Monday, May 31, 2010

Back to the 70's

R 455This isn't a proper serious post. In fact, feel free to go out and do some bank holiday stuff if you want, the sun is shining and you have the day off after all.

In the meantime I am celebrating 1973.

This is R455, Hornby's Industrial Tank engine introduced in that year. Collectors will note that is is based on the same moulding as the legendary "Nellie" first released in 1962. By the 70's you could also buy it as Connie (2 colours) and Polly as well as this unnamed version.

I remember looking at this little loco in a Hornby catalogue when a child. It must have been an out of date catalogue as even I'm not that old. It stuck in my mind for some reason, probably the shiny dome to be honest, so when digging through eBay a week ago looking for something else, I stuck a tiny bid on it. For less than a tenner including postage, I am the proud owner of a little red engine in surprisingly good condition. The chrome is good, something that any classic car owner knows is important, and the only blemish is a little paint rub in the smokebox handle. I'll touch this in with some satin black and no one will ever know. Incidentally, how do you chrome plastic ?

Actually, at the price this loco has only deperiated very little over the years. Originally sold at £3.53, I still had to cough up £3.25 and I didn't even get a box, just the plastic inner tray. Mind you when I was a kid, that was still rather more than young Phil's pocket money would have run to. Of course I can make up for this now I am a grown-up and can buy the toy trains I want. Well, sort of anyway.

Of course, now I have the thing I've got to work out what to do with it. I do have quite a Triang collection but that's mostly made up for operating accessories (9 Giraffe cars and counting !) so it doesn't really fit in. Perhaps I could get some contemporary wagons and make yet another micro layout up for it. Maybe use appropriate aged buildings.

Or perhaps put some Romfords in, slap some Spratt & Winkles on the ends and use it to anoy finescale modellers ?

For more information, visit the Hornby Railway Collectors Guide website.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Eating custard doughnuts in the gallery

Hellingly in IkonLast week, Evan commented on my post mentioning that a local contemporary arts gallery director that likes his work and is very keen for it to be displayed. This reminds me I ought to post this story:

In 2003, our model railway club received an unusual request. The Ikon Gallery wanted to rent a small layout for part of an art exhibition. Intrigued, I answered the call and a few days later, Nigel, the director called in to see the Hellingly Hospital Railway. He was absolutely delighted and we they would borrow the model for three months. I would be required to attend a couple of times a month to sit beside it and demonstrate model making. In addition I was to fill a display case with examples to explain the hobby to gallery visitors.

On the appointed day, a van arrived to collect the model. I followed by train (the Ikon is in the middle of Birmingham, not an ideal; drive but easy train ride)to set it up. Our bit of the gallery was upstairs in a big white-painted room, not like the sort of exhibition hall we are used to at all ! The entire building was being given over to a huge installation by the artist Rirkrit Tiravaninija Rirkrit Tiravaninija called “Demo Station no.4”. Downstairs he had recreated Bar El Batey from San Juan. This was complete with pool room and bar along with some political drawings. Upstairs was home to a changing display of peoples creative hobbies. Along with myself, we saw calligraphy, origami, golf (?) and many others. The idea, as I understood it, was to celebrate ordinary people’s creativity and to look at the boundaries between what we traditionally define as “art” as produced by artists and the output of those not formally trained.

Each display was accompanied by a video made of its creator showing them talking about their hobby. Mine was filmed at home with the modeling board on the dining table. As I recall I rambled on about the different aspects for the hobby whilst one of our cats decided to “help” out. This made the final cut with cats being a common feature on many of the films. For someone not happy in front of the camera, I thought that the end result was pretty good. All the efforts to get a copy of the tape were in vain unfortunately as it’s a souvenir that I’d have liked.

On the opening night I turned up looking presentably smart and operated Hellingly for the entertainment of the first night crowd. They were a rather different group from the normal audience, better dressed and usually with a wine glass in hand. Very interested too with lots of questions that were a pleasure to answer. For most, it was the first time they had seen a proper model railway layout and it wasn’t what they had expected.

Bits'n'pieces displayOver the next three months, every few weeks I took my bag full of modeling bits and a bite to eat in to sit beside the layout and make things up. Quite a few of the wagons running on Flockburgh emerged from these sessions. While I worked, visitors came to watch and ask questions. Again, most had never seen anything like this and were genuinely interested. I’d been a bit concerned that bored Birmingham youth would be using the free to enter gallery as somewhere to get out of the cold. As it was, this didn’t happen – the curator in charge of each room was able to read rather than act as a bouncer. The displays around me changed occasionally – I have a fine paper penguin, the result of an excellent set of instructions provided the paper folding society – and some were more interesting than others. Pen and nib collectors mounted a terrific display, much of which had been sourced locally from Brummie factories closing down.

Several visiting groups stick in the mid – a graphic design course tutor & students were particularly interested in the selection of Hellingly luggage labels attached to one of the fiddle yards. The varying typography was the cause of some discussion. I gave them a bit of spiel about old fashioned railway posters and the fact that these employed some of the great artists of the period. These things aren’t just for anoraks, they really are great examples of design and should be able to stand amongst any other artworks.

Another group were serious art nerds and we had quite a discussion around what constituted art. Apparently they felt that I wasn’t just taking part in the art installation, I was part of it. I am (or at least was) art.

Read more about the instilation here.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Model boats in the shopping centre

KMBC Priors displaySo why did we chose Saturday, the hottest day of the year so far, to spend inside a great big greenhouse ?

Because we love our hobby and want to introduce more people to it that's why. And we didn't know it would be the hottest day of the year so far.

The plan went well* - on Friday night a load of tables borrowed from work were assembled at one end of the Royal Priors Shopping centre. Handily by JJB spots and the ladies floor of M&S to provide a waiting point for bored husbands, it was the spot the centre management had allocated for us. It's probably the one that can least easily sell to commercial concerns too being the other end of the building from the entrance, but that is fair enough since we didn't have to hand over any cash for it.

