Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Apres Le Deluge

May Day reminded me of the bank holidays of my childhood: Driving rain and gale-force winds. As a result the studio has sprung several leaks, though thankfully at the office end, not the workshop one. Still as they used to say "'Ne'er cast a clout till May be out" 

I might not have cast any clouts , but I did shovel a lot, and I mean a lot, of goat and chicken poop moving around the big compost bins to accommodate the new home for the chickens and the ELR's trailer. The big move itself will have to wait until calmer weather. 

Meanwhile,  with the 7/8th trial track lifted I need to find a new home for it. I'm sure I've mentioned before that I find it harder to home a railway in this big garden than in the smaller ones I'm more used to. I suppose my criteria are more complex now. It has to be relatively hidden both from public view and from livestock, not impinge on plans for the ELR or the (future)use of the garden, and not make mowing any more of a pain than it already is.  If ever we build the planned big wildlife pond it will be a no-brainer to run it around that, but that is a good five years in the future.

At one point I considered running it along the dyke, but now that has been cleared out I don't think it is feasible, which is a shame in some ways because it would have added a striking vertical dimension. On the other hand, the idea of putting it on the other side of our fence is still an option. I should add that our fence is well within the perimeter of our property, because it is there to keep dogs in, not people out.

Or, in the short term, there is the new vegetable patch, which I really need to focus on this year. Currently, it is a mismatch of the old fruit trees, the compost bins from the days when we didn't use a mulching mower* and the hurried relocation of the raised vegetable beds to avoid the attentions of the livestock.

One of the raised beds will be used for a simple 16mm layout, primarily for use of grandchildren, but I'm thinking about consolidating the old compost bins to provide a base for the scenic section of 7/8ths

*I had real concerns about adopting mulching rather than collecting grass to go in the compost bins, but if you cut frequently, slightly more than you might be used to, it works really well. I still use a collection box for mowing within a yard of the paths and house to stop it staining the paths or getting trodden into the house.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Another One Bites the Dust

I had plans for this Bank Holiday weekend.  I was going to progress Grundy's Yard to the point where I could start the scenics, and get the 7/8ths line fully commissioned.

Then my wife, as she has been doing for the last 57 years,  threw a spanner into the works.

Having spent last Winter convincing me to house the chickens in a part of the garden I argued against she suddenly decided they need to be moved, and before next weekend, so she can show off her finished caravan/she shed.

And where has she decided they need to go? On the site occupied by the 7/8ths line.

So it is no more.

To make the move I also have to move four large, full, wooden compost bins, and the trailer for the 7 1/4" stock. so that is basically it for my BH weekend. I love her dearly, even if for 57 years she has been dedicated herself to making my life difficult.

Friday, 23 April 2021

Setting the Scene

 I think I'm at the point where I only have one major design choice to make about Grundy's Yard.

It is a big one though.

How do I present it?

The view from our garden gate

What spurred me on to build the layout was an archived article on  Deryck and Peter Featherstone's Abbey Road and Barton Bendish, which was built without a back scene, as was quite common then. But I've always been critical of exhibition layouts that don't have a deep, relatively seamless back scene.

When I built the last OO9 micro it didn't have a back scene built-in because I intended it to be viewed from any side. The original idea had been to have a detachable one for photographic purposes, attached by magnets. In reality, I've taken photos of it outside with a natural background, or indoors with the generic sky blue walls of the studio behind it, as with the current cover photo.

In designing Grundy's Yard Iain Rice's book on cameo layouts has never been far from my side. It should be a shoo-in for cameo style presentation with a fully curved back scene.

But at the same time, I'm a  little uncomfortable about it.  


Well, a curved back scene is going to eat into the available space on the layout. Bear in mind this is set in the Fens, where space is one of the most obvious landscape features, along with our big skies. And that is another issue. Back scenes work well, very well, when modelling a scene with hills and buildings in the background. It is much harder to get the right back scene for open-countryside.

Look at the photo I've included. It is, quite literally, the view from one of our garden gates about five minutes ago. Wouldn't that do? 

Well no. 

Having the crop, winter-sown wheat, in the foreground gives you a sense of space, but the perspective is wrong. But if I cut out the crop the scene will lack the important middle distance.

