat progress. My cardboard boat (hereafter known as Idris) now has it’s swimming platform attached. This is a great example of the laser cut woodworkers art. I doubt that it would be possible to cut all those squares out of a sheet of wood any other way. All I see is grief as the wood splits or the holes become irregular in size. Perhaps it’s my lack of skill but I know I couldn’t do this any other way. If there grid isn’t perfect though, it will stand out a mile.

The wood was sprayed with Plasticote varnish and then lightly sanded. Using waterproof (I hope) PVA I stuck it to the back of the model complete with it’s little supporting pieces. The whole lot was then brush painted with satin varnish. Great care had to be taken to avoid filling any of the holes – there is enough surface tension in the varnish to do this if you aren’t careful.

I know this part is in the kit, but I’m not sure about it. The instructions say to put it pretty much at the waterline. While this is fine for the small scale swimmer it will prevent the boat getting up on the plane as the moment we have sufficient speed, the lifting of the front of the hull will cause the platform to dig into the water and act as a brake.

If this is a problem I can see me making some alterations. No chance of that until I can sail on some fish free (there is a problem with carp in our lake, they are big enough to sink a boat like this. Negotiations with the landlord are ongoing but if I can lay my hands on a big net or some dynamite…) and get a bit of speed up.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Bad exhibitors

early packing up
Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
Towards the end of every model railway show you will notice the exhibitors being bad. Breaking the rules. Doing terrible acts.

They will be surreptitiously packing up.

It doesn’t seem to matter what time the exhibition finishes, you always seem to feel the need to tidy things away a little early. In our case spare stock will go back in the stock-box instead of littering the fiddle yard. Trains will go in and never come out or at least the wagons won’t.

Some people actually start dismantling bits of layout but I have to say this is going a bit far. If you need to remove the fascia to get home at a reasonable time then you’ve travelled too far or built a model that takes too long to dismantle.

All of this was very evident at Harrogate last weekend. The organisers had written very clearly that there was to be no packing up before the 5pm finish. I expect that this is partly a health and safety thing since you don’t want members of the public wandering around while bits of wood are flying. Mostly though I think that because they are used to running caravan shows and therefore not comfortable with people who have to be paid to attend, so they wanted to extract full value for money out of us.

Perhaps I can offer a few pointers:
1) We haven’t been paid, we got expenses, or to be precise petrol money. Expenses, when you are at work, include an amount to cover the other costs of running a vehicle. We had to prove receipts for everything, hence we only covered the fuel. No one makes a profit.
2) We aren’t that bothered whether you spot us doing this. Future invites will be based on the layouts appearing in the magazine, not on the number of wagons visible at 5pm.
3) If you are going to send some round to check, don’t make them wear a sweatshirt saying “Exhibition Organiser” on the back.

Now you might think that this is all very unfair to the public. They’ve paid to come to a show and we haven stopped playing early. I’m afraid this is true but most exhibitors are quite professional about it. If there is a real crowd than trains run. If all you see on the other side of the barrier are a couple of other exhibitors wandering around then or some bored punters eaking out their tickets by staying in the hall but only giving models a cursory glance, it’s only natural that the enthusiasm wains after 2 or more days of performing.

A useful hint to any prospective visitor – coming in to a show an hour before the end is not the best way to see everything. It sounds obvious but most shows have them. People busy running around attempting to view all the models and shop at all the trade stands.

Why ?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
Once upon a time a fellow exhibitor regaled me with tales of his post show activities. He claimed it took six weeks of work to get his locos back into shape after a show.

I always wondered what he was doing with them over the weekend. My rolling stock goes back in the box after an event and the only reason it normally comes out is for the pre-show wheel clean and perhaps a light oiling. Perhaps he’s hitting them with hammers of something…

I have had to do a little maintenance after Harrogate though. For travelling there is a board that screws to the top of the backscene and stops stuff falling into the model and destroying the overhead wire. While we packed up I managed to cross thread one of the bolts and thanks to the power of the electric screwdriver, rotate the captive nut in the board.

