Friday, March 31, 2023

Buying the runt of the litter


LGB 92090
It's not pretty, is it? 

Picked up for a bargain tenner, when buying something a lot more impressive, I felt sorry for this little loco, and promised to restore it to it's original glory one day. 

The model, I recognised. It's LGB 92090 - a "side-rod diesel" normally found in the 90450 starter set. I've always quite liked the quirky looks of this model, and have even been tempted to buy the set when I've seen it at a show, just to own it. 

No need to do that, but I will have to carry out a bit of work. The model has been tinkered with, and converted to battery power. 

There's an on/off switch in the cab, and a speed control sticking out of the bonnet. Neither enhances the model, although they do work. 

As for the paint job, the less said about that the better. I'm told that the previous (and late) owner liked to weather his model, and this was presumably part way through the process. There are some lumpy bits that look like Maskol under the paint, to produce rust patches a-la the instructions in The Art of Weathering

So, what's the plan? 

Well, I think I'll ditch the battery setup. That way the boddy will fit properly again. Spare pickup skates are available so I'll learn a bit fitting them. I would like battery power as an option and have ideas involving a van full of battery and Fosworks RC equipment. This will be the perfect model to text those ideas on, since it can't get any worse!

The body looks like it needs a bath in some Dettol to remove the paint, something else I've not done succesfully in the past, followed by a respray. Handrails and a new headlight are required too, so I'll have to see if I can order, or fabricate some of those. 

I'm thinking orange...

Thursday, March 30, 2023

ECM Rambler Minor - a useability cul-de-sac

ECM Rambler minor

When I started to get serious about model railways, in the late 1980s, ECM controllers were the controller of choice. You could tell the upper eshelon modellers at show, their control panels sported some of the various ECM models. 

Offering feedback for the best running, in those pre-coreless motor days, these were considered a step above the Gaugemasters I used, and streets ahead of H&M Duettes, which were ancient even then. 

I coveted these, and have added a few to my collection in recent years now the brand has disappeared and people want all that DCC stuff. 

One model that stands out as revolutionary, but didn't prove a great success, as I recall, was the Rambler Minor. 

As you can see, the big difference between this and other controllers, is the push-button interface. Faster, slower, forward and reverse, plus emergency stop. No twiddling knobs here - this is the height of sophitication. 

Except it isn't I remember my one and only use of one of these in their heyday, and all it proved was that stopping a train accuratly over an uncoupling magnet was pretty much impossible. 

It doesn't help that acceleration and deceleration was always at the same rate for all models. There is a sliding switch on top that alters the rate, but you only get to pick two levels, and on this example, it doesn't make that much difference. 

So, it's cool, in the same way that old home computers are cool, but I'm not sure I'd want to install the unit on a layout. The controller feels a bit cheaply made, and has to be plugged into the panel part, which has in turn to be mounted in the panel. Connection is via a 5-pin DIN plug and socket, which looks like the same plug I use on my Gaugemaster handhelds, but of course, they are incompatible. 

I suppose you can argue that push-button controllers have made a return with many DCC units, but I really don't get the advantage over a knob. With the later, if you want to alter the acceleration or decceration rate, you just turn it faster or slower. Or am I missing something?

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Warehouse Wednesday - Muswell Hill Library

Hornsey Library

My accomodation for Ally Pally, was in Muswell Hill, a handy five minute drive from the venue. Our hotel was quirky, but opposite it is the local library.

Hornsey Library

What a fine looking building, and also a very modellable one. It's not very big, and pretty sqaure. Although there is stone surface detailing, nothing in the way of fancy mouldings. Even the roof is flat, with skylights. The window detail is obviously original, and hopefully won't be replaced with something UPC in the future.

Hornsey Library

Around the back, the wall suggests an extension, but this is long gone. 

While poking around, at the end of the side street is this lovely collection of buildings. Plenty of character here!

Mews buildings

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Little Phil's dream LGB wagon


LGB Lego wagon
As a kid, I loved my Lego. And I loved model railways. And my ZX81, although that's not relevant to this story. 

Anyway, at the time, when I heard of LGB trains, they could only be objects of desire. We couldn't afford them, any more than we could afford a Rolls-Royce. Fortunatly, this didn't really bother me. After all, I wasn't interested in funny looking foreign narrow-gauge locos. 

However, that would have changed if the LGB Lego wagon had been available!

I first remember seeing something like this at a G scale show. The society had a stand with some flat wagons topped with genuine Lego building plates, and kits were being encouraged to construct their own wagons.  

