Sunday, 23 June 2013

Success and Failure

When will I learn that rushing is never a good thing?

When will I remember lessons I've already learnt before making the same mistake again?

When will I just accept that sometimes things look worse as you begin to make progress?

So what has brought all this on?

Having a 1001 things to do this weekend I thought I would keep the work on the layout straightforward and just assemble the station building and lay down the surfaces for the goods yard and the platform. One of those jobs went well, the other two considerably less well, and the overall result seems to highlight so many other things I'm dissatisfied with.

I'm struggling to find anything I like about how the layout currently looks.
The odd pieces of hanging basket liner are a desperate attempt to find
the right profile to blend with the backscene
The station building looks OK to my eyes, certainly a lot better now it is in a basic coat of matt black and in-situ where it isn't going to be subject to much close scrutiny.

This is how much of the station building will normally be seen

Ignore the back scene corner for now....
 What has gone badly wrong is the ash/gravel surfaces. I was going to use a Polyfilla , Chinchilla sand, black paint and PVA glue mix, laid on a surface painted with PVA. The idea of the PVA is to keep it all flexible and avoid it cracking. So, despite the bottle being right in front of me guess which of the ingredients I forgot to include?

Monday, 17 June 2013


I began work on applying static grass yesterday. It has made a difference, but at the moment it just looks like static grass to me. I did some work on the backscene as well, but  it remains a rough and ready  sketch for the final version

New Technology

Despite the litany of errors that have crept in I've quite enjoyed the experience of producing the various buildings over the last month.. I've surprised myself with how well I've managed to blend in the thin clear Wills corrugated sheeting with the thick stuff, and whilst I know my first ever serious attempts to build windows from scratch don't hold up to scrutiny from less than eighteen inches away I know I've learned a lot from making them.

On the other hand the sunk cost  fallacy  means that when I do make a mistake it is that much harder to ditch it and start again because of the effort to have got so far. That, of course, was one reason for my original plan to used card structures.

Reflecting on this what I should have done is continued with the idea of producing card prototypes based on drawings in Sketch up and only committed to cutting plastic once I was sure the drawings were spot on.

The one complication that put me off doing that was the need to modify the drawings to take into account the change in material dimensions that comes with the shift to plastic. Not being that used to Sketchup on a regular basis it is the sort of stage where I could see me adding a whole set of new errors.

Another layer of complexity is added if you use embossed brick sheet or corrugated material, where you want to place corners and windows in ways compatible with the brick pattern.

So what is the solution for the next version of the buildings?

I'm definitely going to use Sketch up.but what I'm also contemplating is using the drawings to get parts laser cut. or 3D printed. For corrugated buildings I could then add SE Finecast  or Ambis sheet. I'm less certain how to deal with brick buildings, though fortunately  Llanrhaiadr Mochnant didn't have many of those.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Mistakes Keep Coming

When it comes to the buildings I seem to end up easily confused by the different variations on the line being both right and left handed. I seem easily confused by left and right at the best of times and would have to confess that I've more than once forgotten that the different ends of the buildings should be mirror images and ended up with two identical right hand side ends.

Today I put my "make the hole fit the window" idea into action - and this time I got my top and bottom confused when measuring so the windows in the station have ended up rather higher than they should be.

I also had fun with the goods shed. First of all I've noticed I put the bearers for the end canopy the wrong way round, which is why the angle is steeper than it should be.

My usual technique for painting Wills sheet is a blast of matt black, dry brushing with Royal & Langnickel's  Pearl Black to simulate bare sheet showing through, and then a quick wash of Modelmates Rust Red. On this occasion the wash seems to have given a much stronger rust effect which I'm going to have to tone down.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Sticky Fingers

Well today didn't go as well I'd hoped. I broke my golden rule of not continuing with something  once I've realised I'm not in the right frame of mind, and with the dogs yapping and whining this afternoon I wasn't in the right frame of mind for fitting the canopies on the goods shed.

A tension lock coupling drawing attention to itself 
In fact I discovered I've built an unavoidable twist into the canopy over the railway line, but since it isn't visible without the aid of a mirror I've decided to live with it.
Honestly the canopy doesn't droop that much

In fact even the angle in this shot is pretty much impossible to see without shoving your head inside the box, and I don't think many people will be doing that as the picture below shows.

One small layout, one giant mess

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Withdrawal Symptoms

I've been locked down in a hotel "somewhere in Europe"  all week working on a deal. I have to admit my mind has occasionally wandered to thoughts related to model railways.

Sometimes it is important to remember it is a hobby and to appreciate that. When your head is buzzing with ideas and problems that need effort to resolve it can be remarkably helpful to focus on something else instead.