So back at home I had to make the nut captive again. Since the hole was rather battered I soldered the nut to a bit of brass. Some Araldite holds the whole assembly in place – hopefully for a long while.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


dry joint
Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
This was the only problem we experienced with the layout over the Harrogate weekend. One dry joint.

It wasn’t even a dry joint at the start of the day, the problem only appeared after a couple of hours. I blame the arctic conditions in the hall. They cause the overhead wire to tighten up so the trolley poles came off occasionally. They also made the rails shrink and broke the soldered joint on the far side of this pair of rails.

I won’t hear a word about the dodgy workmanship, or the unusual alignment of the track (who said “dogleg” ?). For some reason I’ve never quite got around to tidying this up. I can’t even work out how it managed to end up in this shape in the first place…

Some people say dry joints and electrical problems are to be expected when you take a layout to a show. I’d disagree. It should be possible to build the problems out as you put the model together. This was taught to me by people with much more complicated wiring than I’ve ever used and to their credit, they never had any real problems.

Monday, February 19, 2007

This is what we do

harrogate show
Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
What a happy scene. Contented punters watching the layout. I think this family were taking part in our “spotting game” where we challenge visitors to find various animals on the model. I expect they had got as far as trying to find the robin – always the toughest one as it’s only a couple of millimetres long.

The picture pretty much sums up the event. Lots of people asking questions chatting to us. Far better than those shows populated entirely by enthusiasts. This species will happy talk to their friends and tell each other how you did something. It never occurs to them to speak to the idiot with the controller. What a shock it is for them to realise that we can hear what they say and aren’t afraid to correct them when they get it wrong !

I’ve never understood this. The attitude probably stems from a fear of being seen not to know something – surely the solutions is to ask the guy who has done it and learn from him ? No. Of course it isn’t. Far better to wonder and the scurry home to try and find the answer in a book or magazine. Better still, lets not actually do anything just in case it doesn’t go perfectly.

Here is a newsflash – what you see at any show is the culmination of months or years of effort. No one makes the things you see the first time they try. The difference between most exhibitors and the average modeller is that they try, try, try again. Then they only show the good stuff.

Much on show at events is beyond me but this isn’t a problem. If I look at Ian Rathbone’s painted models I know I can’t achieve a finish like he does. But them I’m not a professional and haven’t painted nearly as many models as he has. It doesn’t mean I don’t get to ask what causes “orange peel” paint finishes (The paint being too thick and drying before spreading apparently. Put more thinners in it.) so I can try and improve.

Likewise, every layout is a series of models. You build one and add it to the completed whole until the whole scene is finished. I know that the first time a visitor sees it they are awed by the detail – that’s the point – it didn’t all arrive at once though.

Every journey starts with a single step. Every model railway starts with a single model, be it a bit of track, locomotive, wagon, building or even a robin.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


We've just got back from the Harrogate show and unloaded the car. I am now too tired to do much in the way of a post, however in case you are interested, here's how the weekend worked out-

Friday: 5.5 hour drive up a blocked M1 to the venue. Either the road was non-moving thanks to roadworks at the junction with the M18, or covered in rain and spray so I couldn't see where I was going. It's difficult to decide which was worse to be honest. We got to the hall OK and set up the layout fairly quickly. The floor plan had evolved enough so that we weren't directly behind a pillar. After a nice meal of pie and chips (I had 3 bean chili after a bad encounter with a steak & ale pie at a show last year) off we head to the hotel. This meant following the instructions printed off the interweb by the nice show organisers, or it would had they not missed out two lines ! In the end some random driving around Harrogate resulted in our arrival at the very nice hotel. A quick freshen up later and after a stroll we found the only pub in Yorkshire that doesn't do proper beer..

Saturday: Excellent breakfast. Busy show. Freezing cold hall. Very friendly and chatty crowd. Layout works well with only one dry joint. Picked up a few bargains. 3-course meal in the evening (this is what your subs pays for BRM subscribers. Thanks) and then a bit more beer and sleep.

