Thursday, 16 January 2014

In an octopus's garden

I hate to admit that I sometimes read the Daily Mail, but sometimes I need a good laugh.

Anyway I came across this article in it today about landscape dioramas built underwater in aquarium tanks.

Tank Warfare

I don't think we are in any place to judge other people's hobbies, but what I found interesting is the techniques they've used to create a sense of depth and how rarely, if ever, I've seen the same techniques on a model railway.

Take the third photo down where the light is shining through the trees at horizon level, or the one at the bottom.

Perhaps there is a future for plain back-scenes after all.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Shedding some light on priorities

If I'd continued down the line of using Tillig track as a halfway house to going finescale I would now be ready to get on and get something built.

Shifting to EM feels like starting all over again with the need to progress track, rolling stock and everything else in a sensible order and at the pace at which I can produce them. and make investments in the necessary tools and jigs.

Although I'm generally a bit of a whizz at using project planning software in my day job I have an intrinsic dislike of it and the type of mindset it seems to encourage. There are times though, and this is one of them, where it can be really useful.

Since I consider Microsoft Project too expensive for personal use I'm going to recommend  the open source alternative GanttProject . This can read and write MS Project files if you need to do so for any reason.

For those of you unfamiliar with project planning software it lets you organise all the tasks you need to do in a granular way, and map their interdependencies with each other and with the "resources" needed to complete them. The end result should be a prioritized and costed plan that, depending on the logic you've used, gives a good indication of the timeline it will take to complete.

All good in theory but as usual the old IT adage of Garbage In > Gospel Out applies with people tending to mistake a plan based on multiple assumptions for what should happen in reality. The types of project I run in the real world are in areas that I know very well, so if the plan says it will take six months but I know it will take a year I tend to ignore what the plan says.

This really annoys my German colleagues.

What putting things into a plan can do is help you pick out dependencies you hadn't realised were there, to plan out expenditure and, though this only works if you are dealing with a good project manager, an insight into what really matters that you didn't know before you started planning.  Hopefully that stops people wasting time doing things that aren't important just at the minute" at the expense of long term objectives.

So I'm now a man with a plan, though it hasn't been influencing what I need to do as much as it should because some items only come up for sale on eBay from time to time and you have to grab them whilst they are there...

...So I've finally got hold of a Bachmann chassis to put under a Hornby Class 25 body, so a project that was on a back-burner turned down low is suddenly boiling away, and I've realised that buying those parts from Brassmasters at Warley was actually on my Critical Path. Just a pity I didn't buy them at the time...

...never mind ordering EM wheel sets to fit in with the extended delivery schedule from the otherwise wholly admirable Ultrascale

Meanwhile that AC railcar that arrived whilst I was discussing with my darling wife why I couldn't afford to fix the step-daughter's car has skewed the plan a little.

And this is where I do the clever segue into the question of lighting.

I finally accepted how bad the lighting in my home office was during the point building. I'd actually forgotten that as a house built off plan several rooms, including my home office, were equipped by default with "warm, low energy lighting." Couple that with a large window that somehow only every manages to illuminate my desk and you have a recipe for modelling, and photographic, disaster.

So I've shifted to the consistent use of 6500k lamps. If you are quick you might still pick up some of these bargains.   They are very, very blue. But on the other hand they've made it so much easier to see things clearly.

That also means revealing a few things that I would rather not see, in terms of my shoddy workmanship to date, but even that is a good thing really of course.

Monday, 6 January 2014

"Modern" Image on the Tanat Valley

Whilst going through a second hand Railway Modeller recently this battered and faded print fell out from between the pages. It must have been a secret test run of the then brand new AC railbus to determine if reinstating passenger services was viable.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The Lessons of the Point - Part 2

Before I go any further can I recommend David Nicolson's article on 7mm point building in the current MRJ. (Issues 227) Although about building S7 pointwork most of the content is equally applicable in 4mm scale. Had I delayed building my first turnout until after reading it and I would have avoided my big whoops.

Iain Rice's An Approach to Building Finescale Track has been my main guide up until now. Iain suggests, and I think it is a great idea when layout building, to build the longest possible track sections off the layout directly on the paper templates and with ballasting done before any rails are laid. At the end of construction this can be lifted as a unit and laid onto a resilient foam trackbed. I'm sure I can't be the only person to have suffered the frustration of what was a perfectly functioning RTR turnout becoming a major problem after ballasting so this approach sounds very attractive. However it is one of those things that in retrospect I wouldn't have chosen to do for my very first attempt at a turnout.  Too much information can be lost when the template is ballasted over even if you keep a spare copy and copy key information over to the edge of the template away from the ballasted area.

The specific problem I had was being caught out by a point that both Iain and David make. If the templates are going to form part of the final trackbed it is is important to use the right kind of paper.

Now normally my printer is loaded with good quality paper, though of differing sorts, because I use it for my job. So when I produced my first section of plain track using the "ballasting first" approach I didn't have any problems. What I'd forgotten was one of the step children had dumped an unwanted pack of cheap and cheerful paper into my paper tray.

This, by itself, nearly scuppered my attempt before it had started. The dilute PVA glue mix that had worked perfectly well for the plain track was absorbed very unevenly by this different paper. In some case the glue appeared to soak in and failed to bond any of the ballast. In other places the paper simply disintegrated.

So I re-ballasted and turned to the method I'd used on Apa, applying "Quick Shine" - a Klear type product, to ballast that was already in place. Unfortunately the top of the bottle came of and spilt it everywhere. This wouldn't have been so bad if I'd cut the TimberTracks base away from its supporting structure and cut the webs between the timbers. Because I hadn't done so. the soaked  plywood  curled away from the baseboard with the ends an inch or so above the trackbed.

At this point I came close to giving up.

A change of glue, reprinting the templates, cutting the point timbers free of their frame and the application of a lot of weight recovered the situation to some degree.

It was then that I managed to break the common crossing and had to resolder that as well.

I wasn't sure whether to begin construction by placing the common crossing or by laying the straight stock rail. I did the latter in the end but I'm still not sure it was the right approach.

After that construction actually became rather fun, although it is amazing how quickly you develop the ability to spot a dropped 4mm scale chair on a carpet.

Construction would certainly have been quicker if I'd had a better workflow for putting the chairs on  whilst also keeping an eye on which way round the keys were meant to go. However although the chairs are best slid on to the rail it is possible to also spring them on and off by flexing their base as long as you fix them to the timbers soon afterwards to avoid them dropping off. In the worst case scenario it is also quite easy to cut the chairs in half and apply a piece to each side if you don't discover the mistake early enough.

Costs are kept down by only supplying normal running chairs and slide chairs. Chairs to had the common crossing and the check rails in place are made by cutting these in half. One thing I didn't pick up from either the instructions or the template is when the best type of chair to cut was a normal keyed chair or a slide chair. I must go back and check if that was me missing something in the instructions or if it isn't covered by them. Other than that the trimming was much much easier than I'd expected.

The other thing that caught me out was not tinning the rail and attaching the  wires at the right point in construction. The tolerances on the fit between the chair and the rail ios quite tight and it didn't prove possible to slide a chair over a tinned section of rail. All that meant was I had to start threading  the chairs on from the other end.

Oh yes, and I half forgot to cut slots to allow for an under baseboard tie bar, but that was because I kept changing my mind about whether I was going to continue with the lift and shift idea post construction.

In the end I did, and despite the various escapades with glue it lifted away quite easily and has produced a surprisingly rigid and robust piece of trackwork. I still need to address the tie bar issue though.

Two final observations. You really can't have enough of two things - track gauges and weights!