It is frustrating though when one of the railway related problems falls into place in your head and you can't just pick up a scalpel and some plastic card and fix it there and then but it does give you something to look forward to at the weekend.

In this case it is window construction that has been on my mind. I think a couple of simple jigs are needed to aid production.  That and a change of mindset so that I build the windows first and then make a hole to fit the window rather than the other way about.

Now I know that must sound obvious to some of you but it reveals a flaw in the way I sometimes think, and I'm sure I'm not unique in this. It is tempting to be constrained by a perceived limit in your ability. I worry about my ability to accurately hack out correctly sized holes from Wills sheet. Therefore I attempt to compensate for that by building window-frames in situ to suit the size of the hole I have produced, which just compounds the inaccuracy. Instead of compromising around what I'm worst at doing and building in more and more errors I should be doing the opposite to ensure the impact of those things I'm bad at is minimised.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Weighing up the weighbridge hut

Another crisis of confidence last night after spraying the weighbridge and the gents with Halford's grey primer to reveal all the faults - because that is just what it did.

My main worry is joining the corners of the Wills corrugated sections in a way that looks at best believable and at worst inconspicuous. Vast amounts of  Squadron Green putty have been used in an attempt to achieve the latter, then carved when dry with a round file to put back in the corrugations. There has to be an easier way. The secret lies in getting a good 45 straight degree chamfer on the edge of the sheets. Using a big file seems rather hit and miss. I have a chamfer cutter designed for foamboard, but that isn't going to work. A plane worked, but if I want to keep my finger tips I need to build some sort of jig, and it will have to be robust,

Anyway the weighbridge is now looking OKish, though this picture has managed to distort both the proportions of the model and the illustration in the wild Swan book.

Llansilin road weighbridge hut - model and prototype.
If nothing else I'm quite proud of the doorknob.

As to the gents, well it is just about passable from a distance. I forgot to clean off the rusty wash before it dried so it will be back out with the black paint next week.

The worst bits of the Class 25 are hidden by the weighbridge.
Note the platform edge and fence clearly aren't yet fixed down
I couldn't face up to finishing off the goods shed today, that needs a day when the house is empty and there is no one to hear my cussing. I made a start on cutting out the station building. I've gone for Blodwell but reversed, so the ladies will be off scene.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Recent Purchases

I really don't want to add up the cost so far, suffice to say I don't think building a micro layout is that much cheaper to build than a typical small layout. And of course it means I now how a bulging box of bits ready to be used on  the next project. Boxes, in fact, though some of the content might prove to be more useful than other bits.

For instance am I really going to need an old Triang clerestory coach? If it does find a use it is going to need a lot of work just to produce something that will still be inherently wrong

It was at this point I realised I'd made a stupid mistake with the
 Gents and forgotten to cut down the urinal walls to match the prototype

I think it is down to nostalgia. The same could probably be said for my second recent ebay purchase, a Hornby Class 25. The Bachmann model is better is many respects.

Oh yes, and that tree. It is by Noch and it has to be said bears very little resemblance in the flesh to the photo in the catalogue.

Two things I never regret buying are tools and Plastruct. Phil Parker recently wrote about the Chopper 2  and it really is a useful tool when using cutting Plastruct to size, especially if angled cuts are needed. The other tool I wouldn't be without is a Tamiya scriber which makes cutting Wills sheet much less of a chore.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013


Shall we move swiftly past the little issue that yesterday I managed to superglue yet another DPDT switch solid and move on to the question of buildings?

For the first time since I started construction of this project I feel that I'm on familiar ground, and I'll be honest it feels rather good. In retrospect I now think I should have started by building some of the structures rather than with the aspects of layout construction I'm least confident about.That might have given it all more momentum.  Looking at the longer term the Llanrhaiadr Mochnant  layout should at least benefit from being able to initially reuse these buildings, even if I want to build Mk2 versions at a later date.

The goods shed looks like it is is going to work fine as the scenic break it is intended to be, hiding that this is a "bitsa" station. As always the size of the actual models seems very different from the original card mock up, but still acceptable. One point I didn't pick up when first planning things is that the non rail side of the Tanat Valley goods sheds is completely blank, with the door for vehicle loading at the end. The downside for this is that the lorry parked alongside the shed, which is very much part of my overall composition, now will be just parked there rather being in the process of being loaded.

Still judging by photos of the real TVR in the 50's and 60's the main purpose of the goods yards seems to have been as a lorry park, so all is not lost. Hopefully some weathering will break up that long expanse of Wills sheet as well.

