Thursday, 29 May 2014

Victory Jig

Well just as prophesied in the last post a good night's sleep was all that was needed.

Actually I realized I didn't need the soldering stage anyway for what I was doing, but by then I'd already built myself a jig and set up a production line.

Ah well. At least I now have plenty of couplings ready to fit to the EM gauge stock in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Good days...and bad

I have to be in the mood for modelling. Partly that is psychological, but not entirely.

I was reminded of this today when trying to do what would normally be a dead simple soldering job.

It took me ages to realise that my eyes, which aren't renowned for focusing on the same point in space at the best of times, weren't co-operating withe each other, and one look in the mirror revealed just how tired they were. On top of that I wasn't wearing my modelling pair of glasses and I didn't have the spotlight on the workplace because the soldering iron was using the plug socket.

Oh yes, and I'd picked up the wrong solder from the draw.

We won't even mention the unexpected presence of a small dog.

At times like this, when a five minute job has taken forty five minutes, it would be easy to give up. But it is much better just to down tools and come back to the job at a latter point when it will all be much easier.

One reason it will be easier is because I will have thought of a better way of doing things. In this case I suspect that will mean running up a couple of cheap and cheerful jigs and adopting more of a production line approach.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Good Enough For All Practical Purposes

Mike Cougill's excellent and thought provoking blog has been looking at the concept of the Freedom Layout again. In doing so he has referred to a formula familiar to project managers around the world that essentially boils down to "You can't have everything"

Mike explicitly talked about cost, size, quality and time as the main elements that need to be optimised if a layout is going to get built and not be a millstone around the owners neck.

From where I'm sitting on the learning curve I would have to suggest there are two other factors, and to complicate things they aren't static.

One is skill. I'm very aware that my skills have improved since returning to the small scale side of the hobby, but at the same time I'm learning new skills I'm also coming across new barriers of incompetence. I don't want to limit my modelling to what I know I can achieve today, but at the same time I don't want to be so ambitious that I reduce the chance of success.

The second is prototype knowledge.

When I set off on this journey I thought I was reasonably knowledgeable about railways. In fact if the conversation is about narrow gauge railways of the British Isles I can probably hold my own in a pub conversation.

What I didn't realise is the extent of my ignorance about certain aspects of standard gauge railways that I now think are essential for building a realistic model. Point rodding is an obvious example, but only one of many. Frankly I had no idea how the brakes really worked on wagons - and didn't need to until I started to think about how to model them.

There is, I suspect, a third factor, which is the point at which additional effort becomes of limited value in adding to the overall effect. I suspect it will be sometime before I have to worry about reaching that point.

All of which brings me back to TaOC again.

Whilst travelling and the weather have both been interfering with my modelling they haven't completely stopped me thinking about it, and the actual degree of compromise I'm prepared to accept. If I was building it in OO I think even at my usual glacial place I would have it up and running by now, but then what would be the fun in that?

Should I have gone with copperclad  trackwork though? That would have speeded things up even in EM.

So would going with the track plan as it came out of Trax, but I made the call that I wanted to put the final plan together in Templot so I have more guidance when converting the template to track and so I can sort out things like conflicts between timbering and sleepers.

So that is what most of my bank holiday Monday has involved, and here is the Templot design as it currently stands. A little more tweaking is needed but it just about works.

I've tried to get it as close to Roy's original design as possible whilst still using A6 points. Ideally I would have liked to use B6. For comparison this is how my Trax version looked.  At the end of the day there isn't much in it. I used A5 points in the Trax version but I don't think the space saving was worthwhile.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Up In The Air

Late last night whilst I was waiting to catch a flight home from Schipol I got a text message telling me today's early morning trip to Denmark had been cancelled.

I think you can imagine how upset I was at the prospect of getting more than five hours sleep for the first time in...well I have no idea actually. I'd been scheduled to fly back from Denmark on Saturday morning  and then Issy and I were going to go, well just somewhere or anywhere to spend some time together. Suddenly the prospect of a whole bank holiday weekend together opened up.

For the last six weeks or so I've been flying between cities in Europe. The other night a border guard asked me where I was flying to and I had to ask him to remind me which country I was leaving before I could answer.

Don't get me wrong, I love my job, and, perhaps reluctantly, I quite like the travel. Airports have started to fill the place in my life that railway stations had when I was younger. I think we have a basic human interest in places of departure and arrival.

I can't look at a model railway without imagining myself on the platform. I don't think I've ever once looked at an indoor model railway and imagined myself on the footplate. But I do imagine myself walking down a lane, brown cardboard suitcase in hand to catch a slow train to destination I don't care.

I love the idea of a model railway as, at some level, and I apologise for getting unduly philosophical, a narrative. I think the best modelers, perhaps implicitly, recognize that and structure their layouts accordingly.

Looking at Apa at the moment I know management in Paddington hoped introducing an AC railbus would increase traffic, but just like the 14xx and Hawksworth coach the railbus is sat there waiting for passengers who will never come, and the local haulier is just using the goods yard as a lorry park

Meanwhile back in the real world the house is up for sale and I'm trying to work out what the Next Best Action is. I seem to have too many little projects underway at the same time. The railbus itself is a long term project because I'm struggling to work out what makes it look like a toy diecast rather than a model. Choice of couplings is worrying me as well. I think I'm going down the S&W line, but in my heart of hearts I know that AJ are the best option visually.

Perhaps not standard AJ, but at least something that relies on a wire hook rather than an etched one.

And because the house is up for sale I now need to work on small, self contained projects. I suspect that means goods stock will be the priority.

