Thursday, 13 January 2022

That Awkward Stage

There is a point in building most of my layouts where I despair. Flemish Quay has hit that point. Fortunately, having been here so many times before, I know to press on.


I'm at the stage where the landscape is blocked out and the buildings are half-finished, and it all looks a mess, not least because it looks like a lot of separate things, randomly assembled.

Which, in a way, it is.

I'm dependent now on two things. One is the scenic elements missing from the photos, particularly the walls, fencing and vegetation, as well as the chain bridge itself. The other is the lack of a unifying and blended palette of colours. Particularly glaring arethe ballast, which will become a dark brown gray, the coping stones on the harbour wall, and the "water" which will be an olive brown colour. I have also been quite cruel to the layout by taking these photos with the help of a ring light. That is deliberate, because it really highlights discrepencies.

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

A load of Cobbles

Or, more accurately, setts.

I'm increasingly aware that I'm using Flemish Quay to try out ideas for an eventual Kings Lynn/Great Yarmouth based layout. So one of the things I wanted to try out was replicating the cobbles on King Lynn's Purfleet Quay.

Being observant people you will have instantly noticed that there are actually two different types of sett laid next to each other.  I didn't, which explains why I got very frustrated trying to match photos.  Incidentally, I've also since found out these are a relatively modern feature.

My original plan was to use Intentio cobbles, but I decided to play safe and go with Redutex setts. Out of the packet, on the righthand side, these are an acceptable grey colour. You might quibble about the light mortar, but a dark wash would sort that out.

On my left is my first attempt at matching the prototype, whilst also making them look a little less cared for. Essentially it is various shades of cheap purple and brown acrylics applied with makeup sponges, then unified with a black wash. Before the wash was applied it looked somewhat startling. Once in place I'll apply some sandy washes to tone it down even more, and pick out the drain covers in a darker colour.

Monday, 10 January 2022


Work on Flemish Quay has been subject to a little delay. We had the big family "Xmas" over the New Year which kept me tied to the kitchen as head chef and bottlewasher, and then it was back to the day job.

A break does give you a chance to review progress, so I've decided to change one or two things and add some extra detailing that I wasn't initially planning on since I wanted to keep costs down. The big driver has been trying to maintain a consistent palette of both colours and textures, based on those of the Hornby building. So even more Redutex sheets are being utilised. 

I made some major miscalculations about the height and location of the Petite Properties Harpers Yard building. So that means major additions to both the structure and the foam baseboard.  Overall I think this has actually led to visual improvement as well. The origin of the building is less obvious and it does a better job of disguising an awkward corner. 

I've also begun some remedial cosmetic work on the forge itself. It isn't a bad model, but there is a lot of unpainted brickwork on it around things like the drainpipes, the mortar courses are bright yellow resin, and the roof tiles are far too uniform.  Oddly the yellow mortar is less obvious than you would think. 

What I have discovered is why they have printed the windows white, rather than the brown of the prototype. As soon as you paint them the thick resin interior suddenly becomes very obvious

Having mentioned Petite Properties it is worth calling out some of the other suppliers I've used, especially the ones that have provided a great service over the holiday break. 

ScaleModelScenery are a great source of low-cost details, especially where they are background items, like bicycles. 

Modelu are the source of the very few figures that will appear on the layout. If I didn't happen to have a supply of parts in stock I would have also used them for a lot of architectural details.

Anyscale is a less well-known supplier with some useful and cheap resin cast details, though you do need to to choose carefully from the range.

Then there is my local model shop, Masons Models in Spalding who are my supplier of stripwood and paints. It is a good all-round model shop, and I always feel guilty that my modelling interests are too specialist to make more use of them.

Rails of Sheffield have proven to be a fast and reliable source of Redutex sheets. I'd more or less given up on this range, partly because of supply challenges, partly because I find them just a little too thick. 

Finally, there are NGTrains/EDM Models who are my source for blue manual point "motors".

Now since Flemish Quay doesn't involve any paintwork, why would I need point controllers ;-)


Wednesday, 29 December 2021

Flemish Quay

 The OO6.5 layout finally has a name. I did toy with calling it Chain Bridge, since it features both a model of Chain bridge Forge and a, well, a chain bridge.

So why Flemish Quay? Trying to match other brickwork to the Skaledale building I came across my stash of Redutex Flemish brickwork. I believe that this is now readily available from Rails of Sheffield, but there was a period when it was in very short supply. So there is going to be a lot of Flemish bond brickwork on the layout.  This area of the country also has many strong links with the low countries. The geography here is also similar to Belgium and the Netherlands, as exploited by the inimitable Jonathon Meades.  It is even called South Holland, though oddly the derivation is different than the Dutch Holland. 

It is hard to judge progress on building the layout. It has certainly gone through an awkward stage where I questioned pretty much everything and despaired of it working. I'm now at the stage where I'm bringing together different elements that I've worked on off-stage. The photograph I posted in the last blog helped me decide to change the design of the dock, and that pile of Redutex sheets has convinced me to go for a brick-built quay rather than timber. I'm still not 100% happy with the dock. On the one hand, I have opened up more of a space and provided a logic for the placement of the buildings, but on the other, I think I would struggle to find a similar real-life basin. 