Just visible in the photo is a very out of focus and backwards leaning trial run at the front of the weighbridge hut from Llansilin Road. I'm still not sure about this and how it will impact various lines of sight.
The weighbridge hut

The gents/shed on the platform still poses the dilemma of whether to build it from the thin transparent Wills corrugated sheet or the thick stuff. I suspect it will be a combination of the two.

A set of parts is slowly being assembled

I've written enough about the signal box for now. The next stage of construction is awaiting delivery of a Chopper II to bring a little more accuracy to the table. I will post later about my stupid mistake with the point rodding and how I got misled by a combination of a single picture and forgetting that I'd swapped some of the features of Blodwell junction around. I might try and rectify this at a later point but not now.

Actually there is an alternative plan, that involves a major rethink of the whole signal box issue..but laters.

I've also decided to include one of the station buildings on the platform. I wasn't going to originally because I wanted to convey a sense of desolate abandonment bearing in mind the line is set after the end of passenger services. Having played around with mock ups though I think a waiting room will work but I'll build it without the ladies' on the end.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Why Bother?

You know I think the end is in sight?

Which is odd because so many things went wrong yesterday. Today though the sun is shining, I don't have to think about work, and the step son has actually done some chores.

More to the point some things yesterday did work, and those that went wrong have taught me some lessons.

So what worked? Point rodding is one of those things I wasn't seriously contemplating when I started this project but you can't look at a picture of a Tanat Valley station without realising how visible it is. I still wouldn't have contemplated it if it had involved folding up minute etchings, especially since most point stools on the TVR only carried two or three rods. Thankfully MSE do white metal point stools that can be cut down. They are also one of the many model railway traders I've had excellent service from this year, along with Modelex, eHattons and others.

I was rather pleased with myself when I came up with the idea of gluing the castings to 3mm plastic strip to ensure they were lined up and evenly spaced.

It was at this point that I thought it might just be worth looking at the etch for cranks etc that MSE do so that the rods get fed into the signal box in a believable way.

My, these are small, especially when you have my poor eyesight and depth perception.

After much cussing and spilling of superglue I've managed to lash something together but I would definitely do it differently next time. If I get round to the next project I'll enlist the help of a few people I know who are experts on the subject. I also broke a couple of drill bits in the process, which is what led to most of the cussing.What I didn't tackle is the signal pulleys, but then there are no signals on the module as it stands. My understanding is that at Blodwell Junction there was no starter signal at the the signal box end of the loop, the right away being given from the signal box, which you will recall is actually a ground frame.

Where I literally came unstuck is that there is a suggestion in the instruction that a short piece of the NS wire is glued on top of the stools once the rods have been installed to represent the top roller. Visually I think this would make a great difference, but I spent hours last night trying to do it and no matter what glue I tried I couldn't get the wire to stick.

I'm going to do some more experimentation off line, because if I can get it to work I think it will be a massive visual improvement, but a search on the web suggests that nobody else bothers with this refinement which at least made me feel a bit better.

I addressed the ballast problem by use of a mix of spray cans including  Halfords grey primer and Modelmates slate grey and oily brown.It isn't great but it is certainly better than it was, and has convinced me that chinchilla dust is the way forward. Incidentally I also use the Modelmates sprays to add some visual texture to the goods yard and the platform. In both case I know I will be layering proper textures on top, but psychologically it has removed the last trace of un-sceniced baseboard from view.

This is where I sit back and reflect. The whole point of building this module was to try out techniques knowing that they might not work but if they didn't I could live with it or rectify them without too much effort.
I think that is still valid but if I did it again I would start with a bigger module, possibly one that could be eventually included in the final layout.

The jury is still out on whether it would have been better to build to EM gauge from day one. As things stand I still don't know if I can build workable EM gauge track and there seems little point in buying OO gauge items to run on it knowing that at some point I'll need to convert them to EM gauge. Actually it is more subtle than that, the issue is how much work do you do improving an OO gauge model if you know eventually everything below body level will be replaced anyway. For instance I splashed out on a Bachmann suburban Mk1 brake coach. Leaving aside that this never would have run on the TVR it is fairly clear having got my hands on it that everything below body level needs replacing. If I'd built to EM from day one I would just plough in and do that using a Comet underframe kit, but instead I'm thinking about a piecemeal improvement project that I know still won't produce the right final effect.

I'm in danger of ending this on a negative note, which I don't intend to. The truth is I've learned, and re-learned, a lot by building this little diorama. I'm trying to catch up with 25 years of finescale 4mm modeling that I've missed from playing with garden railways. Borrowing techniques helps enormously but there is no substitute for actually trying things out for yourself.