Empty of boats the display space looked huge. After the Warwick event, we knew we could put on a good show but we'd planned for an extra 8 feet of frontage. Despite this we were confident and the next morning proved to be right. Over 30 models of all shapes and sizes filled the tables. Everything from RTR fishing boats to a huge live steam Mississippi paddle steamer turned up. In the centre we put a big lifeboat along with a collecting box for the RNLI.

The day started slowly, that good weather deterred the crowds who decided that sitting in the local park was a better way to spend the time. Happily though the shopping centre cooling systems worked well and despite being warm, the temperature never became unbearable.

Those people we did talk to seemed genuinely interested. We were promoting our open day on the 6th June and hoping that we could increase membership by a couple of people. Most of the visitors had never seen anything quite like the display on offer. "Who makes these ?" was one of the most common questions followed by complete surprise when we said that we had.

A few potential members did appear. When someone casually asks if all the models "are RC" then you know you are onto a winner. No one who isn't a bit of a modeller would say this and after a chat to a man who built static models I handed over the leaflets with the hope he'd come down and see what we were up to. That's stage 2 - get them down to have a sail with someones boat and meet club members for some laughs. After that they are hooked and the decent into a world of fibreglass hulls and waterline worries is assured.

*Apart from getting stuck in a cargo lift for 5 minutes but the staff quickly got things working again. Who knew you could get a mobile signal from in one of those ?

KMBC Priors display stand

Friday, May 28, 2010

Fitting magnets

Cutting magnet holesThere are two ways of fitting Spratt & Winkle magnets to a model railway layout. This one, or the way I normally do it.

On the layout in a box, as I know where the track will be in advance, I've simple cut a rectangular hole with a big Stanley type knife (this one is from Wilkinson and features an automatic blade replacement system that is very ingenious - I keep fiddling with it and have to re-load the knife) going through both the cork and into the ply top.

Then, using a chisel type Exacto blade, the wood layers have been peeled away until the magnet sits just under the surface of the cork. A dollop of PVA holds it in place. Using proper S&W magnets allows for a small hole. Cheaper versions aren't as powerful so you have to hack away much more.

And the way I normally do this ? The same basically except that the track is usually laid so I have to use a slitting disk in a mini drill to cut the sleeper centres away first. These usually peel off and can be glued back later. It's another reason for using genuine magnets - they will comfortably fit between the rails in OO gauge.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Uncoupling positioning

Positioning magnetsBefore I start fitting uncoupling magnets to the railway layout in a box, I have to work out where they need to be. To do this the track has been plonked back into place, making sure the point tie bars are over the holes, and then marked out again so I put it back in the same place later.

On a micro layout you need to eek out all the siding space you can so I've been going around pushing wagons along converging tracks to see how close to the point they can be before clobbering each other. Then I mark the ends of the buffers on the board - with Spratt & Winkle uncoupling, this is the point you want the centre of the magnet. Only short wheelbase wagons will be appearing - if you plan on using bogie or particually long wheebase stock including diesels, allow half a wagon length of extra clearance so vehicles can pass without endangering fragile side detail.

On a larger model it's also worth measuring out the distance between magnets to that in a long train only one coupling is over a magnet at a time. This is fine until you introduce the odd long wheelbase vehicle when all bets are off and you can find a train splitting in two places at once. Electromagnet would solve this but I can't be bothered with the extra expense and wiring.

And yes, I know that wagon has an 'orrible big Hornby tension lock on it at the moment. This will be changed eventually, it was just the only one I had to hand...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Printable silk

Printable SilkAt the Mobile Marine Models open day I picked up a sheet of printable silk from Barry's Model Lettering. It's A4 sized and the material is backed with paper to make it run through the printer easily. Once printed this is peeled off leaving just a silk sheet. The sheet cost £2.60. Cotton, linen and vinyl are also available.

The photo shows a cruel close up of the silk side. The weave is a lot finer than it appear here. Also the camera and lighting combination have conspired to make the pure white look a bit yellow and blotchy.

My next job is to work out what to do with this stuff. Barry intendeds it to be used for model boat flags. That's a nice idea as you can make a unique pendant or club flag to hang on your vessel. The makers shows something involving a cot on the instructions. My first thought is 7mm scale wagon tarpaulins. Although these are available, I wonder if the finished on a home printed one would be a bit more realistically course than the paper versions. You could even chop it up and glue the results together to represent the sheets of material that make up the real thing.

For the moment though, this goes into the pile of solutions awaiting problems. I just hope that when the problem occurs I can still find it !

In the meantime, has anyone got any more suggestions ?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Old magnets

Sprat & Winkle PackagingDigging through my stash for some magnets to operate the couplings on the layout in a box, I found these.

I’ve no idea how old they are but looking at the photocopied header card with text that owes nothing to a computer and everything to letter stencil sets, I’ll take a guess at early 1980’s. They are even described as “Sprat & Winkle Line” coupling magnets after the railway to Redbridge modelled many years ago by Derek Munday, the inventor of the couplings. Best of all, the price for a pack is only 75p instead of todays £4.

How things change. Nowadays you wouldn’t think of producing a header card without a computer. The results will look professional but lose that homely touch that characterised cottage industry suppliers quarter of a century (yes, I know, it is a long time isn’t it) ago. I suppose this is progress but you have to wonder if we aren’t losing touch with our roots a bit. I mean, when these were new, modellers would happily take some RTR, chop it up and throw chunks away to make a model that would now be surpassed in quality by average out of the box products today. We moaned that Johnny foreigner had better goodies on the model shop shelf but the craft based hobby in the UK compensated for this with all sorts of odds and sods (most of which seem to be in my cupboard actually) to assist our efforts. The end results had, like this packet, character.

