Wednesday, 28 November 2012


So after Warley I should be really motivated and making progress, especially since I've been so critical of others.

As usual though life intervenes, or rather work does., with a to do list that has suddenly started to grow again at an alarming rate. The great thing about building a small layout though is that it sits on my desk as I work, so if nothing else I can keep scheming.

I'm still worried about the catch point , or rather the lack of one. Tillig do an extendable piece of track designed to bridge baseboard joins that features overlapping tapered rails - a photo here is much better than my attempt at a description. I'm wondering whether I could butcher one into a cosmetic representation of a trap point.

Perhaps not...

On a more concrete level I've been experimenting with ballasting techniques. I've discovered that QuickShine FloorFinish, avialble in the UK from Lakeland is a practical alternative to Johnson's Klear, so it looks like that little problem is solved.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Traders and Demos

In yesterday's post about the Warley show I focused on the layouts. Of course they are just one part of the show. A considerable amount of floorspace, and the attention of the visitors, is devoted to the traders, and perhaps to a lesser extent, on the demo stands.

Not for the first time at Warley I went with a small stash of spending money and a long list of things to spend it on, and came away having spent nothing but the price of a pork bap.

One great advantage of the NEC compared to some venues is that at least there are cash dispensers available, and judging by the queues for them other people were spending money even if I wasn't.

The layout of the hall is zoned, so a lot of the big name traders were clustered around the entrance and the first couple of aisles. Unfortunately this added to the sensation of over-crowding, especially when sharing space with those whose enthusiasm for their own interests over-powered any awareness of others. I saw several children knocked over, narrowly avoided a few carelessly swung rucksacks myself, and felt for the disabled visitors. Perhaps the 16mm AGM where access for the less able and an emphasis on space has spoiled me. Actually it isn't as though the space wasn't available at Warley but some of it wasn't well used. One thing they do get right is the provision of a lot of seating space and food outlets. Then I'm a sucker for a pork bap.

I did get a chance to look at some of the delights on the Kernow stand. Unfortunately my lack of note taking means I'm not sure if it was there or on the Howes stand that I saw the prototypes of the Heljan AC railcar which is definitely on my list for purchase in the new year.

I've had my eye on the Hold and Fold from Eileen's Emporium for some time but decided I can't currently justify the cost. I'll be reporting back soon on an alternative at roughly half the price. I suspect the difference in quality will show, but my needs are relatively simple at the moment.

I wish I'd taken the time to speak to more of the DCC specific traders, especially DCC Concepts and Train Tech. The former because their web site is so badly designed, the latter because I need to convince myself their one touch point control system will work. The trouble is I'm at that stage of being so new to DCC that I don't know what questions to ask, and a busy exhibition stand doesn't seem the best place to start.

A lot of the manufacturers and traders I was most interested in were at the far end of the hall in the MRJ Small Suppliers section. This was good in that the stands weren't busy with the general public, but bad in that by the time you got to it exhaustion was setting in. Whilst I didn't buy anything  - I nearly succumbed to the Deans Siding Neath & Brecon tank to use up one of my spare 0-6-0 chassis -it was useful to see things in the flesh. I think I had the typical male response of being overwhelmed by choice.  Next year I think I'm going to do the show in reverse order and start here.

The two stands demonstrating Rail Simulator are worth a positive mention too. They seemed to really engaging with the audience and also showed how the graphics have improved with the current incarnation. Unfortunately my current PC doesn't have the spec to do it justice.

Finally a mention for the demo stands. Again putting these towards the end had the advantage that they were less crowded, and the disadvantage that time was limited when I got there.  I'm notoriously bad at planning visits to demos at exhibitions and next year I'll aim to have a more targeted approach.

On reflection I can't help thinking that my personal experience of a show like this is inseparable from where I am on this project. Normally I would have spent most of my time looking at the narrow gauge layouts and the big show piece layout and the traders selling the more idiosyncratic products. It felt quite weird being attracted to GWR branchlines and those traders selling the bits and pieces needed to build an atmosphere of total mundaness.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Warley 2012

The Warely model railway show at the NEC has become something of an institution.  The Warley club who organise it have always built excellent layouts themselves, and from the days when I was a lad in Birmingham and  the show was held in the Harry Mitchell Recreation Centre it has attracted some stunning and memorable layouts.

I don't go every year, not least because I do find my fellow enthusiasts a rather unappealing crowd with their body odour, beer bellies, rucksacks, lack of social awareness and dubious fashion sense. Sorry, but that is how it is. In recent years I've also found the standard of the layouts more variable. I suspect in part though this is because the general standard of modelling has improved so much, and  the model railway press do such an excellent job of showing layouts in their best possible light that itmakes it hard for them to live up to expectations.