I've split the chain bridge into two parts to avoid damage during construction.  And for those who don't know what a chain bridge is in this context, it is, quite simply a bridge that was lifted by pulling on chains. The real one in Spalding had two spans but that would have made life awkward on the model with such limited space available.

Ballasting HOf track has not been the most fun I've ever had, and testing it too soon appears to have damaged one of my locos, though fortunately not one of the key ones

Being me, I forgot that it would be useful to paint the back scene elements of the baseboard as a short term expedient before installing the proper one when I work out how to design that. 

My next big challenge is the water. Frankly, I'm dreading it. Techniques that seem to work for other people just go horribly wrong for me. It doesn't help that pouring it is one of those no going back moments whereas at the moment I can take out the foam baseboard to work on it.

I'd hoped to get it finished for Xmas, my target is now NYE to get it sceniced and running, but with lots of finishing touches still to do

Whilst I'm still dissatisfied with it, I have to say I'm learning a lot in the process. Especially when it comes to composition. 

So what next? I would quite like another OO6.5 project, but the track is a real pain. I have a horrible feeling it might be time to abandon 4mm, at least in the long term, and start focussing on 7mm. In the shorter term, I do want to use the 4mm stock I already have.

Friday, 10 December 2021


 I can't remember what it is like to have time on my hands. Real, usable, time when you can get things done.

I've just taken two days off and it is amazing what I have, and haven't, been able to do.

The OO6.5 micro is making real progress. I'm rethinking a few things as I go along, and rediscovering old friends in my storage boxes like my static grass applicator. I'm hoping three good sprints and it will be usable for running my Xmas present on the big day.

James Hilton recently blogged around the concept of completeness. I was thinking about that in terms of my earlier "quickie" ultra micro OO 6.5 project. Although in six months I've never got beyond mocking ideas up it has been incredibly useful in clarifying my ideas for this layout. In a sense it has done its job.  Since I've already mentioned sprints I might as well go completely "Agile" and say it was prototype, and this layout is a Minimal Viable Product. So the next iteration will be an MEP or Minimal Economic Product. But what? I'm loving OO6.5 but the limited availability of the HOf system constrains my options. The W&U idea still depends on facing up to wiring that three-way point. The alternative has to be 7mm scale...

Thursday, 2 December 2021

The Big Picture

One of my very few skills is the ability to talk about my chosen subject in front of a large audience for hours at a time without any notes. Luckily for me, it has proven to be quite a lucrative one. I've never really analysed it but I suspect one reason I can do it is my rehearsals don't focus on learning fixed words, but on telling a coherent story.

What is a strength in one area is often a weakness in others. It has struck me that one reason I find building layouts difficult is that I need to have that complete picture in my head as a mental model. The only two big layouts I have built have been my old 16mm line and the ELR. In both cases their physical size was balanced by relative simplicity.

Building the original Apa Vally I found I could "take it with me" in my head when I was travelling for work.t I could mentally visualise it and what I needed to do next. Conversely the things that sometimes get in my way are as simple as trying to visualise where the wiring of a turnout will go. I have that problem with the Peco threeway point, which is a pain in the neck when I have two schemes that use one.

When I say I can't visualise it I don't mean what you are probably thinking. Here my dsypraxia comes into play again. but it is very hard to explain. Let me give you another analogy. When I'm in a busy pub at Xmas time, with lots of different individual conversations going on, my mind gives up. I'll explain it to people by saying that I can't hear them, but it is much deeper than that. It doesn't help if they speak louder to me, and it isn't just my hearing that is affected. In model railway terms it isn't that I can't see, an image, but that too much is going on, and changing, for me to make sense of it. Oddly there are other complex situations where dyspraxia works in my favour, cutting through Gordian knots.

The good news is that with the OO6.5mm project I DO have the whole model in my head. OK, there are a few things I've not yet made my mind up about, like the backscene, and a couple of ideas I have concerns about, but they are manageable for this Bear of Little Brain.

Actually, whilst minor, the ideas that I have concerns about are, perhaps, interesting.

The track plan is a simple small oval, but I think I can largely disguise that. My concerns are that in doing so I'll reduce the attractive viewpoints. There is also a question in my mind about the fictional backstory for the layout and how it justifies the trackplan.

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Or Then Again...

When I went to bed last night I thought I had the plan for the new desktop layout falling into place. It was quite a good plan as well, with some clever scenic ideas and with the OO6.5 dominating over the standard gauge. But looking at it in the light of day it struck me that it was going to be a lot harder work than could be justified. I also had to admit how I'd enjoyed just watching the locos run round whilst I had been doing the planning.

So we head into Plan B territory, which is actually to revert to the baseboard I was originally intending to use for an OO6.5 version of the Scalescenes Canal Box Folder layout, but to build it around the Hornby Forge instead.  This will be my watching the trains go round layout. That leaves the ex TAoC baseboard to be used for a simpler scheme that is mostly a standard gauge shunting plank, but with a simple section of OO6.5 retained.

With a bit of rearranging, I even think I might be able to get both of them on my desk at the same time.