Of course the magnets will still work fine. For reasons I don’t understand, permanent ones never wear out. I’ve even dug them out of old layouts to re-use them in the past. A little bit of history buried in the ballast.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Cork base

Cork DownSidings and yards on the real railway aren't known as homes of perfect ballasting with nicely formed shoulders. Most were second hand rails on old sleepers held in a bed of rubbish. There would be some granite in there perhaps but also a lot of ash and dirt.

Despite this I've laid some 2mm thick cork on the baseboard top. Its stuck down with PVA glue but only where the track is. I filled the gap between the lines mentioned yesterday and smeared it around with an old RAC member card. Then the cork was rolled out on top and weighed down with piles of magazines. At last a real use for them !

One dry I've opened up the point motor holes using a sharp knife. The rest can stay until I've progressed further. My thoughts are at the moment that there will be a bit of a shoulder in some places whereas in others, around the engine shed for example, will be left solid. I'll also chop some cork to give a little ground contour.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Anorak Vision

My dream job:

Did you know that when the BBC Director General’s job comes up, it has to be advertised publicly ? The controller of Radio 4 and 7 was in the paper last weekend but that’s not the one I want, I want to run the telly.

During the interview, one of the questions I’m sure will be asked is “How will you develop the station in the future ?”

My answer will be both simple and brilliant. On day one a flunky will be sent down to the nearest big branch of WH Smith, not the one inside TV Centre, a proper one. The instruction will be to purchase one copy of every magazine on sale. Except the celebrity ones of course – we’ve got to look after the licence fee after all.

While they are out doing this, the Eastenders producers will be in hearing about the new Dalek family moving into Albert Square but that’s another story.

Eventually I will have a big boardroom full of glossy magazines. A couple of hours later many of them will be in the bin but those that remain form the kernel of my new schedule. Creative types will be invited along for a meeting and told to pull something out of the pile and make programmes based on it.

Crazy ? No. You see I know that people will watch the programmes for the simple reason that they are willing to hand over hard earned cash for the magazine. While the sales of mags won’t exactly equate to viewing figures, I reckon that you can allow 50 people viewing for free for each person who pays to read the content and those sort of numbers will be on a par with BBC 4 and even daytime on the main channels. The papers will doubtless nickname it “Anorak Vision” but it won’t matter. For a start the numbers will be on my side, and if the programmes are any good I’m building a loyal audience who will march on any government trying to depose me bearing flaming torches and pitchforks.

All this is because I think that model makers deserve some telly coverage. There is a saying in the celebrity world that if you aren’t on television, you are dead. That’s what is happening to us – if you don’t warrant some airtime then your activities are seen as odd. We are ostracised by a biased media more interested in coming up with yet another take on selling antiques at a car boot sale than doing something new. Just take a look at the number of derivative shows in the nearest listing guide and then despair when we hear how Britain is full of “creative’s” who will get us out of recession.

There have been attempts at this of course. ModelRailway TV is an internet based channel that makes its own programmes. I’m not a subscriber but those who are seem happy. Perhaps with a slight upgrade of facilities (you can make movies on digicam, so TV ought to be easy) they could be providing useful inserts for a magazine style show. A few years ago there was a DVD based version too with the ever prolific Mark Found. The content was excellent even if the presentation was a bit, erm, over-enthusiastic at times. It foundered because people wouldn’t by the DVD in sufficient quantities but the idea was there.

This wouldn’t be limited to toy trains either. What about boat modellers ? Or aeromodellers ? Or pretty much any creative hobby ?

My vision is a magazine style programme that covers both real and model subjects. Something like the BBC’s Countryfile, it will be an hour long and made up of segments with linking presenters. The format is proven for a more general audience than an initial look at the topic might suggest. After all, how many of us are involved in farming ? Despite this, we still spend a chunk of Sunday night looking at it.

There would have to be some standards. Firstly, the shows should be aimed at a general audience. Not dumbed down, but if your interest is in the variety of sandbox shapes employed by Class 31 diesels then you’ll be disappointed. To get the mix right, people who are involved in the hobby will need to be working behind the scenes. Let your average programme maker near it and they will just take the mickey out of the subject. And then I will fire them. The best TV comes from presenters and producers who have respect for the subject anyway. This is not telly for children or idiots.

Second, no “character” presenters. If you want ordinary people to watch, you need to put someone on screen that they don’t laugh at. By all means vary the mix but not every enthusiast is Fred Dibnah and very few can communicate as well as a professional. Not too much Pete Waterman either – he’s everywhere on these sort of things. Besides, there are plenty of people who want to get on the screen so we can pretty much take our pick and get good presenters.

Third, no “character” interviewees. All hobbies have crackpots and that’s what the public associate with them. If a programme is to be successful we need to get interesting people with a story to tell. The show won’t require that many finished models per year, unlike the magazines, so those that make it to screen will be the best and most inspirational. Plus the ones I’ve built but then if I’m running the BBC that’s the way it works.

None of this needs to be expensive either. We can probably get to daytime telly cheap yet the results will be usable across the schedule and thanks to the web we can pick up viewers at any time of day. Of course as soon as this all takes off, ITV will copy it hosted by Ant & Dec. Sky will launch “Sky Shed” and Dave will run the repeats. Best of all, the extra publicity will generate extra interest in hobbies. This will make everyone happier, help our cottage industries thus improving the economy and give youth something to do instead of whining that they are bored.

You’re probably thinking at this point that I am mad. None of this will ever happen. Yet in some small way it already has. Anyone remember the Top Gear race between Tornado, a Jaguar and some moped to Edinburgh ? The filing of the train was some of the best I’ve ever seen and the appreciation of the engineering by the idiot Clarkeson was genuine. No sniggering, this was something to be proud of. There’s also some antique programme on where one of the experts spent some time spraying a standard lamp electric pink, you can make stuff on grown-up telly. Mind you she was working outside with a dust mask (useless against paint spray) held over her mouth which shows the need to people who know what they are talking about to be involved.

