Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Guest Blog: Train Trax

Ian Miller


My name is Ian Miller. Phil has kindly allowed me to tell you a bit of a story about me, KATO and Train Trax.


At the end of 2021 I was fed up with my old IT systems job and decided it was time for a change. The prospect of an approaching 40th birthday made me think that life would be more fun if it could involve more trains, and more independence.


I have been a dabbling modeller in OO gauge for quite a while, with a quite conventional, unfinished, British outline freelance loft layout. In addition I'd been buying, cleaning up and selling models online to help fund the hobby. I found this almost as rewarding as running trains.


I had some ideas about how I could make this a full-time occupation, but in the end an accidental discovery led me along the journey to acquire the Train Trax website ( in January. Train Trax exclusively sells KATO products in Ngauge. Keith, the previous owner who had run it for 14 years, had decided to take a long overdue retirement.


So I collected a very full van load of N gauge stock from Surrey. Included was a mass of Kato Unitrack, Japanese trains of all types, North American locos, wagons, buildings and all the accessories. On arrival at my brand new HQ in York I had to make sense of it all - I had dealt with very little N gauge or KATO stock previously!


I was first drawn to the trains which I was familiar with in real life: the Class 800 in LNER and GWR liveries, the Eurostar and TGV. My first impression was how intricate and good value they were. Once I'd had a good play with those I then explored the rest of the range of trains. They always find that they work straight out of the box - pop them on some Unitrack and off they go with no fuss.


Unitrack was probably the biggest revelation to me. It just clicks together and is ready to go. Fantastic Japanese precision engineering. There's no need for fettling of joints or soldering, and it can be re-configured repeatedly. The aesthetics of it might not suit the finescale purist, but for me reliable running beats that, and it's still perfectly possible to ballast and weather it to blend it into a scenic layout. I wish I'd known about it before I'd laid my own track, as I could have avoided a lot of hard work and frustration!


The previous owner of Train Trax recommended that I join the N Gauge Society, and I'm glad that I did. I found the local area group a friendly bunch, and by co-incidence found that they were experimenting with T-TRAK - a modular layout standard that relies on Kato Unitrack. One thing led to another, and now I'm retailing the laser-cut module kits that the group has designed.


Seeing the variety of stock that the group runs - UK, European, Japanese and North American has reminded me that one of the best things about the world of railways is the variety of different ways of doing things around the world. From very little previous interest, I now find myself researching the history of different North American loco liveries on behalf of my customers!


It's been a fun journey with Train Trax so far, but not without its challenges. Along the way I've learnt about global logistics and search engine optimisation. I now find myself running a small business in an incredibly difficult economic climate, so support from all the loyal customers that have continued to buy while the business was transferred is particularly valued. What next for Train Trax? KATO continue to have an interest in the UK market, via partners Gaugemaster and PECO, and are releasing new products every month, so there's plenty of excitement still to come.


If you want to follow the latest updates from Train Trax, follow me on Facebook and/or sign up for fortnightly emails.

Ian Miller

Train Trax

Phil: I've not been paid for this blog post, but I'm happy to host it as a way of helping out people in the hobby. It appearing here in no way counts as an edorsement of the company. For all I know he's operating a Victorian sweatshop with small children being forced to do all the work. I doubt it, but I'll admit I haven't checked. I do like Unitrack though - used it in the past and it's great stuff.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Less paint, but still too much

Here we are, the pilot boat after another couple of hour attention from the cellulose thinner. Most of the paint has gone, but there is still some lodged around the base of the handrails - an a thin, eneven coat pretty much everywhere on the surface. 

This looks better than it really is. Spraying over this lot will produce a rubbish result. 

So, I've been digging around under the kitchen sink and have some Dettol and two types of over cleaner. In the garage, I'm sure there is some IPA alcohol too - I'm going to give them a go and will report back.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Grant Shapps revenge?


Picket line diorama
Over on World of Railways, I've written a step-by-step discription showing how I built a topical diarama - a picket line of striking rail workers

I'll admit I'm very pleased with the way this little model came out. Apart from the 3D printed figures (ModelU), it's all pretty basic materials, including a lot of emulsion paint. 

Anyway, the model has been living in my office photo booth, a safe space I thought. That is until I extraced a little photo plank on the self above it. This caused anther little scene to plumet onto the picket line, and the results are not pretty. 