I point this out because when captioning photos on my Flickr photostream for the show I couldn't help feeling I was being very negative. On reflection I think it was because I was subjecting the layouts to the sort of scrutiny I'm giving to my own efforts and also it makes a difference viewing a layout through the lens of a camera - you become very aware of those things that destroy the illusion of reality.  Incidentally if the crowds round some of the layouts were anything to go by my view of some of the layouts wasn't shared by the majority.

So what follows is a very personal view, and isn't intended to be derogatory in any way.

Lets Do The Time Warp Again

Having mentioned how much modelling has improved in the last thirty years it is disappointing to see elements that wouldn't have looked out of place on the typical Railway of the Month from the 1960s. Topping that list has to be trees made from lichen, poor back-scenes and obvious straight line baseboard joins.

Nice wagons, shame about the trees

Sadly the one layout I really went to the show to see, Hospital Gates, suffered badly from both the baseboard joint issue and a back-scene that didn't integrate well with the modelled portion of the layout.

It was a real pity, because clearly a lot of thought had gone into the backscene, and it had been painted with considerable skill and thought. Overall this is a great layout but one that struggles to live up to published photographs of it.

Incidentally Bath Green Park was another layout which I felt  had a mismatched style of backscene despite trying to recreate a realistic sky line.I found it quite distracting on an otherwise stunning layout,

Photos v. the Real World v. Exhibition Halls

It really is a lot easier to build a layout to be convincing to the camera in individual shots than to be convincing to the human eye taking in the whole layout from an unlimited number of angles. Two of the best continental layouts on display, the well known Veldhoveh 1935 and the new to me La Baraque addressed this by careful presentation and control of the eyeline to ensure cameos attracted the attention rather than the whole layout.

Veldhoveh - almost like being there

La Baraque had a touch of the Madder Valley about it

Both these layouts take a novel approach, Veldhoveh's is very theatrical and involves forced perspective with buildings (and trams) in dufferent scales

That is what a model railway backscene should look like

La Baraque is designed to be viewed in the round, and this seemed very popular. It does lead to a few odd visual problems where the backscene doesn't extend across the whole of your line of vision.

The conclusion I walked away with is that proper framing is vitally important, and too many layouts don't take it into account. Again I could be being a little unfair because  framing might be more evident in the rooms they normally live in where they are observed from a more restricted space.. There is no doubt that a large exhibition hall like the NEC distorts things spatially. 4mm and even 7mm stock seems to shrink which means you don't get a feel for just how big some of the layouts on display are.

Another challenge of the exhibition hall is lighting. It is one of the reasons most of my photos from the show have been subjected to more post processing than I normally indulge in. You get a real mix of lighting sources that can distort colour not only in photos but to the eye as well. Most layouts at the show recognised  the importance of lighting but in counteracting the hall lighting the effect achieved was more often than not that of a Summer's day in India rather than a typical British day. The only days I saw any sunshine this year were on my trips to India.

Because my photo blog is currently based around using a compact camera for a year I used the trusty D-Lux for all these shots. The DSLR with a decent prime would have been my camera of choice. As always photographers were out in force, and as always I found myself wondering about the type of photos people were taking and what they were intending to do with them.

Cars and Boats and Planes

The standard of boats on most layouts has improved enormously over the years, and you had to be impressed by Maid of the Loch on Balloch Pier

The choice was cut off the mast or show another prematurely truncated back scene

Along with the improvement with the boats has come some staggeringly good modelling of water in different states, like this scene on Coldrennick Road.

The illusion of depth here was ruined as soon as a train was in the frame

When it comes to road transport though there is something I don't understand. The basic quality of cars and lorries available to the 4mm scale modeller in particular is everything you could ask for, yet on layout after layout they stick out like a sore thumb. Why? Sometimes it is because the model has become a bit of a cliche, sometimes it is the finish, often even attempts to improve realism seem to have the opposite effect  - especially anything involving chrome - and perhaps above anything else there is something about how they are placed on the layout. This I think can probably be divided into two elements: How they are posed to look natural, which to me means looking like they've been parked by a human driver, and secondly how they "sit" on the layout.

At the moment this is putting me off any plans to put a lorry on my layout, even though several photos I have of the Tanat Valley in the period feature them.

As for planes...well just don't, they never work.


It wasn't until I got home that it struck me that I'd hardly bothered to watch any of the layouts actually operating. I suspect that this is because operation isn't going to be a major feature of Apa, and the layouts that most caught me eye worked just as well, if not better, without a train in sight, like Bryn-y-Felin

Just add rain

For me perhaps another element is at play, that I can best sum up as "involvement" A couple of layouts were finely observed and exquisitely modelled but didn't grab me in any way emotionally. Hope Under Dinmore is a good example.

And the Winner is...

I want to stress again that I've emphasised the negatives because they are things I want to avoid myself, and that I'm aware my tastes might not be mainstream. I'm sure many would have gone for Liverpool Lime St, Bath Green Park or Hospital Gates. I've already said how good I thought Veldhoveh and La Baraque were.