What worries me is that I don't have a plan. I don't need a massive plan, but I need one that will tell me in six months time where the model might be. Instead, as you might have guessed from the title of this post, I just feel up in the air and I'm not sure what to do next.

Saturday, 17 May 2014


It was with some trepidation I set off this morning to Bracknell on my first ever visit to an expoEM.

The trepidation was for two reasons

The first being that I didn't really know what to expect from a show like this, though having looked at the show guide I could see that the layouts on show were just the sort that appeal to me and that there were also several traders I wanted to do business with.

On the other hand it only fills one hall and Bracknell is a bit of a hike by public transport..

More worrying for me was how my new camera would perform. I've only had it a few days and I've got some concerns about the sharpness of the images it is producing. Also, although it isn't a DSLR, it is still quite a chunky piece of kit with the zoom lens attached, and I'm not a fan of people with big cameras at exhibitions. I actually think that given the difficulty of getting into an ideal position to take a shot that most of the time you are better off with a good quality compact camera.

I'm glad to say that the exhibition was well worth the journey, and the camera seemed to perform quite well. At least I didn't feel the need to revert to my back up camera which stayed in my bag the whole time, slowly being joined by various small purchases.

Finding the venue was easy, I just followed the trail of elderly men dressed in tweed.

The first layout as you entered the room was actually one of several  P4 ones, Brixcombe. I must admit I didn't realise that at the time though he flow of the track work might have given the game away.

I also rather liked the goods shed. Here is an example where the camera proved its value, managing to expose for both the exterior and interior of the shed.

And this was a gem of a train. There is just something about GWR locos from this period.

The largest layout on show was the modern image Calcutta Sidings, as featured in this month's MRJ. Now I don't know why but although the modelling was almost all of a very high standard the whole seemed less than the sum of the parts to me. I wonder if some of that is because modern image layouts are beginning to feel too formulaic? Too often they centre on a low relief industrial complex of some sort. The bridge is the work of Tim Horn.

Diesels in the Dutchy is of course  a well known example of a diesel era layout that takes a unique approach that pays off.

It was fascinating to see Dave Barrett's Nottingham Goods in the flesh, though it is not an easy layout to photograph at an exhibition. I did manage to get some shot of the interior but I didn't really have the right lens to do it justice.

My two favourite layouts were next to each other. Clevedon's focus on a depot  yard means there is lots to look at regardless of what trains are actually running, and I loved the view along what would have been the connecting line to the GWR.

Next to it was Great Bardfield, which was definitely my sort of layout. A simple track plane but oodles of atmosphere and very well modeled. The highlight for me was how well the figures were painted.

The layouts I haven't mentioned were all worth spending time looking at as well. Sutton dock had some nice buildings, particularly an Ahernish Harbour Office, Hookwood had some very fine gardening going on, and also persuaded me that the delayed action S&Ws aren't as obtrusive as I thought, and Trevanna Dries made me realise I still have unfinished business when it comes to a minimum space layout

I think the camera stood up to the test rather well. With only the 18-55mm  zoom to play with at the moment I've had to crop a few pictures quite severely  but I'll definitely be taking it to exhibitions again. It allowed me to shoot at high ISO numbers with very little noise - the ISO for all these photos was over 800 and some were at 1250  and I haven't had to do any additional out of camera NR. It also handled the white balance well, only Clevedon caused any problems and they were minor

Once again I was really impressed with the friendliness of all the traders, and came away with some carefully chosen goodies. I'm most pleased about getting a set of Blacksmiths etched GWR duckets. I diodn't go as well prepared as I should have done,and I know there were a few things I forgot to buy

And talking of  GWR duckets and guards I obviously have to end with my traditional shot of a solitary Toad.

Monday, 5 May 2014


Bank Holidays, even ones like this new fangled May Day, always make me feel nostalgic. For much of my childhood my self-employed parents worked six and a half day weeks and went without holidays for years at a time. Bank Holidays were the one chance to go gricing  a little further afield. I still remember my first wet Good Friday visit to the Talyllyn and the slate landscape of Corris.

These days I'm nostalgic for the whole concept of a proper Bank Holiday. Instead of spending this one modelling I'm once again sat in a departure lounge waiting for my business flight to be called. Thanks to the decision to put the house on the market I didn't even get to do much over the Saturday and Sunday, other than discovering the damage that residual hot glue can do a surform blade. Actually I did quickly solder up my Bill Bedford buffer height gauge. This was my first use of the Eileen's Emporium Hold & Fold tool and whilst not the most challenging folding task it still made it a quick and painless one.

Anyway, in preparation for the estate agent's visit to take photos I was tasked with tidying up the library. I long ago lost count of how many books I own, but it is enough that I often come across books I'd forgotten about or multiple copies of the same book.

On this excursion into L-space I came across a couple of old catalogues. One was for Mills Brothers or Milbr0 and must have been my father's. The other was my own once treasured W&H Models catalogue from the days when visits to New Cavendish Street and  to Cecil Court were the highlight of any trip to London.

What a treasure trove the W&H catalogue used to be! Just about everything the kit or scratch builder needed in one place from the likes of Fleetline, MPD, MTK, Jidenco, E.A.M.E.S and, of course the Cav'ndish and PC Coaches range. I used to think anything would be possible to build if I could just find the pocket money.

Looking at the contents quite a few of the ranges are still in production in one form or another and we still have the big retailers who stock a vast range, supplemented by the more specialist suppliers, but I do miss my visits to those jewel like model shops of my youth.