The resin figures didn't fair well, shaettering, then spreading their remains all over the place. I can't find two of the bodies for a start. 

I'll have to rescue the two intact people. They can live in the model people pot until I can find another use for them. 

But, why did this happen? Is it the ghost of Transpot Secretary Grant Shapps hurling dioramas around the room? It must have been a pretty accurate hit...

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Time to admit defeat?


The news that Rob Waller has decided to close Boston Largs Works comes as a bit of a shock, but his logic is sound. 

I have the feeling that an artisan, analogue, labour-intensive technology like casting is one that is living on borrowed time.

The trend has been clear in our hobby for a decade or more towards CAD and now 3D printing.

I can't disagree. Looking at the 3D prints my friend Chris Mead has produced for a fellow club members Class 69 conversion, I know that no matter how much time and effort I put into making alternatives, there's no way I could match them. I've seen the finished model, and partly thanks to a superb paint job, you can't tell it's not a modern, injection moulded RTR item. 

I'll admit I've resisted 3D printing for a long while. Yes, I own an additive printer, and the topic has fascinated me for a long while, but I'm a traditional modeller.I like making things with my hands. 

The future though, is largely making stuff on a screen, and seeing it emerge from some resin goop. 

Now, I appreicate the skill involved in all of this. There's a huge learning curve required to grasp 3D CAD. Then you have to work out how best to turn that file into a physical model - it's not as simple as just pointing it in the direction of the printer. 

No, I'm not saying 3D printing is skill-free, it's just a whole different set of skills. 

I hope that for the time being I can see 3D printing as an extra tool in the toolbox of any modeller. It will probably replace a lot of those whitemetal lumps we used to use, and quite a few of the etched ones too. 

But, is this me standing against the tide? Is the day when we give up the craft knife, razor saw and files on the horizon? In my more pessimistic moments, I think it is. 

We are living in "interesting" times. The economy is about to take a kicking. In politics, the bullies are winning, supported by people with naked self-interest. And my escape from this, noodling around with bit of plastic, is always going to produce poorer results than the latest computer made stuff. Which also hits the work I do - who wants to read about making stuff when they prefer to just go and buy it? All modelmaking hobbies being reduced to credit-card waving and owning stuff. 

Someone will point out that photography hasn't killed portrait painting, so there might be space for impressionistic modelling beside the perfect stuff, but I'm not sure how well the parallel holds up. Increasingly, the model railway world belongs to those screaming for perfect models, who then keep them in a box for fear of reducing their resale value, and because actucally building a layout isn't what they are in to. 

Someone tell me I'm wrong.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Saturday Film Club: A 25 foot long Eagle

I've mentioned in the past that my favourite space ship ever is the Eagle Transporter from Space 1999. One day, I'll get around to building the Airfix kit. Finding space for that in the cabinet will be touch, but how about a 25 foot long version? 

Amazing work.  And stong enough to walk on.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Lorry and wagons loads, plus driving an A4 in the latest BRM

BRM time again (it does come around quickly!), and in September I've been busy. 

Loaded lorries

On the workbench, I take a couple of 4mm scale lorries and build a selection of loads for them. It's one of those fun little projects that shouldn't be too taxing, but makes the layout come alive. 

Better still, if you are nervous of getting your hands dirty, this is the perfect starter project. Costs are minimal, and it's impossible to really damage anything. Even if you do, we are talking a diecast lorry here, not a many hundred pound loco. 

Talking of many hundred pound locos, both in cost, and weight, I learn to drive an A4. 

5 inch gauge A4 steam locomotive

OK, it's not a full-size one, but this 5 inch gauge model works just like the real thing and is capable of hauling real passengers too. On BRM TV, I'm taken through all the contols and even get to play fireman!

While we're looking at video, having loaded lorries, I use similar techniques to do the same with rail wagons. 

Phil in the studio

Railway companies didn't like thier wagons running empty, so neither should modellers. Sorting this out is quick and easy. 

Talking of wagons, I've had a look at Peco's Snailbeach hoppers.

Peco 009 Snailbeach hopper


Finally, my camera has been out again, this time pointing at "Hook Basin". 