Other than a complete absence of imagination and talent among the people who fill the goggle box, there is no reason why we should do this. That’s why I need to be running the Beeb. It’s the last hope for the country. Write to your MP and demand action now !

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mobile Marine Models open day 2010

Boats on benchBoat modellers don't have the advantages enjoyed by their equivalents in the railway world. Not for them the regular trips to halls full of display models and traders eager to lighten visitors wallets. Boat clubs it seems, don't organise their own shows.

Of course there are a few professionally put together events such as the International Model Boat show and very good they are too. However they are few and far between. I doubt there are a dozen significant (more than a pool and single trader) events in a year in the UK.

This may all change however as manufacturers start to take things into their own hands. Deans Marine have run an "open house" for many years. More recent is Mobile Marine Models version. As well as opening up the factory (fascinating on its own) and filling it with stuff, they also have competitor firms under canvas outside. Deans Marine, an electronics supplier, Tony Green Steam, a submarine stand, Scale Model Flags, Brian's Scale Lettering, SHG and Model Platforms Hovercraft - a pretty good selection

Sailing is limited to a small paddling pool. Club displays this year weren't exactly fulsome either. One club seemed to see it as a way for members to sell off their models - but then it saves postage over the eBay option. I wasn't tempted. Much. OK, maybe one but I stood firm and haven't added to my fleet.

On the other hand I did come away with a small stash of tools including a giant sanding stick. Some useful other goodies which will be more fully explored here are in the bag as well. Not all for nautical model making either !

A slightly creepy moment was provided by the "spot the girl" competition - visitors were invited to spot a girl from the photo on a leflet. All we had to do was ask her name and identify the stand she was on to qualify for a draw to win a £10 voucher. Maybe it's just me but I can see a few issues with this apart from the obvious one - the girl in question was pretty much the only person under 35 at the event and whoever does the leaflet needs to understand that photos look much better if you don't horizontally compress the image. MMM have always gone for a slightly odd amateurish "sex sells" policy in the adverts so I'm not surprised they have innovated in this area but the truth is they don't need this - the kits look great, the spare parts very nice and the owner really know his stuff.

Anyway, keep an eye on the website and if you fancy a trip just north of Lincoln, turn right at the giant golf ball (courtesy of the RAF radar engineers), I can recommend it.

Deans Marine container ships

Friday, May 21, 2010

Point motor holes

Hole makingThe layout in a box, like any micro project, needs careful planning. It also allows opportunities not available on larger jobs. For example, as the trackwork is a single piece, I can carry it around (carefully !) and was able to placed it on the board. Then a marker pen line was drawn around it in the manner of a murder victim in 1950's American whodunnits.

With the track out of the way again, I've been making holes for the point motor rods to poke through. These should be nice and neat and tidy but as I use moving sleeper tiebars, a little more leeway is available while still covering the hole. Actually, were I to need to be tidy,I think I'd still hack big 'oles and then cover them with accurately cut plasticard but that's by the by.

The best tool for this job is a drill saw bit. You make the initial hole with it and then move the bit sideways to turn this into a slot. I have such a bit and can I find it ? Of course not.

So, back to bodging. Drill three holes side by side and join them up with a coarse file. While chain drilling is a recognised technique (when done properly), it's fiddly to do neatly and you have to find a file of small enough diameter to go through the initial holes.

Or do what what everyone else does and waggle the normal bit from side to side, but if you are doing a lot of these, especially in thicker wood, get the right tool.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


River Nymph

At the recent Mobile Marine Models open day (more on this later in the week) I was admiring the finish on this little cabin cruiser. Despite being based on an Aero Kits model of some vintage, it looks fantastic. Especially appealing was the finish of the deck. As manufacturers, the kit provided for nothing more than a bit of plywood - practical but hardly beautiful.

Chatting to the owner and builder, Mike Allsop, he explained how it was done. And then sold me one of his beautiful scale flags for another project.

Anyway, the method is:
  • Plank the deck with individual planks made from veneer. Use spacers to keep the gaps even.
  • Varnish these with Jetplac clear. Several coats will be required to seal the wood.
  • Caulk with Wicks wood filler. Ideally use black or dark grey but if this isn't available, mixing some dark acrylic paint in it before use will do the job.
  • Let the filler dry for around 15 minutes and then wipe off as much as possible.
  • Carefully sand until the wood shows through as required.
  • Finish up with several thin coats of Jetplac clear. When he says several, that finish involved at least half a dozen coats.

The results are excellent. Mike seems very keen on Jetplac, a paint I'd always ignored in DIY shops but will now try out on a future project. The varnish is unusual in that it doesn't appear to turn light colour yellow, a problem I've encountered with the otherwise excellent Ronseal yacht varnish.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

3F Bulldog in Railway Modeller

More magazine coverage this month - the Bulldog makes an appearance over 4 pages in Railway Modeller. For those who read the blog postings, hopefully this pulls the story together and makes it coherent. If you read my ramblings a few weeks ago, the two make an interesting comparison.

If I'm being picky the photos of brass bits have come out a bit too yellow, possibly even golden. It seems to be a common problem and probably something I need to tweak more before submission. The shots of the finished model look OK though. The magazine has also knocked up a nice drawing of the boiler assembly that's far better than my efforts.

After I submitted the article, the editor came back with a few questions, one of which involved the resistance soldering device I use. At the time I didn't know of such a system available in the UK (mine was bought at least ten years ago from FourTrack Models) but in the news section of the mag, there is a mention of a new device just arrived in the country. The SuperChief 250 will be available from Solder Connection although it isn't on the website yet.

Railway Modeller Magazine

The Bulldog blog postings

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Frog tweaking

FrogWhile my Dad is happy to build the trackwork for the little model railway layout (must think of a name for it sometime), he prefers to leave the tweaking to me. He says that it's because I'm better at it. I say it's 'cos he doesn't want to spend ages rolling wagons back and forth over an inch of railway and making tiny adjustments to get the running spot on.