If you go by the number of photos I took then the old charmer that is Charmouth was a clear winner.

When I go by the time I spent just looking at a layout though, then the winner is the one that made me think "Yes, that's what I'm trying to achieve" and on that criteria the prize goes to Allt-y-Graban Rd. This might be bad news because on that basis I might have to widen my gauge a little.

Allt-y-Graban Road. Picture perfect

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Parkers Guide

I've just realised that one of the missing links on this site is the one to Phil Parker's Workbench. Phil's quite well know through his contributions to Hornby Magazine but I first came across him because his Hellingly Hospital layout kept coming up in searches I did for various things.

Phil somehow manages to produce a blog post every day, and it is invariably worth reading even if the topics sometimes range outside my main areas of interest.

Anyway Phil has recently published a special Parkers Guide bringing together some of the projects from the magazine with some new ones, and jolly good it is too.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Fear Factor

Time for an update on the layout itself.

By now I'd planned to have the track laid. Three things have delayed it. The first was trying to work out the best way to hack out the ends of the Apa box to allow for connection to the fiddleyards. This would obviously have been a lot easier if I'd done it before constructing the box and if my jigsaw hadn't given up the ghost. In the end it came down to drilling the corners and some violence with a Stanley knife.

Then there was the embarrasment of losing the rail joiners. These eventually turned up after a week of looking taped to a box for safe-keeping - but not before I'd ordered replacements.

The real reason for the delay is the fear factor. I have horrible memories of my childhood n gauge layout never recovering from my attempt to ballast it and I've got the added complication on trying to fit in an operating mechanism for the point.

I really can't justify the cost of the DCC peripherals for a single turnout so I've gone for a mechanical option that should also allow me to switch the supply to the frog.

A DPDT switch, because I happened to have one, though a SPDT would do the job, drilled to take an operating rod of unknown origin and a length of .45 wire to engage with the tie bar. This is the first time I've tried this idea and I can't believe it is actually going to work.

So, no more excuses, the next big job will be to get the track down and wired.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

I had a cunning plan

Wanting to use this project as a first step into the world of DCC I scouted around for the most economical and foolproof way of going about it

My cunning plan was to use one of the digital trainsets on the market, knowing that I wouldn't use half the content of the box, but possibly recovering some cash via ebay.The advantage of this in theory was I would get a DCC set up, including two locos, that I knew would work.

So I went ahead and pre-ordered the Hornby Mixed Freight Set for considerably less than the current price.

Now I have a sneaky suspicion that when I ordered it the box art featured a Jinty and the  08 from the main range. I noticed soon afterwards that the steam engine had changed into the J83, which has always struck me as an odd choice of prototype. On the other hand it does  bear a passing resemblance to my much missed Triang Nellie so it isn't all bad.  Actually since the Hornby model is such a poor approximation of the J83 in the first place I might just paint it blue and annoy the purists.

The real disappointment, and I should have guessed this, is that the 08 is the inside framed "Railroad" version.


Well at least I've got two chipped locos that run, and I suspectg run better than the non DCC version of the basic Hornby 0-6-0. Once upon a time the solution would have been easy becasue it seemed that every whitemetal kit on the market was designed to fit the Triang 0-6-0 chassis. Things have moved on though. Well if nothing else I have a couple of donors to try out some loco-bashing techniques on.

Then there are the wagons.

Well again they are as absic as you can get these days. Actually for the toy market they aren't a bad compromise. Those tension lock couplers come as a bit of a shock having got used to the Bachmann NEM pocket variety but will soon come off., as will the lugs attaching the body to the chassis. I'm stuck with the solid brake lever.

Nicely printed body though. A pity Apa is set in the period when PO wagons were already a thing of the past. So some heavy weathering is underway to represent an ex-PO wagon that has had a quick coat of unfitted gray paint many years ago and is now fading back to a mixture of bare wood and the original livery. You know it is already looking a lot better.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Oh Dear

If you thought the plain side of the coach was bad wait until you see my attempt at painting the paneling.

I'm consoling myself that in poor light from the other side of the room it looks OKish.

The reality is that is has taught me a lot of lessons in a relatively short time and with little cost. I'm sure if I was to build another one today it would be substantially better. In any case it is a good reminder that this project us about (re) learning techniques and if Mk1 ends up in the bin in the New Year it will be because I'm confident I can build a better Mk 2.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

That Darned Coach

What should have been a very quick and simple project for an evening has ended up taking three and still isn't finished. It could have been if I hadn't messed around with paint schemes a couple of times though. The paint really doesn't bear close scrutiny. Having said that it has been a useful little job that has helped me start to get my eye and hand back in.

The roof and glazing aren't fixed yet, and I've got quite a bit of painting still to do. I'm hopeful that weathering will help as well.

If nothing else it proves how useful photography can be for those of us modelers with poor eyesight. I find it a lot easy to pick up on the flaws that need correcting when I'm working forma  photo that is bigger than life size.