Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Devil in the Detail

Over at Odds Oracle Martin has been posting such juicy photos of  inconsequential details that I've almost forgiven him for his heavy criticism of Black Country Blues. Not that he is wrong in what he said, but for me the faults, exaggerated by a particularly cruel photo, are outweighed by how well it captures a railway scene that I knew so well as a Brummie - though let us be quite clear that Birmingham and the Black Country are not the same thing. If I'm honest I thought it was another photo of  BCB in the MRJ article that I expected him to have most fun with. I'll let him guess which one.

Anyway I digress from my main point, which is both how important ancillary details are and at the same time how challenging they can be to model.

Take this for example.

I must have walked past this pole in our neighbouring village of Brandon hundreds of times, but I've never really "looked at it" before. How long would it take to model that, yet how much would it add to a model if you did? Here I have to confess my most basic ignorance that I don't even know if it is a telephone pole or a power pole. And are poles for telephone lines still called telegraph poles? This is what it looks like in 2015, what would it have looked like in 1965 or 1915? Whatever the answers I hope you'll agree with me that it is rather wonderful and deserves to be modeled.

And then what about this? I suspect it is a good few years since any Ferrari graced this forecourt, but there was a time when the wealthy West Midlands was peppered with exotic car dealerships in unexpected places. I think Stourport used to have a Lamborghini dealership. At this point my wife usually gets the speech about how before I married her I was living in Chelsea and couldn't walk out of my flat without tripping over some variety of super car. Literally so in some cases.

But lets get back to real life. One of the more exciting events in our twin villages of Brandon and Wolston has been the inscribing of the last two names on the Brandon war memorial. They weren't put on it originally because they came from a very small village that decided helping the families was more important than erecting a memorial.

I have to say the masons did an excellent job because if you didn't know they were new you would think they had been there since the same time as the other WW1 inscriptions.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015


Sometimes it is good to remember that experiments don't have to be 'successful' to be useful.

I've been playing around with the Silhouette cutter again. Late in the evening probably wasn't a good time to start but it was the only time I had. It is so long since I last used it that I made a few silly mistakes along the way. All of which is part of the learning process, I suppose, especially getting used to how it cuts different materials.

And of course there are the happy accidents along the way. For instance having accidentally misaligned two lines I discovered that in 10 thou plasticard you can cut extremely thin glazing bars compared to using card. Oddly though there is one shape that should be cutting cleanly but consistently isn't, as you can see in the photo. I'm guessing it is something to do with the order in which the cutting blade changes direction.

Can  you tell what it/they is/are yet?

There are some big clues here that I haven't given up on the 14XX body that suffered from the unfortunate mix up with the paint strippers, and also that I'm attempting to emulate laserglaze on the cheap. Incidentally since taking this photo I've discovered how to massively improve the quality of the curves the machine can cut.

The other parts will hopefully look familiar to Phil Parker....

Monday, 26 January 2015

Tidying Up

Weekends since Xmas seem to have been dedicated to clearing out the loft and the library.  For some reason we now have an empty loft, a  library full of junk, and a spare room full of the TAoC - but I think Issy has discovered that is where it is hiding so I'm going to have to find space for it in the office again.

As a quick reminder my office also functions as my digital darkroom and my workshop, so space is at a premium, especially now my work desk has two Apa boxes perched on it. Actually it also acts as the over spill library as well and as the dogs' daytime den.

I've been meaning to have a tidy up in here for ages, but one of the issues I've had is finding homes for stuff whilst still keeping it accessible for quick modelling sessions when I've got a spare hour or so.

Recently I came across the Hobbyzone modular workshop and thought it might be worth a try.

So here it is in action. The brushes and tools unit is really useful. The draw units have draws that are a decent size and clear plastic windows so you can see the contents. I find relatively large draws useful when trying to extract sharp objects from them, or just sorting though the content of Misc & Sundries.

I'm glad I opened and built the corner shelf unit, on the bottom left hand side, last, because it doesn't give the feel of confidence in the construction that the others do. On the other hand it has proved to have two really good features. First of all it is a great place to sweep up WIP at the end of a session, but also, as you can see, the cut-out in the shelf is just the right shape to accommodate the dishes from our local takeaway.

Incidentally that is an Lcut bridge under construction in the photo.

To be honest the units were a little smaller than I was expecting, and they aren't cheap. I'm sure most of you could knock something similar up for yourselves.

They arrived quickly, each well packaged, and with instructions that are best described as adequate in places. The cylindrical object is the stack of magnets used to connect the units together, an idea that seems to work well.

Will I be buying more of them? Probably. I could see myself getting a couple to sit on my main desk for those five minute jobs.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015


One of the mini projects I have underway is a 4mm scale tramway micro layout.

In some ways this is unfinished business. As well as his three rail O gauge garden railway my father, inspired by trips on the Vicinal  built a crude tramway layout when I was still in nappies. He also did much to promote Hamo and Anbrico trams when he was running his model shop in the early 60's.

My grandfather, great grandfather and a great uncle all worked on tramways. Indeed my great uncle met his death when the Birmingham tram he was driving collided with a church.  He was lucky compared to the great uncle who died in a foundry accident.

One of the first white metal kits I built was of a Birmingham tram, and I was rather proud of it , but I never found suitable seats for the open top deck and time and house moves took its eventual toll on the model.

And as a child growing up in Blackpool and going to school by tram I often dreamed of a model tramway empire.