So, having loaded the latest arrival from Lovefilm into the DVD player at the end of the workbench (Disk 2, series 1 of Blakes 7 since you ask) I sat down to perform the dull but necessary task.

The plain track was fine of course, All (!) I had to do was put the wing and switch rails in the right place. Then move them tiny amounts until my test wagons ran through without lumping. Clever people will understand the relationships between rails that makes this stuff work. Me, I use trial, error and some handy little aluminium gauges from SMP that used to come in the point kits.

This is of course the great thing about PCB track, idiots like me can keep altering things until they work. Try that with plastic chaired track and you have a whole lot more trouble or at least molten lumps where those beautiful chairs should be. The results might not look quite as nice but if it works I'm not too fussed. The trick is to find your level.

Anyway, three points took me about two and a half hours because I wasn't working in a rush and also had time to enjoy some wobbly sets and top quality action. If I'd been in my P4 monastery then doubtless it would have been quicker and silent, but then I wouldn't have had the work of Matt Irvin to inspire me would I ?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Culvert cutting

Culvert hackingWhile the track is being built, I've been hacking away at the baseboard to open up the culvert. It's a bit of an experiment really as I'm going to have to make several more holes in the top, none of which can be bodged with a bit of polyfilla either.

Work started with a Stanley knife. It made an impression on the plywood top but wasn't really going through properly even if the cut was nice and neat. I suppose I could have persevered, this and regular blade changes would have worked eventually. In the end though I used an fierce (big toothed) Exacto saw which made short work of the wood. Obviously I couldn't make cuts along the board but grabbing the wood with some pliers or levering with a screwdriver and breaking it out worked OK even if it was a touch messy.

CulvertNext a wood rasp cleaned the edges back to the sides of the wood giving a reasonably tidy gap. It's a vicious tool, and one of the few files you don't want to rub on your skin, but a great way of removing wood quickly.

Finally the sides have been tapered with the big knife. The resulting channel is somehow deeper than I expected but that's not a problem since it will be filled up a bit to produce something like a correct contour. The mess has been brushed out into the bin - well most of it anyway.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Railway modelling changed the world

It’s about time our hobby got the recognition it deserved, after all, it changed the world we live in.

To begin, a little history. The World Wide Web was invented back in the early 1990s by a scientist working at CERN in Switzerland. His name was Tim Berners-Lee. Looking for a way to share experimental data, he developed a system that allowed anyone with limited programming abilities to post hypertext documents (web pages) quickly and simply.

This system quickly took off far beyond the scientific community and now is everywhere. Without it you wouldn’t be reading this. Or selling stuff on eBay. Or watching videos of cats trying to play the piano. Or a host of other life changing activities. I and a lot of people like me, wouldn’t have the jobs we have now.

But how did a young Tim B-L get into science and computing ? I lifted this from his biography on the W3C (the people who set the technical standards for the web) website:

What did you do when you were a child ?

I grew up in south-west London. I wasn't very good at sports. When I was 11 I went to a school which was between two railway tracks, so I saw lots of trains and started train-spotting. I also had a model railway in my bedroom. It was a long thin layout with a 4-track station in the middle, and on each side pairs of tracks going off into tunnels to actually loop back to each other.

I made some electronic gadgets to control the trains. The I ended up getting more interested in electronics than trains. Later on, when I was in college I made computer out of an old television set. I bought the television from a repair shop down the road for £5 (about $7).

My mother and father were both working with the very early computers when they met. Later on, my mother taught maths in school. They taught me that maths is a lot of fun. (In England, mathematics is "maths", in the USA, "math").

When I went to Oxford University, I studied physics. I thought that science might be more practical than maths, halfway between math and electronics. In fact it turned out to be very special subject all of itself, and fascinating for all that.

To summarise. Tim liked trains. He built a model railway and then his interest developed, like that of anyone in MERG, towards the electrical side of things. From there the web was born.

If he had been into football or ballroom dancing, none of this would have happened, or at least it would have happened in a different way. Railway modelling, with its breadth of crafts and skills to be indulged in allowed him to develop an interest without really meaning to.

The rest is history.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Gauge O wagon and some O14 in Hornby Magazine

June Hornby MagazineA bit of a departure for Hornby Magazine in June - I've built a Slaters kit for a 7mm scale wagon. It makes a change from the 4mm stuff and hopefully shows that the larger scales are accessible to average model makers.

I picked a pretty wagon since that's what will initially tempt people to have a go. You start with something attractive as a little bit of fun and before you know it, you're hooked and spending every penny you earn on O gauge. You have been warned.

Elsewhere, in staff projects, my O14 test track gets an airing along with a much larger than life size photograph. I mentioned a possible Groudle Glen project at the end in the vain hope someone has a Saltford Models "Polar Bear" kit they don't want.

Best of all, there is an index for the last years magazines in the back and I get my very own section ! You have no idea how stupidly pleased I am with this...

Hornby Magazine Website.

Friday, May 14, 2010



Don't tell anyone, but I'm not actually very good at building track.

I know the theory and when pushed I can do it, but my Dad is a lot better. Therefore he gets this job whenever we build a model railway. It's partly for this reason that the Hellingly Hosptial Railway was built twice. Version One had my track and didn't work properly. Version two had his and things run a whole lot better.

Anyway, the plan was shipped off to his workbench where it was pinned to a nice new sheet of softboard so soldering could commence. In an effort to make things work as well as possible all the track will be built in a single piece. The less joins the better.

While you can get away with this much easier on a micro layout, it is still possible to employ similar techniques on larger projects. Whole sections of pointwork are better built in one piece than as separate items subsequently joined up. The "flow" is better and your chances of a dry joint at a later date are much reduced.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Track planning

Planning the layoutThe next step for the layout in a box is to knock up some track. Ideally I want this built off the layout as I have ideas for fitting it that don't involve having anything nailed down too early in the process.