And in any case, it is the wrong crop for the time period and season, and there are too may modern elements along the skyline.

Then there is the feeling that cameo presentation has become cliched. Now don't get me wrong, I like it, it is a vast improvement on the past, and I have ideas for using it in the future. 

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

Monday, 19 April 2021

Thieves of Time

Phil Parker recently linked his blog to an article about lockdown "brain fog". I suspect it rang bells for a lot of people after the last year. Some seem to have relished the time to complete "Lockdown Projects" but for me, a key question is how have I done so little in so long a time.

Now in my defence, the virus has had virtually no impact on my work, other than a lack of travel. But all the same 2020 seems to have been a none year and I'm worrying 2021 will go the same way. Not least because I'm still trying to catch up with the aftermath of 2019. Thi picture of the ELR that popped up on my Facebook memories really brought it home to. That view is now one of total goat devastation. I decided to do something about the fallen branches from the trees they have killed.

But Jaffa had to get involved

This why I can't use a chainsaw in this part of the garden.

Then I made another attempt at rebuilding the goat shed. Guess which goat, and which piece of wood I needed next.

Being fair to Jaffa, it was Oreo who was the real pain in the butt when I actually started the repair, at one point trying to eat the cordless screwdriver whilst it was on.

So once again a weekend was lost with no progress on Grundy's Yard, except for the realisation that my cunning plan for the second baseboard wasn't going to work

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Minim St

This is very much a back burner, but imagine this bit of the classic CJF Minories plan as a micro layout, with the road bridge moved over to the right as the scenic break, and built at this sort of an angle. Presume as well that the MPD is at the terminus end of the station, and carriage sidings and a dockside branch are on the right- I would extend the loco siding and add a turnout on it to serve the branch and to act as a platform for mail and newspaper services. You could keep the inner city vibe that is at the heart of the plan, but the mention of a dockside branch also hints that I'm thinking of a Great Yarmouth/Kings Lynn/Hunstanton influence.

The underlying concept is that you could run very short trains and no one would notice, at least not in photos. The operation wouldn't be that satisfying for those running the layout, but it could be arranged so that something was always going on for the observer.

Early morning an 08 enters the scene and shunts the empty newspaper stock from the goods bay to the seldom-used Platform 1a. Then it heads off to the dock to collect some fish wagons for the Flying Kipper. A loco (I'm thinking a small roster of  BR standards and early diesels)  takes the empty newspaper stock to London, another takes the fish service. It is a short train but will pick up many more wagons en route to London.

For the next two hours services are a mixture of local DMUs, the hourly direct service to London and then the more frequent connecting service to somewhere like March.

Freight services during the day include outbound frozen fish and inbound supplies for the town and the trawler fleet.

Later on, there is a rapid succession of local hauled excursion trains arriving, with foreign traction, from London and the East Midlands. These require some nifty moves to free up the platforms and store the empty stock.

The day quietens into a gentle routine, before a flurry of returning excursion stock.

The last services are a lone local DMU, the return of the empty fish stock, and at 2am the newspapers arrive...

A 47 rests in the little bit of daylight at the end of Birmingham New St. The sort of atmosphere I envisage for Minim ST, but without the brutalist architecture.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Busy as a Bee

 It is Spring, which means lots of bumblebee queens have reappeared, along with wasps, ladybirds, and a myriad of other little creatures.

That also means it is a busy time in the garden for me, so I've taken a week's holiday. My first days off since September as I had to work over Xmas. I'd hoped to use some of the time to tidy up the studio end of the office, and to begin work on Grundy's Yard. It hasn't quite worked out like that. The good news though is that I've got done a lot of those silly little jobs that were always of higher priority than modelling, but hard to fit into a short Winter's day.

So the patio and paths have been weeded and jetwashed, the lawn aerated, fed, reseeded and mown, the bikes have all been serviced, the BBQs cleaned and repaired, the fencing made positively poodle proof, the garden furniture restored, trenches dug, cables buried, the hot tub recommissioned, garden tools sharpened and a start made on the relocated vegetable garden.

On top of which the chickens have been released from their government-imposed lock down for avian flu, and six new rescue girls have joined the flock.