Hook Basin

An unusual large scale layout that might be considered a bit unusual for BRM, it's a terrific model and very much my kind of thing. Scratchbuilt locos and rolling stock runnin RTR chassis, this has the potential to be both budget, and utterly absorbing modelling. I hope it inspires a few people to have a go, if you have imagination and a modicum of skill, you can produce a real eye-catching and crowd-pleasing layout.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

A stunning slice of Switzerland in September's Garden Rail


Inspired by Switzerland's RhB railway, Pavel Ponížil has created a stunning model behind his home in the Czech Republic. Everything is built the hard way, one stone block at a time, and the resulting layout might be the best one ever featured in Garden Rail. 

Over on the workbench, we create a modular layout for those who can't accommodate a permanent line, turn a Playmobil wagon into a radio control inspection wagon, build a 3D printed loco, shunters truck, and fit new valve gear to a Roundhouse Bertie.

Finally, a garden railway needs plants, so we look at trees for the railway modeller.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Warehouse Wednesday: GWR yard crane


Yard crane

Spotted at Fawley Hill last weekend, a GWR yard crane. I recognise it from a recent issue of MRJ, but can't be sure if it's the 6-ton version built in the article. Can anyone identify it?

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Desperate, random use of chemicals


How do you get paint off a hull moulded in ABS? 

Well, you can't use Nitromors for a start. That's a good way to make holoes. And while I do own some paint stripper that is safe for use on plastic, not nearly enough to attack a boat this size. 

With the hull on the garage workbench, I tried a Scotchbright pad in the sander. Nothing. Hardly scratched it. Could I replace this with something more abrasive? Probably not, stopping at that point between removing the paint and going through the plastic wasn't likely to happen. 

In desperation, I cast around for other chemicals I could try. By this point I'd decided that if I couldn't have a smooth hull for painting, at least I could extract the working parts for another boat. 

Meths seemed to do a little, but not much. Cellulose thinners though, now that shifted the paint, especially when followed with a metal, kitchen scouring pad. 

Trouble is, the cellulose turned the paint into a slurry that had to be scraped off. Washing with meths seemed to help move it a bit, but the slurry hardened too quickly for easy removal. 

Still, there is progress, but I need to go and buy a lot more thinners!

Oh, and it stinks. Future paint stripping will be carried out outdoors.

Monday, August 08, 2022

Even ugly people are useful

Look at these two. Pretty much everything that is wrong with 4mm scale whitemetal figures. The bloke especially has some "interesting" proportions - the photo actually makes him look better than he is!

Both were found at the bottom of my figure box when searching for seated people to populate a tramcar. For this role, they will do the job perfectly. You can't see them properly through the windows, but you will be able to see that there is a figure in there. Hence my perfunctory efforts at painting. No need to spend lots of time, or use highly detailed (read: expensive) miniature people. 

And it's better than throwing them away.

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Sunday sad Sprinter


Sprinter train

OK, it's not actually a Sprinter, but the title doesn't work if you put the correct unit number. That, and I'm not sure what it is - 158?

Anyway, a unit on accomodation bogies spotted at Long Marsden in 2014.  

And I think it looks sad.

Saturday, August 06, 2022

Saturday Film Club: Bernard Cribbins Hornby adverts

With the sad passing of Bernard Cribbins, I thought it would be fun to find some of his old Hornby adverts.

The quality of transfer might be "interesting", but they are wonderful period pieces.


Friday, August 05, 2022

Repairing Lord Westwood

Lord Westwood

Bought at Ally Pally earlier this year, my Tri-ang R765 "Lord Westwood" was a bargain. Mainly because it didn't work. 

This didn't put me off. Models of this vintage might lack detail, but they are easily fixable with the aid of some simple hand tools. The heart of this, and many others of that vintage, is the X04 motor, a rugged unit that is easy to find second-hand if the original is toast. 

The body is removed by undoing a long screw under the back of the cab. The chassis can then be wiggled free for examination. 

Inside, there was some fluff, and only one brush on the motor. This looked promising. 

You won't be surprised I had a spare set in my stash of bits. The only problem is that the wire on top of the motor was broken. It should be steel, but I couldn't find any, so made up a brass version. I'll keep an eye out for the correct replacement as the softer metal might work, but it won't last forever. 