Three sheets of A4 paper were pinched from the printer and stuck together. Then the point templates were shuffled around to work out where the track needs to fork. To help all the Tracksettas that could be mustered were employed.

While it's not essential that the track follows accurate curves, it seemed like a good idea. The less straight track the better as far as I am concerned - on the real thing very little is straight and modellers hould follow suit. The only exception to this is in the engine shed where obviously we don't want to be emerging from the side do we ?

At this point the baseboard is looking very small. I'm sure it was bigger on the plan. Perhaps I have a supersized Airfix engine shed ?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My train set gets junk mail

Junk Mail
A few days ago, a letter arrived for "Hellingly Hospital Railwa". Inside there is an advert for the Cairn Hotel in Harrogate. The hotel appear to be trying to persuade my model of an asylum to indulge in a Super Spring Break. 2 nights for only £76.

Sadly it won't be taking up this fantastic offer due to being an inanimate object. Besides, it can't drive and find the walk from the station too much of a strain on it's spindly wooden legs.

Good grief, if it's getting mail from hotels, what next ? What are these models getting up to when not at exhibitions ?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pink dusting

Chris does the dustingThere's nothing like taking a photo of a model to show up it's faults. The eye ignore minor niggles, spots and dust but the camera lens doesn't. So, when taking close up pictures it pays to give things a quick brush to get rid of any dust. Forget this and you'll regret it when you view the photos. I know, I have in the past.

Mine wasn't the only layout photographed during Saturdays session. Fellow club member Tim has built a couple of beauties that also spent some time in from of Mr Nev's camera. Every so often before pressing the shutter button, he whisked a little bit of detritus away using a handy brush I'd brought along for the purpose. Obviously a pro photographer doesn't come unprepared but my little brush apparently worked better than his big yellow version.

The brush is a bright pink retractable nylon bristled device around 6 inches in length. And yes we did make all the jokes. It works though.

At this point I should tell you where to get your own brush. I would except that mine came from Hawkins Bazaar years ago and despite searching their website it doesn't appear to be available any more. That's a pity as it is very handy. If anyone can suggest an alternative supplier, let me know and I'll let everyone else know.

Pink brush

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hellingly photo shoot

Photo ShootI spent several hours watching someone else doing some work on Saturday. Specifically, Chris Nevard taking photos of my model of the Hellingly Hospital Railway for a future feature in Model Rail Magazine.

It's great fun seeing how another person views your model. Chris looked at the layout with a view to how it will fit on an A4 page. Assuming all is OK once he gets his roll of film back from Boots or whatever he does in post production, there will be some really interesting images. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing the layout in print. Some of the angles aren't available to the viewer seeing us at a show - I don't let you poke your head through any of the holes allowing track into the fiddle yard or get underneath the overhead wires.

The good news was that the lighting built into the baseboard, a single 3 foot long fluorescent tube, was more than adequate for the photos. This just shows how simple illuminating a model railway can be. No need for fancy spotlights, just one fitting screwed to the back of the fascia. It's still the first tube too despite the layout being a decade old. Even if it did give up, a replacement will be easily available from a local DIY store.

Sunday, May 09, 2010


Gordon had a lot more time for his hobbies in MayWith all the election stuff going on, and endless pointless news coverage, I feel it’s time to leap on the bandwagon.

Most of us see our hobbies as a welcome distraction from the “real world”. A chance to spend time making something as a diversion from work allowing our minds some down time to recover from modern day distractions. Most would think that the latest election results won’t impinge on this, but I beg to differ. In subtle ways whoever gets into power and what they decide to do will make a difference even in the world of paint, glue and soldering.

Let’s start with the obvious. Whatever the hue of the politician eventually ends up standing on the doorstep of number 10 Downing Street, they are going to have an economic mess to sort out. Most political commentators anticipate an increase in VAT to help refill the chancellors coffers. This tax is levied on non-essentials (in theory) and since model railways and boats are a luxury product, the prices will rise. Modellers whining about the list price of the latest RTR locomotives would be well advised to buy now as things aren’t going to get any better. Even the cottage industries who aren’t VAT registered will still see a rise in raw material costs that will need to be passed on to us punters.

Real life railways may also suffer. No one will want to pump money into them and so we can expect to see take-overs and consolidations between operators. That means lots of rolling stock getting a repaint or at least those new fangled vinyl stickers that do instead of paint nowadays. This is an opportunity for the RTR manufacturers to sell more models after a simple livery change rather than any expensive retooling, which will help their bottom line and hopefully keep them in business. The downside is that anyone obsessed with representing the current scene accurately will be digging deep to fund this.

Infrastructure isn’t going to see much investment either but that can be a good thing – you’ll not see the death of semaphore signalling for a few years making a bit of prototype research that bit easier. It will be interesting to see how some of the more modern buildings weather too. Was it really clever to put Waterloo’s steel skeleton outside the glass roof where the rain hits it ?

And finally, there will be what economists call “a contraction” in the economy as a whole. If you work in the public sector (or are an MP) then there is a reasonable chance that you are going to find yourself with a whole lot more modelling time over the next few years, coupled with a dramatic reduction in income.

Will this see a move from chequebook modelling to more craft based work ? The raw materials for most of the buildings at Pendon cost very, very little for example, it’s just that the time required to achieve those results is huge. But if you need to trade cash for time then maybe this isn’t such a problem – it’s better for your brain than watching daytime television and a whole lot more satisfying. I think this is what’s called looking for the silver lining in the cloud.

