Monday, 28 October 2013

Llanrhaiadr Mochnant in Glorious Colour!

I was whingeing recently in my comments on Geoff's excellent  article on good yard textures about how difficult it was to recreate colour from black and white photos.

It is typical therefore that almost immediately afterwards I found this set of colour photos of Llanrhaiadr Mochnant.

£15 for each high definition download is a bit steep if you ask me but even the preview versions have provided me with some useful information. I'm glad I found them now rather than in a year's time because they've corrected my understanding of a few points. In a particular I'm really pleased to find this shot of the shed with the fuel pump next to it. I think it will make a nice cameo.

I'm certainly a lot happier now I know more about the colour of the goods yard and after another couple of washes I think I'm getting closer to the right effect. I need to do something about the vegetation around the edges. It would appear to need to be a darker green than the grass behind it and more weed than grass.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013


A quick break from work this evening has let me put the fencing in place, though not permanently yet.

The idea of building it on the U channel has worked better than expected, especially since the channel could then be pre-planted with vegetation.

The intermediate strakes are 0.6mm Plastruct rod. If doing it again I would probably use wire. They are so obvious in photos of the line that they need to be modeled, and that in turn meant I had no real choice about whether or not to model the fence wires, for which I used knitting-in elastic. This is one of the alternatives to stretched sprue that kit modelers use for rigging biplanes. I could imagine using it to represent signal wire as well. In this case I've used Metalcote on it, but to be honest I think it would have been fine in its natural state.

I think it has made a big difference to the diorama

Not good enough

No one is probably more surprised than me that I've made a fair amount of progress against yesterday's to do list.

As always though it isn't that simple, and as I've improved one thing I've become more dissatisfied with others

Giving the goods yard a wash of various tones has improved it considerably, but it still isn't quite right. 

The platform is looking better, but still needs some weeds to disguise imperfect join between the platform surface and the platform edge.

The attempt to improve the weighbridge windows

Appears to be no better than my first attempt.

Time to bite the bullet I think and build a new version. 

Behind the revised version you can see I've been trying to sort out the lineside fencing as well. Given that I'm having to retrofit it I've opted to build it on a sub-base made form U channel. This was a good move because even then trying to get the "knitting-in elastic" in place was a struggle for my poor eyes. Having said that it worked better than expected. It has just enough tension to remain taut without pulling the posts inwards too  much, and enough give that it doesn't get damaged when you catch it accidentally. Incidentally I've not attached it to any of the intermediate posts, it lies up against them due to the tension. I've still got to add the thin wooden strakes that were used between the concrete posts on the prototype.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Remedial Action

Whilst playing around with train simulators, planning Llanrhaiadr Mochnant and working rather too hard it has to be said that Apa has been getting very little attention. In fact it looks very unloved as the shift to Autumn weather seems to have caused a few things to come unglued. To be honest it is hard to get up too much enthusiasm for a project that has served its purpose, especially since I want to focus on developing my EM gauge track building and stock fettling skills. If I didn't know better though I would blame the damage on an obvious scapegoat. Young engines today bah!

On the other hand it is sat on my desk and I would rather it at least looked finished  so I can switch the lighting on and not feel embarrassed.

Actually problem number one is I need to reattach the lighting and optimize where I'm placing it because I wasn't happy with the original positioning. Other jobs to be done are:
  • Putting a road surface in the space between the bridge parapet and the back scene and adding some vegetation around the bridge
  • Re-gluing the platform surface which has lifted
  • Trimming the vegetation along the base of the platform
  • Replanting the trees
  • Having another attempt at improving the colour of the goods yard
  • Finishing the signalbox whilst fully accepting it is a learning exercise 
  • Putting in some of the distinctive lineside fencing
  • Replace the windows in the weighbridge
That little lot should keep me busy for a few days. Meanwhile here it is in MSTS

Friday, 18 October 2013

This Virtual Life

Llanrhaiadr Mochnant here we come!

One of my many excuses for a lack of recent modelling activity is that I've just upgraded the PC in my home office. To be honest as a household we probably have a higher than average number of computers and whilst it is a long time since I had a job that involved getting my hands dirty with technology I can still find my way around the innards of a computer. So normally a new machine is up and running with all the right software and data  in minutes. My home office machine though is a different kettle of fish, with a lot of legacy software on it and a lot of data, especially photographs. So it has taken a couple of weeks to get it to the stage where the new machine is ready to take over.