I'm pretty sure we published an article about making the basic wagon in Garden Rail a few years ago, it's a simple project. 

Anyway, time moves on, and LGB get in on the act themselves with the Building Block starter train set. Complete with a loco, two Lego compatible wagons, track and a controller, young Phil would have gone nuts for this!

The wagons are also available seperately, described as "building block cars", and that's what I have here. To be honest, I didn't know about the seperate items, and assumed this one had been split from a set and was therefore a bit rare. It pays to do your research, as I paid the full price, but don't get a box...

Not to worry, I'm still happy with the model. Yes, it's "knock-off Lego" rather than the real thing, but since the Danes lost the court rulling that opened the floodgates of "compatible" items, this is how it's going to be. I did get a bag of bricks with the wagon, so at least I can try it out. 

Long term, I want to try this on some youngsters. The idea of using their favourite toys as part of a model railway seems clever, and a good way to stop they seeing model trains as "weird". It's a fun hobby, and if this can make show that, then it's a good thing. 

Monday, March 27, 2023

Little Playmobil boats


Over the last couple of weeks, personal modelling time has been pretty much non-existent. That's not a bad thing, as you helpful people have provided me with much food for throught on the steam tram, but it does limit the blog posts. 

However, I've been to a lot of shows, and shows mean temptation and a wallet work-out. 

First up, the silliest items. A couple of Playmobil boats - OK, a boat and a hovercraft. These were inspired by the fantastic display of models along the front of "Loft City Central". 

Regular readers will know I love a Playmobil boat, and there were several on show that I wanted to know more about. Obviously, it's rude to pick things up on a stand, and both the owners and I were too busy for me to investigate further, however, the internet came to my rescue. 

The question was, "Do the hovercraft and small speedboat float?"

Sadly, the web let me with the direct answer, but I did find some examples for sale on ebay, and for very little money. A fiver for the hovercraft, and 99p for the speedboat. I am a big kid with a credit card, so, bought them both. 

And the answer is - yes they do. Not only that, but they are designed to have the power pod containing batteries, a motor and propeller, clipped underneath. I'm sure I have one of these somewhere, and when I find it, they will be going for a spin on the pond. 

You are probably wondering if radio control could be fitted, and the answer is, probably, but it would be a lot of work. These aren't high on the project list (that fishing boat from a few weeks ago trumps them), but maybe one day. After all, with a little LiPo, tiny speed control and a micro servo, I'm sure something could be made to work. 

Sunday, March 26, 2023

London Festival of Railway Modelling 2023


Ally Pally on my satnav

My satnav knows what Ally Pally looks like!

Arriving at the venue, I was surprised to see the famous hall appear in 3D on the screen. That was after being surprised that it didn't know a junction in London you can't turn left on, even after 3 hours of updating the day before. I couldn't resist taking a photo once parked up though.

Phil's stand

Anyway, inside the hall, I got set up with my end of the World of Railways stand. A layout, to be given away on the Sunday, the wagons in all scales and a few of my more popular dioramas would give me something to talk about during the weekend. 

And talk I did. Solidly all Saturday, and pretty much most of Sunday too. It was a busy show, numbers through the door were up, despite a train strike making travel harder. 

I did manage a little wander, but not much I'm afraid, so there's no gallery of layout photos to enjoy. 

Bunkers Lane

Layout I'd like to build had to be Bunkers Lane - an O9 model based on Leighton Buzzard. Quirkly and of modest dimensions, just my sort of thing. I've photographed it for a future issue of BRM, along with the stunning P4 Pwllheli. I ought to mention Copper Wort too - but I'd be scared of emulating that since the model making is so amazing. 

Owen's Bridge

It was nice to see another of my old projects still active on the Bachmann stand. Needing somewhere reasonably quiet to work with a reported from the Press Association, I used Owen's Bridge as a prop. It's perfect to wave my hands around while trying to explain the hobby. 

There was, of course, cake. 

Cake wars

The chaps from Rapido Trains taunted me with cake on Friday, so the next day, I was on a mission to bag some. Well, we didn't get breakfast at the somewhat quirky hotel. 

Outside the show, there was a Saturday evening trip to Leicester Square, and mich wandering around Muswell Hill, which is a very pleasent area of the capital. And by the end of it, my feet hurt!


Saturday, March 25, 2023

Saturday Film Club: The Future of Rail

'The Future of Rail' is an ameteur film, with superb production values, aimed at showcasing many of the different areas of the heritage railway movement that people can get involved in. Taking inspiration from Edgar Anstey's British Transport Films, notably 'A Future on Rail' (1957), this film aims to take you back to that era in scenes that were very much filmed in the 21st Century!