However, work it does, and the locomotive now bumps it's way along the railchairs on Code 75 track (I'm out of Code 100) very smoothly. 

In the tender, someone has swapped the wheelsets over to disable the steam noise feature. 

The sound is generated by a steel tab rubbing on a strip of abrasive. This sounds a bit crude, but the metal strip is attached to a plastic soundbox to increase the volume. 

I've heard worse, and anyway, love a gadget in a model loco, so the wheels have been swapped back, the sideframes can be flexed enough to release them using a small screwdriver. 

After this, a good clean up with a stiff brush to remove all the dust and I have a near mint model for the collection. Just the think to wind up GWR fans, and valuable too. From £15, this thing is now worth around £70!

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Debranding disaster


Removing the "UK Border Force" lettering was easy enough. The vinyl letters peel off reasonably easily. Start the peel by sliding a knife under the edge of each letter and it comes away reaonably cleanly. Half an hour, saw the characters removed. 

One thought - I wondered if the letters were hand-cut as they are an "intersting" typeface. My guess is not, but someone really needs to take a look at themselves if they think a British boat is going to be emplazened with such a childish typeface. It's one step away from the evil Comic Sans. 

All was going well until I started on the front "SAR" letters. Suddenly, the paint came away from the hull. Picking at it (probabloy not a great idea), the orange seemed to adheared very poorly. In fact it lifted in sheets, just like those letters. 

Oh dear. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Warehouse Wednesday: Commonwealth games

Brummie Bull

With the games taking place down the road from me, literally in the case of lawn bowls, I'm doing my best to grab lots of photos of the events around the games themselves. The place is festooned with banners and posters, all great fun, and they will be gone very soon. 

Are there modelling applications? Possibly. You could set the period of a layout by putting suitable decorations up, and it would certainly be eye-catching. And wonderfully retro. The London Olympics were a whole ten years ago!

My ever growing Flickr album

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

SAR boat on the water


Batteries charged, it's time to take the pilot boat to the lake and see how it handles. First though, I tie the superstructure to the hull with a length of wire. It's held in place with magnets, which seems pretty good, but I prefer this belt and braces approach on all my models. If the top comes off, you can always tow it home. 

Fired up, the boat actually works. 

But not very fast, or for very long. It moves OK, but not as rapidly as I'd have hoped. Worse, the duration was about 5 minute sfrom one pack and 3ish from the other. OK, neither pack might not have taken a brilliant charge, but I need to look at this. 

The battery pack used is a six-cell (7.2v) 2000mAh Ni-MH set and I think the solution will be more volts and more amps.Looking at the maximum capacity of the speed control, we could be good for twice as many cells, so a bit more omph should up the top speed. 

However, I'm wondering if it's time to take the dive into a LiPo battery for this boat. More power for less weight is very appealing, but I've always fought shy of them. Techincal and possible to explode, neither appeals much.

Monday, August 01, 2022

A very shiny Cylon


Cylon warrior
A quick little project picked up at Smallspace. This 35mm tall (to the top of his hat) 3D printed Cylon Warrior (from the original Battlestar Galactica in case you didn't know) only cost a couple of quid and seemed like a bit of fun. 

Only later did it occur to me that it was the perfect test subject for a recently purchased Liquid Chrome pen. 

Liquid Chrome pen

I'm a bit cynical about silver paint that claims to look like chrome, but I'd read about these, and the seller assured me that it was every bit as good as promised. I know, but I have some faith in these guys, and since they turn up at shows, I can alway go and moan. 

However, I was pleasently surprised. The paint is on the thick side, perfect to hide the layers on a 3D print, and dries quickly to a very high shine. You really can't tell it's not proper chrome. 

On balance, I should have bought the 1 or 2mm wide tipped version as getting in the tight areas on the figure was impossible. I picked up some paint on a small brush to get around this - it works if you are quick and apply more than you might normally do. 

All this went on a satin black paint job from a Halfords rattle can. Working out which bits should be shiny wasn't east as this seems to vary, and there are a lot of replica costumes out there with odd interpretations of the "uniform". 

All in all, I'm impressed. This stuff isn't cheap, but it's worth the money. Pity that they don't produce brass and copper versions - not those would be really useful. 

Molotow Liquid Chrome website.

I bought mine from