Exactly what form this model will take I'm not yet sure. Despite my obvious links to Blackpool and Birmingham trams I suspect it will have more of a black country interurban  flavour with the Kinver line being a major influence.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015


Exhibit A:

One jar of solvent free paint stripper suitable for use on plastics

Exhibit B:

One jar of not safe for plastic paint stripper

The rest of this post more or less writes itself, doesn't it?

It looks a LOT worse than it is!

I made the mistake of trying to strip the paint off of the diecast Lisbon tram at the same time as trying to get the last traces of paint off of one of the 14XX bodyshells.

I very nearly got away with it.

In fact it might just be salvageable down the line if I can identify suitable Archer resin rivet transfers. I was going to replace the toolboxes anyway. The splashers aren't brilliant either, so perhaps I should just replace the whole area of the footplate.

In the meantime lets make a virtue out of necessity and use the damaged body to practice some techniques on. If I'm honest with myself I was already feeling uneasy about having removed the bunker and tank steps. I still think there is something wrong with the moulded ones, but that doesn't mean I'm capable of improving on them just yet.

In any case replacement Airfix 14XX are easy to come by and a new one is already en route to me, and this one is allegedly a runner, not that that is relevant.

Whilst I'm confessing to mistakes I also had a stupid accident whilst clamping the Lcut platform. I let some glue escape whilst taking a belts and braces approach to clamping pieces together which damaged the surface detail. Not catastrophic, but annoying.

Are we downhearted?

Well yes, a bit, because both the mistakes were stupid and avoidable. Who would be so daft as to make sure they had a separate brush for each type of paint stripper, but use identical brushes with no way of telling them apart?

But hey, nothing expensive has been ruined, I have a plan B to recover from both situations and, perhaps most important of all, I expected to make some mistakes along the way. I'm glad I made the mistakes now rather than further down the line. I was watching a programme about the Lindisfarne Gospels and a calligrapher said two things. The first was that the scribe included a deliberate mistake on every page, and the other was that as a calligrapher you always,always, make a mistake on the very last page.

Hopefully I can avoid that by making my mistakes on the first page and getting them out of the way.

And the Lisbon tram is looking great.

Saturday, 10 January 2015


So for those of you who have been wondering, here is the Templot track plan laid out on the baseboards

Thursday, 8 January 2015

New Year, New Progress

With the New Year our focus has shifted once again to a possible house move. Or at least my wife's has. Still it is an excuse both for a clear out, and perhaps counter intuitively it is also a catalyst to get some serious modelling done.  I can clear WIP and "not actually needed at the moment" debris away and focus on those projects that can be completed quickly.

No sniggering at the back, I know my reputation for procrastination.

With the baseboards of TAoC complete  the obvious next task on that is to start track laying. My original plan was to build as much of the track in-situ.  I might still take that approach with the second board, where the timbering is a little complex.  On the first one though I'm going to build the turnouts and catch point separately so the don't get damaged with the baseboard being set up and then taken down to allow for viewings. By the time I get on to the second board I'm hoping we will either have sold the house or I will at least have found a better place to store the layout.

Whilst on the subject of track building I've wondered about using the Silhouette to build a sleepering jig for the turnouts. It depends on how accurately I can get a plan output from Templot into the design software for the cutter.

The other TAoC task I want to work on this week is the Bullfrog "manual point motors"  They aren't cheap, especially when you get charged duty on them. On the other hand people are only likely to use them on relatively small layouts where they are easily accessible from the operating position so no one is going to be buying them in large quantities.

The station buildings for the initial version of TAoC need a home whilst track construction goes on, so a second APA box has been called into service.  This means I can retire the OO version and replace it with a tram layout in a scale that is still to be decided. The Lcut buildings are well underway, or at least the platform, bridge and station building are. The platform mounted signal box and the Fairford branch based water tower should follow. I'm going to write a separate post on all of these as construction gets more advanced

Then it is on to the loco fleet.

For display purposes at least I'm re-wheeling one of the Airfix 14xx chassis. The cosmetic work on the first body has been speeded up with the delivery of a pack from Alan at Quarryscapes including plates for 1449. I might even have found a solution to the tank vent replacement issue. Where I think I might have gone wrong is in removing the tank and cabside steps without having thought through their replacement. I do find the more I look at photos of the real thing the more small things I find that contribute to that distinct 14xx look.

I'm also building a conversion of the Dapol Pug suggested by Phil Parker sometime ago. This is really just another exercise in using the Silhouette to see what it can do, I'm also trying out the Silhouette as a way of making the duckets on the E40 coach.

What I really need to prioritise this year is some wagon building,

Then in the distant future there are  projects that I suspect I'll still be writing about in five year's time, like the Bachmann/Hornby combination Class 25.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Another Present

I've mentioned Tim Horn's excellent laser cut products  a few times before. I'm using his standard baseboards for TAoC and in the meantime I'm displaying my stock on one of his display standards.

With Xmas out of the way I've just got round to opening the package containing the second baseboard which has been lying around in my office for weeks. I was a little chastened therefore to discover that because Tim felt the order had been delayed being dispatched he'd included one of his A4 scenic boards with it as a gift. Incidentally I thought the order was sent out quite promptly and wasn't aware of any delay.

So now the dilemma is what to do with it? I already have a second Apa based diorama underway to showcase the Lcut buildings, and the original Apa is about to be re-used for a 7mm tramway layout.

A small diorama using the Sentinel is one option, another is a 4mm tramway scene. Then again I still hanker after a return to narrow gauge modelling. I've even got a Smallbrook Studio Nellie hiding somewhere in a draw that needs a home.