Whilst trying to find some of the CDs needed for those legacy programs I came across the disks for Microsoft Train Simulator (MSTS). Now I have mixed feelings about train simulators, but I've recently upgraded to the latest versions of Train Simulator/Railworks/Rail Simulator and to Trainz. Trainz just doesn't do it for me, I find it uninvolving, but TS20014 has some quite good content, though it comes at a price unless you buy it during one of their regular promotions.

MSTS is long in the tooth now, and was long abandoned by Microsoft. Out of the box the graphics show their age, especially if you forget you need tom run it in windowed mode to make the best use of modern screens. However it has the advantage that there is a lot of high quality user-generated content out there that can transform it. From my perspective it helps enormously that some of that content is narrow gauge, and I have a particular fondness for the Rye & Camber and W&LLR routes that are available.

Having fired it up again on the new machine I began to wonder what Cambrian Railway content was available. I vaguely remembered there being a payware pack for the Cambrian Coast lines, and discovered to my delight that an expanded version even included the TVR.

Blodwell Junction

Llanrhaiadr Mochnant


OK, knowing the line quite well now some things are very obviously wrong. The good sheds are far too small and.... but hold on it is what it is, and quite good fun to drive. It has certainly given me another insight into the line. It might not be everybody's cup of tea but I've been really enjoying myself after a hard slog of a week.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Learning from others

I have more than one hobby. In fact model railways only just make it into the top three, with photography and cycling being in the lead and various others, such as canals, motor racing and our four toy poodles not far behind. . There is no doubt that not focusing on just one pastime leads to conflicts over time, and as a a consequence I'm sure it impacts my expertise across them all.

Sometimes though, as on that recent cycling trip in the USA, there is a chance to leverage some synergies, as we management consultants are alleged to say on a frequent basis.

For the first time in a very long time I picked up a copy of Airfix Model World because it had a big focus on WW1 models which I've always found interesting, including updating the venerable Airfix R.E.8 kit.

More to the point where railway modelling is concerned it was another reminder of how techniques have progressed . The article on building the Fokker Eindecker and a 54mm British soldier showed just what impressive are now being achieved as a result of high quality kits being combined with sophisticated paint finishes.

As a hobby though we are lucky that we have modelers equally willing to share their time, knowledge and ideas. It is great when this is shared on the web or in maagazines, but sometimes it is nice to see both people and their models in the flesh.

This is a long winded introduction to a review of this weekend's Great Electric Train Show at the Gaydon Heritage Motor Centre. Incidentally despite spending a lot of time at Gaydon as part of my job this was the first time I'd visited the motor museum there.

For reasons that I'm not quite sure about it appears to have been cheaper to attend when the model railway show was on than it is normally. Certainly at £10 for both it was excellent value for money and this, along with the venue, seemed to have made it quite attractive to casual enthusiasts and families rather than the more socially challenged. In any case the venue was quite spacious, if not always easy to find your way around, and on Saturday afternoon it was a pleasure to just wander around.

It was particularly pleasurable to get some time to chat to Phil Parker.

Given my stressing around the fiddleyard for LM it was great to see how simple the arrangements ar for Clayhanger

Yes, those bulldog clips are both the alignment device and provide the electrical connection. Incidentally all the operators, vendors and demonstrators I spoke to were unfailingly keen to engage in conversation rather than avoiding eye contact as is too often the case.

One of the subjects we discussed was the rise of the celebrity layout, A show like this provides a good chance to see a model like Bath Green Park without the crowds it attracts at the bigger events.

Having said that, it still doesn't work for me despite the high quality of the modelling.

Elsewhere there were some nice cameos, as here on Tansey Bank

St Minions is just one big cameo, and is obviously close in conception to my own plans

From my own perspective it was also interesting to see Seend.

Best in show for me though was undoubtedly the local Scalefour group's Clarendon.

Negatives? You could have wandered into the Heritage Collection and not realized there was a model railway exhibition going on upstairs, there was very little signage. Layout wise the two things I noticed far too often were visible 90 degree baseboard joins and cobbled areas where the joins between sheets of cobbles were undisguised. Some of the running was less than stellar as well.

More photos to be found here

Friday, 11 October 2013

Back to where I started

So it is over a year and I still haven't built the signal box which was fundamental to my original design for Apa Valley. So the carefully installed but virtually invisible to the naked eye point rodding currently disappears  into the undergrowth where the signal box should be. The undergrowth in question is, however,easily removable and easily exchangeable for an empty baseplate for the signal box.