When people are made redundant, there is the temptation to try and turn a hobby into a business. Look out for more adverts offering to build locomotive kits for cash. Having done this I know it’s not, unless you produce work of exceptional quality, a route to riches but I can see the appeal. We will also see a proliferation of cottage industry suppliers. Resin casting is easy to do at home so if you can make decent quality masters so it could be an option. The problem here is finding a subject that will sell – the big boys have gobbled up all the obvious ones and even some of the oddball stuff. Kit production opportunities in 4mm and even 7mm scales are tiny now that so much can be bought off the shelf. That won't stop anyone trying thank goodness.

If this doesn’t strike a chord – how about taking inspiration from the event itself ? A model set during an election would be different. A few suitable posters and a loudhailer van would be enough to set the date of the model pretty quickly yet take very little effort on the builders part.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Hornbys new track system ?

Box of track partsA quick check in the Parker stores showed that we were out of PCB sleepers for plain track. Stocks of code 75 rail were OK and while point strip was just about sufficient for the "Layout in a box" project, a bit more wouldn't hurt.

A mid morning phone call to Marcway for new supplies on Friday saw a brown paper wrapped box arrive just after 8am on Saturday. Excellent service.

Removing the wrapping revealed the box shown. Have Hornby really decided to produce components to scratchbuild track or was it just a handy box to pack sleepers ?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Body painted

Varnished railbus bodyThe speed whiskers haven't gone to badly. Pedants will point out they are a bit undernourished but with the rounded ends I don't think they look too bad. A better match for the paint colour of line and whisker would help but I refuse to re-do the former and don't fancy painting over the later. The weathering (yes, this will be dirty) should take the edge off this anyway. I hope.

BR logo from HMRS, numbers from MoPok and data panel from Dapol complete the set. It's a good job I have a big box of spare transfers !

Finally the whole body received a coat of satin varnish. This has unified things a bit from the mix of sating and matt finishes exhibited. The data panel still shines when the light hits it wrong thanks to a big chunk of transfer film but only a modern transfer would be able to avoid this. Mind you I'd probably break it up and spend the rest of my life pushing tiny digits around !

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Speed whiskers

Speed whiskersThe Park railbus sported a fine set of what BR called "speed whiskers" in its early life and it was these I wanted on my model rather than the yellow warning panel applied later. The shape is distinctive being quite chubby compared to other DMU's and the Dapol transfers are a good representation of them.

Sadly when I actually try and put them on my model I have to wonder if anyone have ever managed to get or these to sit on the model properly. For instance there is as much transfer film beyond the edge of the yellow as there is withing it. Since the whisker has to skirt the headlights that stops the things sitting down. Cutting the excess film away reduces the adhesion so you'd need to fit them superglue. That film isn't helping around the headcode box either.

Then the colour is far too yellow, except where there isn't enough ink on the end of one. Basically they are useless. No matter how many proprietary decal adhesion and softening products I use, they won't do.

Plan B involves using the Fox transfers. They are a bit spindly but will fit. The ends are square but I hope a bit of touching in with body green will sort this out.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Welshpool model shop

The Old Station

Welshpool doesn’t actually have a model shop as we might normally describe it. What the town does benefit from is a very effective Hornby sales representative.

Inside the old station (separated from the station proper by the bypass) is a room. It’s not a big room and despite some signage, I didn’t find it that easy to locate, but it is a room stuffed full of pretty much all of the Hornby range, Scalextric cars, Airfix kits and Humbrol paints. When I say stuffed, I mean full. The place is a veritable grotto for the modeller who tends toward the RTR end of the market. Mind you, at least you can buy the paint and glue – something that you can’t say for many towns nowadays. For the kids there is even one of those cased model railways that operates when a coin is inserted.

If I were a cynical person I’d think that this is a trap. You see the rest of the building is given over to countryside inspired clothes. The sort of thing that even I’m not unfashionable enough to wear (not quite yet anyway) but a beloved of wives choosing garments for the middle aged gentleman who quite frankly doesn’t care much as long as they are comfortable and don’t have some stupid logo splashed over them. Sir will be sent off to look at the trains/cars/planes and perhaps allow himself a little indulgence. In return madam will be procuring some new items for the wardrobe probably emptying the bank account rather faster then he husband dares. Then they will head upstairs to the very refined cafe with its excellent banoffee pie.

On the other hand, as the place is stuffed with railway memorabilia, at least the bored spouse has something to look at while being dragged around the rails. Perhaps this is something other shops could learn from.

Read more about my trip to Welshpool here.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Railbus lining

Lining 1Airfix, bless 'em, helped the modeller to line the Park Royal Railbus by moulding raised lines where the yellow should be painted. They did this to most, if not all of their kits. While it's an idea, tradition has it that we modellers spend ages scraping them off as it's not de rigour to make use of them.

My railbus arrived with the lines flattened so now I've whacked some paint on it's lining time. Hooray !

First up, I have some lovely Fox transfers. Along plastic tub was filled with water and the first line floated. After it released itself from the backing, I slid it onto the bodyside.

Where it broke and curled up. I threw it in the bin and tried another one. This time I cut a length off, enough to do half a side and part of the front. Once on the bodyside I poked it around a bit and then it broke.

So I got more out and tried again. You know what they say about not succeeding first time. In fact I try, tried again so much that I used a quarter of the pack. The results are in the top photo. Nice, straight and nearly in the right place. You'll notice that the line only extends half the length of the vehicle - because attempts to add to this went wrong.

The problem is that the Fox transfers are too good. The lines are thin and there is no excess transfer backing so the results when applied by someone competent are absolutely top notch.

Me, I decided that all I was getting was angry so perhaps there was another way. I seriously considered obtaining a new body with the lining lines still moulded in but in the end decided that since the shops were shut I might as well have a go with the lining pen.

Lining 2In my box of bow pens I found my old school compasses which included a bow pen. Setting the distance and filling the pen with cream paint, I had a go. The result wasn't bad. In fact it was good enough that I carried on all the way around the body, both top and bottom lines. A little touching up with a normal bow pen followed by some bits of green to tidy up the lines.