Have I achieved anything railway related?

Well, I've levelled the 7/8ths line, and realised that Scale Model Scenery do a lot of useful bits and pieces that can save me time - especially when it comes to the next project, the canal-side boxfile + diorama. As do Vintage Minature Models.

I've also done some restoration work on the baseboards for Grundy's Yard. Perhaps that isn't quite the right word. A quick recap, they were built back in 2013 using an Iain Rice idea of lightweight L girders made from cheap roofing battens.  That was in the days before laser cut boards were commercially available. It was also in the days when I hadn't done any woodwork for thirty years. Since then they have been in less than ideal storage conditions, and my skills and tools have both improved. So refining is a better term than restoring. Everything is now smooth and seamless. I am going to have to build new parts to join the baseboards together, simply because I'll be inverting the board for the dockside scene to model the water at low tide. On reflection the baseboard design still has a lot going for it. It is certainly lightweight and relatively strong.

I'm less and less convinced that the Tim Horn baseboards for TAoC are salvagble. that is no reflection on their superb quality, but they didn't cope well with their time in a damp shed. If they aren't then I have a plan B both for TAoC and for using them for a couple of experiments. 

One of them is an old idea for a micro EM layout, that was meant to be the next stage in the Apa Valley saga, but built in N gauge and expanded slightly and put into a totally different context to become a mini Minories style station. The idea that came to me at about 3am this morning was I could build it so you never saw the complete length of  even a relatively short train of four coaches

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

On The Surface

I think I've mentioned that I'm building Grundy's Yard on an old baseboard that doesn't really suit under baseboard wiring and point control.  Even if it did, I would still be trying to keep as much as possible above baseboard. The Cadeby layout suffered badly from being turned over so I could work on the electrics, especially the trees, which lost much of their foliage.

I've never been happy with my various attempts at manual point control. They have worked, but always felt a bit Heath Robinson.  When work on TAoC recommences I'll probably use Blue "manual" turnout motors. Some would quibble about the cost but I want something that will be as foolproof and reliable as possible. Having said that I could even use the Morgan Design TOUs again.

Bodging the point control on Apa Valley. How hard would it be for someone to produce this as a commercial product? So many of us have done it.

Back to Grundy's Yard, I  want something foolproof and reliable. I'm using Mercontrol to operate the points, the question is where to place the microswitches, and what type to use. Where to place them depends on whether I value accessibility more than reliability. The type depends on the location

What would make life very easy would be if the Peco undertrack microswitch could be attached directly to a turnout, rather than to the point motor, and had arms to attach an operating wire to. I'm wondering if I could adapt them in that way, possibly in conjunction with the adaptor base. I'm also hoping that the tolerance that seems to be built into Peco's products designed for use with their somewhat brutal point motors might avoid the need for omega loops, which would be one less thing to hide.

Perhaps counterintuitively, I'm trying to avoid soldered joints in the wiring. That isn't because I don't trust my soldering, but as we know soldered joints do fail, and given the surface mounting I don't really want to be waving a soldering iron around in close proximity to the scenic stuff.

I have a horrible feeling that I'm about to fall into my usual trap of embarking on a project partly inspired by stuff I have lying around and then using something completely different. Yes, I have considered biting the bullet and building a new baseboard. I might still. The deciding factor will be a decision about how I'm going to display the layout. I'm normally passionate about the need for back scenes and the value of proscenium arches, but the Cadeby layout actually works very well without either, especially now it is on display in my studio, where the walls are painted sky blue for a reason. 

What I'm definitely thinking about changing is the surface material. I had two layers of foamboard in mind originally, which worked really well on the  Apa Valley (remember that?) micro and I have a large box of it taking up space in the studio. I will still make use of it, but I'm beginning to think it would be sensible to use something else for the trackbed at least, like balsa foam.

With the end of lockdown in sight, I do find myself considering Grundy's Yard as a possible exhibition layout. That is very unlike me. It is actually behind my thinking about making it as foolproof as possible. It isn't intended to be compared to the seminal Outwell Basin Wisbech & Upwell layout, but as a simple example of a layout anyone could build, and find space for, whilst raising standards without going full-on finescale.