Friday, March 24, 2023

Off to the (virtual) show tomorrow


It's virtual show time in Margate, and the rest of the world, tomorrow.

You'll be pleased to know that I'm taking part, sometime between 10 and 10:30 I'm told. No idea who I'm sharing the stage with, but I'm sure it's going to be an interesting day. 

Hornby Virtual Show details. 

It will be fascinating to see how this goes. We ran four virtual shows under the World of Railways banner during the peak Covid years, and while an enormous amount of work, they were also good fun. At the time, I wondered if they would survive lockdown and the return of physical events. 

While we have no plans for more in the future, I can still see the concept having legs. After all, once you understand that real and virtual events are really different things, there's a lot you can do online that can't be replicated in a hall, and vice versa. Online, you get a one-to-one experience with the modeller, a bit like a demo in real life, but with better production values and less waffling. No-one runs ballasting demos, for example, because it's not something you want to do 20 times a day, but you can for a virtual show as the demo only has to be carried out once. 

I'm less convinced by layout watching. The films shown can involve the builder providing a comentry, but it's not the same as leaning on a barrier, watching an open-ended operating session. 

The problem is, freed of lockdown, will people want to give up a Saturday watching a virtual show? It will be interesting to find out.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Budget buildings and display cases in April's BRM

We've just "enjoyed" the budget from the chancellor, so now it's down to me to show you some proper cost-savings. 

First up, I channel my inner Ahern. 

This goods shed is based on one found in his book of modelling buildings, and a version of it can be seen on his Madder Valley Railway, now installed at Pendon. 

As a scratchbuild, it's not too difficult, and I think I've caught the character of the original. There are a couple of interesting techniques used too. Young Phil would enjoy this article, no money but plenty of cardboard meant I made a lot of buildings for my train set. 

Next, what to do with your nice new loco? 

Put it in a display case of course!

And I show you how to create cases for very little outlay using stuff you might otherwise throw away. 

Finally, I've had the camera out again. 


I spotted Paul Spencer's excellent layout "Splott" at DEMU last year. At 18ft long, including fiddle yards, it's not huge, but there's bucket loads of detail. Lovely industrial buildings too. There's no need for a backscene with this layout, the structures do the job!

And it's BRM's 30th birthday! I remember spotting the mag in a newsagents in a row of shops under my sister's first flat during a break from doing some DIY. At the time, the bright and breezy look really stood out in an era where most mags were in black and white. I bought a copy, which I still have, but never thought I'd be part of the team a couple of decades later.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Testing the Loco Remote



Steam tram control will be via a Loco Remote unit. The cheapest version was selected as I don't need sound or lights on this model. Power will be from some cheapo LiPo batteries picked up on ebay. 

Assembling the wiring is simple as long as you pay attention to the instructions. Make sure the battery is plugged in the right way around, and it's hard to go wrong really. 

Once plugged in, a blue LED flashes to say all is well, th device sets up a WiFi hotspot. Log on to this using a suitable device (I'll be using an old smartphone) and then go to the web page mentioned in the instructions. Up pops the controls and away you go. 

This testing has shown everything works, I just need to figure out where to install it. Initial thoughts involve the water tanks I need to scratchbuild. There should be plenty of room in there, and access should be easy to arrange with removable tops. 

In the meantime, I'm just enjoying playing with my new toy. At some point I need to get it on some track to test the duration the little battery offers.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Steam tram boiler


Work on the steam tram has been very limited recently, but I have had time to look at the boiler. 3D printed on a filament printer, it needs some smoothing. 

My plan involved a coat of Halfords High-Build primer. Anoyingly, my can has spent too long in a cold garage and spluttered out like a low-pressure hose. Since I planned to sand the stuff anyway, I decided I didn't care. the job was to get a thick coat on. 

While doing this, I realised that a pragmatic decision had been taken by Boot Lane when designing the kit, the loco is a saddle tank. Now, I assume this means the ability re-use an existing boiler, and it provides space for the suggested LocoRemote controller, but steam trams are normally side tank engines.

I'll have to do something about that.

Monday, March 20, 2023

A "quick" RC change


Ahead of the Midlands show, it occured to me that running the Merlin on 26mHz radio control wasn't the best idea.

For a start, the chances of frequency clashes were higher than normal. There's no pegboard to book frequencies, and so I'd have to run around the hall checking. Worse, the old-fsahioned, long aerial was just going to be a nuisance in the middle of a layout. 