In the photo, the results look horrible. In real life as long as you are a suitable distance away (say, the next room) it's acceptable to me. OK, so the transfers would have been better but I do need to get the hang of bow penning and I was hating the first goes. Anyway, a project less than perfect but finished is (to me) better than a perfect but incomplete model. Anyway, it's my train so I get to choose.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Planning a culvert

Baseboard 2

One of the first lessons I learned when building a “proper” model railway layout is that flat ground isn’t.

The area around Cawood in Yorkshire may look featureless but a flat chipboard baseboard doesn’t make a good job of replicating it no matter how much flock gets stuck down. Since then, despite using solid topped boards, I’ve always tried to incorporate some undulations in my landscape. There’s not a lot of space for mountains on this project but a small mucky stream is a possibility. This will be an interesting feature and gives me the chance to put some small culvert pipes under the track for extra interest.

To get the process started I had to plan ahead. The basic line of the watercourse was marked on the board and then underneath I used offcuts of the framing wood spanned by leftover ply to make a square pipe under the surface. At some point I’ll cut through with a Stanley knife and turn it into a channel. Hacking away at the softwood should allow me to vary the width a bit as well, all without effecting the structural strength of the baseboard.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

A different kind of exhibition ?

More thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head...

When not building models of stuff, I do a few hours work in a small, local, cinema. In addition to films we also host live shows and at a recent talk given to a local horticultural society I found myself working the slide projector for the speaker.

His speciality was creating gardens based on natural landscape forms and the main text revolved around the places he found to inspire his designs. We had photographs from around the world as well as a small selection of the finished projects in this country. There wasn't actually much practical advice for the audience but plenty to help them come up with their own grand designs.

This set me thinking - just over a hundred people had come together in an auditorium for a very high level talk on garden design. Would it be possible to get a similar number to attend to listen to a talk on designing model railways ?

Lectures in our hobby have a long history. Look at any ancient magazine and you'll find mention of Mr Chumley-Warner giving a talk on LNWR level frame locking or similar to The Model Railway Club. These always conjure up in my mind an image of gentlemen (no ladies present) sitting in starched suits and sporting fine moustaches listening attentively as the speaker drones on about some arcane topic. I'm not sure at what date the trend for these died out but presumably there was a gradual shift over the years from everyone sitting and listening to an expert to rooms full of people building layouts, and having to listen to loads of "experts"...

At Model Engineering shows there are still lecture programmes. Sadly, those I’ve been to have been woefully under supported despite being part of the entry package. One on metal forming particularly sticks in my mind as the speaker explained how you would take an oval sheet and form it into a dome or even a teapot, all with just a selection of hammers and a bit of wood. There are even talks at the boat show, again never seeming to attract more than ten or so people at a time. Some of the subjects tend towards the esoteric which shows by the regular reminders that the talk is about to take place over the PA system.

On that basis maybe my idea isn’t sound. The difference would be that the audience would be coming specifically to hear the talk. There wouldn’t be the call of lovely trade stands and some retail therapy to distract them.

The talk itself would (in my head) be a walk through of models produced by the speaker. Although practical aspects would be mentioned, most of the text would revolve around how and why various decisions were made along with the inspiration behind them. Behind the speaker would be a selection of pictures showing both the model and prototype. At the end of the session the idea would be for the audience to get a window into the creative process and pinch some ideas for themselves.

After the main talk and probably an interval, the session would finish with questions and answers. These might well be a lot more practical but a clever speaker will have to work a bit to avoid the session dissolving into a rabid argument over religiously held positions such as DC or DCC. At the end of the day, the audience is there to find out in reasonable detail how the speaker produced stuff, not to air their own prejudices.

But would anyone pay to attend this ?

Well, first of all they would have to pay. My own experience of writing and presenting talks for conferences tells me that there is at least a day’s work putting the text together and a set of slides on a laptop. Planning will probably take another day. Then there are travel expenses and possibly even venue hire. The talk I mentioned at the start cost (I think) around a fiver a head. With approaching 100 people there that might sound like a reasonable rate, especially if the same talk could be re-used around the country but the evenings work is likely to net the speaker less than a fifth of this before tax - not a great return. If the talk was part of a book promotion or a spin off from the guests main business then this makes things more possible.

As it happens, I can see the appeal as a punter. There are many layouts out there I’d like to know more about and chatting at a show isn’t really a substitute for a proper, structured, comprehensive lecture. All of this could be stuffed in paper form but the interaction with the audience would be lost. Likewise a DVD version wouldn’t be as good as you can’t ask questions or get elaboration on interesting points.

So, could this be another exhibition strand for the future ?

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Box baseboard


At last, some progress on the layout in a box !

Baseboard construction had stalled while I tried to work out how to operate the points. With limited headroom (the box lid has to go on for storage and transport) to fit the engines shed, I wanted as little below the board as possible. Sadly this meant that Peco motors were too tall unless I devised a fiendish method to mount them on their side. Manual operation via rods or cables was an option but I really wanted to be able to work the model from front or back. OK you can have things poking out of both faces but it’s not tidy and I prefer motors.

My solution, currently untested, is to use Seep motors. Specifically the PM4 which incorporates a latching system that I hope will keep the scratchbuilt pointwork set to one direction or the other. Controls will be in a plastic box on the end of a lead that is long enough to sit either side of the model.

With this sorted, I could use some 20mm deep stripwood to brace the plywood top. The wood is simply cut to length and glued and pinned around the edge of the top. Nothing sophisticated here and well within my limited woodworking capabilities.

The backscene is a bit of birch ply nailed on the back. The height was set by the depth available in the box. I’d have preferred about twice as much (about a foot) to be honest but that wasn’t possible within the confines. The quality ply was chosen as I had some kicking around after my woodworking course – thin MDF would have worked just as well. Mind you, when cut it, it did smell very nice in a woody kind of way and hopefully it will resist bowing over time better than a cheaper material.