Sunday: Bit of a panic as I thought I'd lost my wallet. Canceled my card and then found it again. Nice breakfast. Managed to investigate some ancient history as all the yoghurt's were several days out of date... Cold venue again and as it was a Sunday less in the way of crowds. Still friendly though. Packed up in 20 minutes and then drove for 2.75 hours back home. Unloaded. Checked e-mail and deleted loads. Posted to blog.

I'll do more tomorrow and maybe manage some pictures.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Green modelling

Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
“Why are you showing us pictures of your rubbish ?”, I hear you enquire.

Simple. There wasn’t enough glazing in the kit for the cardboard boat. Now I could have obtained some “proper” clear plastic from a model shop. Or I could do what I did this time and pinch some from a bit of packaging in the bin.

It works just as well and makes me feel all environmentally sound as I’ve stopped just a bit of plastic ending up in land-fill.

Now I’m at the top of the slippery slope that leads to a house full of useful packaging that is kept for the day when it can be used for some other task. I must resist, I really must…


faded panel
Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
I spoke too soon last night. Once I peeled the old pictures off the information board I realised how long they had been there.

Long enough for the little sunlight that hits the board to fade it.

Behind each picture there is nut-brown wood. In between the brown has faded a little toward grey. The new pictures are smaller than the old ones so I need to re-varnish the wood before putting them on. This means all the other photos have to come off and some of those will need to be replaced.

Nothing is ever simple is it ? I bet the wood wouldn’t have faded if I done this in plenty of time instead of a couple of days before a show.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

New old photos

Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
Along the front of the layout, I have a display board. It contains photographs, maps, adverts and a brief description of the model. The visitor gets to know that I haven’t made it all up – there was really a railway running to the Hellingly Hospital ‘cos they can see the pictures and everything.

The documentation also gives the punters something to read which makes up for the lack of 12 coach express trains hurtling through the scenic section. I like to think this entertains them a bit although I’m probably deluding myself. In reality they are just looking so they feel that full value for money has been squeezed out of the show.

Anyway, this paperwork has been on the model largely unchanged for several years. I know very few people will notice but some might, especially if they have seen me before.

I also have several new photos that haven’t been seen before so I must take the opportunity to do something about them. The current crops aren’t that great quality either as I did them on a laser printer years ago so some inkjet versions on proper photo paper will improve the display.

Funny job this. When you start building toy trains (sorry, finescale model railways) you think about track and trains and all the conventional stuff. Doing the research perhaps enters your head but actually displaying this as well as the model is still unusual. Putting the model in context isn’t a bad idea. It certainly helps defend yourself against the charge of being a grown man just playing with trains. Good grief I’m nearly David Starkey now !

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bath Time

Bath Time
Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
This photo followed a nervous moment. While I doubt that any model boater is entirely at ease as their creation gets wet of the first time, most haven’t made all the nautical bits out of cardboard. Any hints of a crack in the waterproofing paint and varnish and I could enjoy watching the model soak up the contents of the bath.

Fortunately this didn’t happen. The model sat nicely on the water with the waterline at about the right place. One of the best launches so far in my model boat career.

I then tried the radio gear. It worked as well. In fact it worked so well that I can 3-point turn it in the tub. OK, it’s not a big boat but it is very manoeuvrable. Even reverse isn’t bad. If I’d charged the battery properly I might have had quite a good sail.

There may be problems ahead as this is a very light model and I wonder how it will behave on a lake with slight cross winds. That will have to wait though as it’s too dark in the evenings to check and I’m away at the weekend. Anyway, the windows in the superstructure haven’t been glazed yet and I’m not going anywhere near our fish-infested sailing area with holes in the top.