There are three reasons why progress has proceeded beyond an early  attempt to fabricate the windows

The first is because the signal box doesn't fit in with my plans for LM.

Secondly I know that my first attempt isn't going to satisfy me, so whatever I build will need replacing fairly quickly.

The third is my usual excuse of being too busy and on the road too much.

This week for example I've been in France since Sunday lunchtime. I got back from Grenoble on Thursday night and having been out of wi fi contact for sometime found enough work in my inbox to keep me busy until midnight, and thgen I had to get up early today to get to a meeting in Birmingham.

Actually I didn't need to get up that early to get to the meeting. I had to get up that early  to get to the Ian Allan bookshop before I got to  the meeting.

It seems a lifetime ago that I used to spend large amounts of time and money in their London, back in the days when I commuted to and from Waterloo.  I've never got the hang of their current Birmingham shop. Clearly there is some sort of reason behind what books are where, but  it is usual beyond me to work out what it is. The nice thing is that visits therefore end up being a bit of a lucky dip, especially for someone with my eclectic tastes.

On this occasion I got a nicely produced but old book on the historic railway sites of Pennsylvania, reduced to a bargain £10. More relevant to the subject of this post is I also picked up a copy of Western Region Signalling in Colour.  needless to say I kept that well hidden in my briefcase during my meeting.

There is only photo in it of direct relevance, a picture of Barmouth South which like the Tanat Valley boxes was a product of Duttons but when I get round to building the interior for the model it has given me some ideas .

Friday, 4 October 2013

Get thee behind me

I came across this company yesterday, who feature in their range some West Maryland kits, including some from Williamsport, home of that rather wonderful lifting bridge I photographed the other week.

Now I'm not about to make a serious shift to American HO, but I have been thinking that once I convert all my stock to EM I'm going to have an Apa Box layout with what is, after all, HO track in it....

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Good of the Hobby

It is somewhat scary that nearly a year has passed since I started this blog. At the time I expected the basic diorama to be finished by Xmas.

Gosh, you have to laugh.

So many things have changed. on so many levels. For instance I really thought the use of Tillig track might be a long term way forward. I really didn't expect to be sat here with a bunch of EM track components. If I'm honest I'd probably massively over estimated how far the RTR market had developed. The truth is it remains a  starting point and nothing more.

Look at this, for instance, how dreadful is it!

When was whitewash golden?

In my own mind I have a fairly clear concept of the way forward, but it isn't going to be easy. Then it is my choice. Which brings me back to the title of this piece.

There have been some excellent post recently by Iain Robinson *, Mike Cougill and Geoff Forster  that I both agree with 100% whilst also questioning at a fundamental level.

This is still a hobby, rather than a job or something that really really matters on the great scale of things. Most people in our hobby have a hundred and one other distractions in their lives. How do we evaluate what is good for the hobby at a global level? Look back at railway modelling articles from ten, twenty or thirty years ago and there is no doubt that what is accepted as "average" has improved out of all recognition. Perhaps the best modelling from any of those periods still holds its own - Heckmondwicke  still grabs me in a very basic way as a model that just worked, for instance - but look at the mainstream model railway press and if nothing else you'll struggle to spot the use of lichen, and that wasn't always the case. The downside is that perhaps we have a lot of people trying to emulate a certain "look" by following articles that give step by step instructions but is that such a bad thing if it gives people the confidence to go ahead and explore their own boundaries?

In some ways the hobby has never been healthier. Personally, for example, I love the fact that I can order specialist components on line and not have to endure fighting my way past people with a challenging view of what constitutes personal hygiene.

One argument is that in the days when kits and RTR locos were basic people were forced to develop the skills to enhance the models available, but a glance through the model press of the time suggests this just meant the starting position was set a lot lower than it is today. The builder of the typical K's kit didn't build their own chassis and fit finescale wheels. Today, faced with a basically adequate RTR loco I find it quite appealing to guild the lily a little by modifying the few things that aren't quite right.

Are there still model layouts out there that are derivative of other models and based on RTR components ? Yes, clearly there are, biut equally there are a lot of models that encapsulate a very individual vision based on both an accurate representation of the prototype and an aesthetic understanding of what makes an attractive and successful layout.

*Since Iain has now discovered this blog I'm going to have to come back to this subject in more depth to explain what I think a modeller like him brings to the table that the rest of us can only try to emulate.