No problem. I'd been meaning to swap out the reciever for a 2.4gHz version for ages. the time had come. 

Plan A is to put all the steam locos on a Spectrum unit. My Accucraft Sea Lion is already fitted with one, and I have aquired a few second-hand recievers. Of course, I can't find the transmitter. 

Next up, Radio Link. Transmitters to hand. Loads (4) recievers. Trouble is, I can get them to bind, but not operate a servo. The servo is fine, the power to the reciever is fine. Swapping both recievers and transmitters, makes no difference. 

I have a feeling I've had this problem with Radio Link before. There is a solution, but for the life of me, I can't remember it. 

Finally, in desperation, I use my last Planet reciever. These are very rare now, since the company stopped making them. I'd rather put it in a boat, by needs must. Swapping the leads over is the matter of moments. Extracting the old reciever, fitted with a double-sides foam sticky pad, took longer. 

All seemed to be working, and the loco ran the following day. A result. I just need to find that Spectrum transmitter.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Steaming at the Midlands Garden Rail Show


Phil at work

Last weekend's Midlands Garden Rail show saw me try something new - operating a steam locomotive on an indoor track at a show. 

I was a bit nervous about doing this. While I've operated many, many electric small scale layouts, steam is a little trickier. If your model decides to be cantancerous, you look daft. Especially compared to all the experts working thier chuffers at the same event. 

Worse, because of my editorship of Garden Rail, people expect me to be one of those experts, or at least I think they do.  

So, I booked a late Saturday slot on the 16mm Association track and when my appointed time arrived, took things carefully. Part of the problem is I don't know quite how things operate. Where is the steaming area? What are the rules about moving on to the running line? 

Fortunatly, Dave and Doug looked after me. I had chosen to use my Merlin Mayflower as it's a proven performer, and has radio control fitted which should avoid the pitfalls of chasing a model around the track. True to form, the loco steamed well, although I'd overfilled the boiler and shot about 20 gallons of oily water up the chimney. Good job the flight box carried plenty of kitchen towel. 

When underway, the model didn't seem to be as responsive as in the past. We didn't have the super-slow speed control I'd hoped for. A borrowed rake of 3D printed slate wagons proved to be a bit too light and were swapped for first one, and then three large hoppers. The loco didn't lack power to handle these and eventually I was chuffing around with a cake balanced on the back, to the amusement of others. 

Phil at work, with cake

Eventually, it was time to head back to the sidings and I'll admit to being a bit releived. Things had gone OK for a first try. I'm glad I picked a quiet time to run though. The crowds deserve better operation. I'll get there though. 

And the cake - lovely, although the icing was a touch warm and damp after a few circuits...

Thanks to Andy Christie and John Campbell for the photos.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Saturday Film Club: Bob Symes and the GWR 0-4-2

Some old video fun with the ever-entertaining Robert Symes-Shutzmann talking about his early days in TV, and how he ended up using his model railway as a filler between TV programmes. 

Friday, March 17, 2023

Off to London

It's time for me to head down to Alexandra Palace for The London Festival of Railway Modelling

I'll be on the BRM stand most of the weekend. Well, unless I'm taking photos of layouts or products for our news service that is. 

Or picking up "bargains" off the normally excllent second-hand stall. 

All being well, I'll be giving away another layout too - the space in my storage area is growing at last!

If you are heading down to "the smoke", drop by and say hello, I'll be pleased to see you.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Facts of Life - According to British Rail


The Facts of Life

Come on - it cost a pound. How could I resist? 

Measuring 13 by 9.5cm, this little booklet is a Health & Safety guide from the Accident Prevention Service of BR in 1968. Inside there are sections on Manhandling, Tools of the Trade, Machinery, Electrical Apparatus, High Pressure Gases and Liquids, Ladders, Walkways, Scaffolding and Roof Surfaces. 

Illusrations are cartoons alongside the text. The Getting about section shows our hero leaping across the tracks in front of an advancing CoBo loco, omitting to point out it had probably broken down...

In its 30 pages, there's a lot of information, highlighting just how dangerous an environment the railway can be. You need to keep your wits about you at all times, and not just assume this 'elf and safety stuff is for other people.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Steam loco flight box upgrade


Taking a live steam loco out involves a certain amount of equipment - fuel, water and oil, plus things to light it up with and some tools, just to be on the safe side. 

I've been using a "flight box" designed for model aircraft people to lug my stuff around. It works, but the taller items don't stay upright in the top tray. And over time I'd filled the drawers with stuff that didn't need to be there. 