One thing I will do is very carefully dry this hull out every time. I know I sprayed a lot of varnish on and did everything I could to keep the water out but it still worries me.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Skaledale Baskets

wicker boxes
Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
I don’t really approve of ready-made items for layouts. It seems to take all the fun out of modelling. Hornby’s excellent Skaledale range is a case in point. Why make your own buildings when you can buy them ready made for a reasonable price ?

Some things are tough to make though. Wicker baskets. How the hell do you do these in 4mm scale ?

For four quid I bought a pack and they are now glued (with PVA) to the layout. Of course I didn’t like the colour so they were treated with a wash of track colour and a dry brushing with pale grey. Otherwise they are excellent and just the think for a model set in 1900.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Show preperation

brm show plan
Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
This time next week, I should be driving back from the BRM Show in Harrogate. With a bit of luck the weekend will have gone well and we’ll be considering stopping at a Little Chef en route for traditional post show meal.

This means that today, the Hellingly Hospital Railway layout has had to be erected for testing. It’s a pretty simple model without much to go wrong but I still like to check everything out anyway. If I’m going to have to fix anything my preferred venue is at home a week ahead of the show rather than after a three hour drive and sat in the middle of an exhibition hall.

Everything ran OK. I tried one of the electric engines and the latest steamer. Both covered every inch of the track without problems. No dry joints are present at the moment. The points work as well. Best of all, setting the stand up now means I can make sure I take everything I need and don’t remember a vital part 300 miles from it !

This might all be a bit of a waste of time however. The picture shows the plan of the show I’ve been supplied with. It looks suspiciously like we are behind a pillar. Now the model only has a 3 ½ foot long scenic section so if the pillar is a couple of feet wide then visitors aren’t going to see very much.

Let’s just hope that the plan isn’t that accurate.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Attention to detail

Warley Clubrooms
Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
A few weeks ago my father and I were flattered to be invited by Warley Model Railway Club, to judge the modelling competitions at it’s modelling symposium. This is a large event that takes place at the clubs premises every year. The layouts are running and demonstrators show and explain different aspects of the hobby.

I’ve never been to one of these before so was looking forward to it when we took the train to Sandwell & Dudley station and then trekked across the frozen (OK, slushy) wastes of northern Birmingham. On arriving at the venue I was surprised by a couple of things. The first was the size of the place.

The send was that the symposium takes place tomorrow.

When the invite arrived I had looked at the date and decided it was on Saturday after what was obviously not enough time with the calendar. This Saturday to be precise, or not.

The trouble is that the only way we could get to the venue from my home on Sunday is by car – the first train doesn’t even get us to the centre of Brum until lunchtime. And as regular readers of this blog will know, my car is not working very well at the moment thanks to a lack of engine and a bit of missing bodywork.

Looking on the bright side, we did have a nice day out and the Warley members who were setting up did make us feel very welcome.

Thanks for this lads, and sorry about the judging.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Getting some go

drive shaft
Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
After all the messing around with paint, filler and varnish I can get on with fitting the hardware to make it go.

The instructions make it seem pretty simple. Use a dismantled servo to turn the propeller and a normal servo for left and right. The drive shaft comes pre-assembled. It’s a brass rod stuck on a bolt. Neat and effective although not something that the scale modeller would appreciate. I wondered about it myself but decided to go ahead as the homespun look fitted the boat I was building.

To couple the motor to the shaft a rubber tube is employed. This has worked well in other boats of this size so I’m not going to buy a proper device for this, not least because it would cost about the same as I paid for the kit !

A blob of Blu-tack held the shaft in place and I squeezed glue around the motor, which was in sort of the right place. When this had dried I filled the hole the shaft runs though with “Liquid Nails” glue to fix and waterproof.

The exciting bit of the build approaches- once the rudder is in I can try it on the water.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Super Structure

Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
Just to show that my lack of posting doesn’t mean a lack of progress, here’s a photo of the cardboard boat’s superstructure.

It went together nicely enough with outdoor quality PVA. It’s nice to do some “organic” modelling with no solvents. Of course I spoilt this by painting the while bits in Humbrol and then spraying the lot with polyurethane varnish.

The only problem so far is that I didn’t spot the printed gauges in the bits bag. While they would be nice, I’m sure I can paint something nearly as good in the holes in the instrument panel. I don’t feel stupid about that at all. Honest.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

What do you call a cardboard boat ?

Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
Naming the cardboard boat has caused me to think a bit. Normally I use the name of a pet unless something more suitable presents itself. Since we’ve had lots of pets there is plenty of choice. Even nicknames come in handy – “Pigeon Pie” being the one given by my sister to our dog Ben and now to my Yacht Tug.

This time I have strayed a bit by calling the boat “Idris”. This isn’t strictly speaking the name of a pet or at least not a real one. Many years ago we had a new boiler (I think) which arrived in a big cardboard box. At the time I loved nothing better to play with than a cardboard box, some pens and sellotape. The box became a dragon named after the beast in “Ivor the Engine”. Idris lived in my bedroom for quite a while as I recall (it was along time ago !) and at the corrugated paper found in chocolate boxes. He was very well behaved and good playmate as a small boy could sit inside and hide from his sister.

As my only cardboard pet, Idris is the obvious name for a cardboard boat. I think it’s what the Americans call a “no brainer”.

Naming will be carried out using waterslide transfers printed out on the computer. The liven things up I acquired an image from a dead web site of a cartoon dragon. The whole thing was put together with a DTP package (Pageplus) which allows me to set the sizes and pick from a wide selection of fonts for the text. I made some spares just in case things went wrong – there is no better way of ensuring everything works first time !

The transfers are applied to the model and then given many coats of varnish to stop them sliding off the first time we go for a sail.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Gloucester Docks

Gloucester Docks
Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
Envy is a terrible thing but who can blame me when I find a scene like this ?

I took a trip to Gloucester yesterday and wandered around the historic dockyard. It’s a fantastic place with easily modelable warehouses and interesting features at every turn. OK, so things have changed a lot since the docks were a working port - all the grime has long been sanitised away, but you can still get a feel for the place as it was.

For the modeller, the city is well worth a visit. As I didn’t have time to “do” the museum I’ll certainly back again later in the year. A couple of excellent model shops and a superb second hand bookshop in town are just added attractions.

Anyway, while looking for some food I discovered the Gloucester Model boat club, or at least some of their members who were sailing. They must be the luckiest club in the country – sheltered flat water and lots of it.

These guys were sailing in an area off the main basin although at least one intrepid modeller sailed his boat onto the main expanse of water. It’s pretty quiet so it wasn’t at any risk. Even if it wasn’t I don’t thing he was likely to damage any other boat he’d hit out there. In a fight between a steel barge and a plastic model boat I know who my money is on !

With handy food and toilets the only downside to the “pond” is that most of the banks are ten feet tall and made of concrete. Recovering a dead boat would be a real challenge. Presumably you always sail in packs so you can shove each other’s boats back to the landing area.

You even get an audience of interested visitors. Mind you, sometimes you just want to sail in private when first launching that new model so perhaps it isn’t perfect after all.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Turning over

wheel turn
Originally uploaded by Phil_Parker.
At the moment I’ve varnishing the deck of the cardboard boat. This isn’t the most interesting subject in the world for a blog post though so I decided to dip into my special reserve supply of photos and post a useful tip.

When painting a locomotive chassis, you must remember to rotate the wheels occasionally to get the rods clear of the brakes and to avoid a clean “shadow” where they cover the spokes. Ideally you would put some power through the mechanism to do this but with paint on the treads this isn’t always convenient. It can also be awkward to turn the wheels the quarter turn needed – they will tend to rotate rather more if everything is working !

My trick is to use a pin vice on the rear shaft, or leftover rear shaft, of the motor. Most locos allow you to leave quite a bit sticking out of the back. This ought to be more than enough to get the vice on.

A handy side effect is that rotating the motor in the way shows up any tight spots in the chassis. Not that there should be any at this point of course…