I decided that the top tray needed some holes in it so the tall stuff could drop down a bit, and be partially held in place. This meant sacrificing the top draw, but I decided it could still be opened if I emptied the tray, so perhaps it would make a useful secret compartment. 

Anyway, work started with a pencil drawing the holes to be made and then some hole-saw action in the garage. Butane gas and the smaller water bottle are easy enough, some round holes will be fine. The Jackson squezzy spray is an odder shape, but with a little work overlapping the holes, I got the worst out and finished off with a rasp. 

Plenty of sanding hopefully removes the danger of splinters - not pleasent when you have oily hands. 

After that, a couple of coats of floor varnish and the job was done. 

The finishing touch is a spare dry powder fire extinguisher screwed to the side. It's a bit of a last resort, since cleaning up afterwards will be hard work, but if it's a choice between cleaning and something, or someone, being on fire, I'll get my marrigolds out. 

A sensible selection of tools, including cheap pliers and screwdrivers from Baz's Models on Sunday, fill the drawers. I've learnt from the model boating, that I don't need to be able to take a loco to pieces, just tinker. If it needs a lot of work, better bring it back to the workbench where I can sort things out properly.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Steam Toys in Action 2023

After leaving the Stratford show, I decided that I quick run to the Poo Museum (Leicester Pumping Station) would be possible. Google said it would take and hour, my satnav suggested a bit less. 

By the time I arrived, and tangled with the parking machine in the adjacent space centre car park (the Pumping station shares the fascility), I was a bit peckish, but as soon as I got through the gate, there was a coal-fired fish and chip wagon, offering comes of piping hot chips for a couple of quid. Well, it would have been rude not to. 

The main event takes place in the vehicle store, which is partically emptied for the occasion. 

A hall full of steam enginer 

The smell of meths is thick in the air - fortunatly, I've always thought it was a nice pong and have admitted missing it from model railway shows now gas-firing has taken over the 16mm scale world. 

Hundreds of tiny engines were thrashing away with thier owners looking on proudly. There's too much to describe everything, but I picked out a few highlights.

Asteam-powered gramaphone? Properly, and brilliantly mad. I know the builder reads this blog, so he's obviously a top chap. He also owns some of the steam boats you can see at the top of this post. It's great meeting people covered in oil who enjoy getting their hands dirty, and whose enthusiasm is infectious. That's how you get people into a hobby. 

Model steam launch

One very useful spot was this steam launch. It's an attractive boat, and I just happen to have the same hull sitting in my stash of projects. Bought for a song at a boat club auction, probably because no-one else wanted it, I have a steam unit for power, but had assumed that the hull was a one-off. Not so it seems. Mine needs a bit more work, but at least I know it should sail OK!

Inside the museum, past the display that allows visitors to flush a plastic poop down a clear sewer system (chasing it is a rite of passage for people in Leicester it seems as one mum watched her child do it, and explained she'd done the same as a kid) was a lovely large scale Mamod road roller.

Giant scale Mamod roller

This is the sort of idea that takes a lot more doing than you might think. Chatting to the builder, the scale is based on the size of an available tube for the boiler. After that there was some superb casting and finishing of the aluminium wheels, and creating a spark eroder to handle the Mamod logo on the front, pantograph milling not being capable ot delivering a sharp enough result. 

Steam engine

Therewere trains of course, a selection of Mamod's and some really old live steam models from Bing, Bowman, Falk and Carrette - the last two being new to me. 

Tower wagon

Since the vehicle shed was needed for displays, a couple of fire engines, buses and this superb tower wagon, were outside for viewing. 

Aside from the chips, the cafe was serving up some limited cakes and tea. I've had better, but they were cheap, so no complaints. One of the beam engines was working too, and amazing sight. 

And the trade. A marque of second hand steam engine dealers mainly, at prices for the keen collector in the main. However, the proprietor of the much-missed Midway Models, extracted the last bit of cash I had on me for a boat. 

The 3551 Suzanne fishing vessel is a rare model, and this one isn't perfect. But then it cost me £23 and is ideal for radio control. At 47cm long and 17cm wider, there will be plenty of space for motors and RC gear. A hatch should allow easy access to a bettery, and the deck is held in place with five screws. In my head, this is a quick project - but then they always are!

As an unusual event, this was a real pleasure. I think you can sum the day up with a look at the organiser.

The event organiser

I need to up my exhibition clothing game!

There is method in the costume - it's easy to find the man in the top hat in a crowd - but I just think it looks great. 

There are some more photos over on Flickr.