Sunday, 4 November 2018

If you can't take anything nice...

...then don't publish any photos.

I always try and be positive about model railway shows, and attitude that I find helps a lot.

But today I returned from a show feeling, well, disappointed. Even my wife was surprised at how little time I spent there.

It was a local show that I've always enjoyed in the past, in fact, one I think has consistently punched above its weight. But this year it did nothing for me. Unusually I was even more disappointed when I reviewed my photos. I really didn't think any of them showed a layout in a good enough light to be shared, except for one I've photographed a lot in the past, and another that to be fair I couldn't get a good shot because of people who stood in front of it chatting. That, incidentally, is my perennial complaint about this particular show. People take up a position and stay there for ages.

I suspect some layouts went down very well with a lot of the attendees, especially those featuring mainline running or lots of locos on shed. That is fine, I know they aren't to my taste but I do understand why others love those styles of layout. I'll also be honest that having looked at the list of layouts booked to attend I knew not many were my cup of tea. Not that cups of tea were easy to get at the cafe, yet again.

So what didn't I like, choice of prototype aside?

I'm going to pick out some big themes, some of which aren't always wrong, but were in the context of the layouts today.

Backscenes that were too low, had very visible joins and weren't an integral part of the scene.

This was compounded by several of the layouts having narrow baseboards. Narrow baseboards can work, but they need thought to be put in to how they are blended into the backscene and the balance between railway and scenery.

Animals and vehicles placed in ways that looked unnatural and placed without observation of the real thing. A silly example of this was a herd of cows on a steep slope that clearly were from a set designed to be used on a flat field.

Outdated scenic techniques, especially trees and grass. Last time I checked it was 2018, do you really think that glueing down acres of out of the packet scenic materials is good enough to put on public display?

Coming up to date is loco sound that doesn't sound quite right in an exhibition hall., which I recognise is a challenge.

And finally, that dreadful feeling that the out of the box models were the best thing on some layouts.

No, actually, that the saddest thing was the lack of imagination and aesthetic elements in favour of simple triggers like "Oh look an MPD layout with lots of lovely locos"

I know I never have, and never will, exhibit myself, but my point is the same show has done so much better in the past. Those three or four layouts that, in addition to the crowdpleasers, raise the standard of a show to the "must go to" level were, for me, so noticeable by their absence.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Further Progress

A lousy photo, but a quick snap to show progress on my "quick" Barclay well tank build.

Whistle and clack valves should be finished tonight, along with rear frame extensions.

I was originally going to keep it in black, but I think it will end up in green.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Seeing the Wood for the Trees

Rails Round the Rectory might be a micro layout, but it still required seven trees to form both the wooded end of the layout and to balance that out visually at the graveyard end. In the past, the few trees I've made have been knarled and sparse Welsh hillside ones. An overgrown rectory garden calls for quite a different look.

Somewhere I have a detailed plan of the trees in the garden at Cadeby, for use if I ever build the larger version. On RRtR I decided generic Woodland Scenic armatures would suffice, with differences in leave and branch materials to give a sense of variation. This sped up construction considerably.

The slow bit comes with the post-construction trimming. I haven't started that on this one so it looks rather too dense and has those telltale horsehair loops. The loops need two cuts, to remove part of the material otherwise they still look like loops. Apart from removing the majority of the straggling branches the other main trim is to cut in horizontally to give a more layered effect.

I've never managed to finish counting the trees in our current garden. In places, they are as overgrown as the ones at Cadeby were. In reality, that means there is much less space between them than you would expect, and very few of them have a clear shape. I did think about trying to replicate that, but the catch would be losing some of the possible viewpoints on the layout. I might yet fill in some of the below canopy gaps with substantial shrubs once I've discovered what does and doesn't work as a cameo view.

I've been struggling to get decent photos of the layout at this stage in its construction. It really needs outdoor lighting

Trying out possible combinations of trees.
Looking back at this I realise I made an eighth tree that I seem to have lost somewhere 

Thursday, 30 August 2018

An Irish Interlude

"So what is his latest excuse for lack of progress on Rails Round The Rectory
and The Eaugate Light Railway?"

Well, apart from the mysterious appearance of even more chickens in the garden, and a major reorganisation at work, the biggest non-modelling reason has been my first cycling holiday for three years. In fact, now I come to think of it, my first holiday at all since India two years ago.

There were two peripheral "visits" to narrow gauge sites. Once again I passed through the bus station at what used to be the Ennis terminus of the West Clare, and in theory, I cycled along the route of one of the two narrow gauge railways, indeed, the only railways, on Achill Island.*
The quartz quarry on Achill Island
This was the least interesting of the two. It was gravity and horse worked, running from Achill Quartz Quarry to the pier at Darby's Point**. I say in theory because although the quarry was visible I couldn't discern any trace of the route itself, nor even say with confidence where it reached the sea.

Getting to Achill Island involved three days of cycling from Clonbur, a few miles from Galway, and up the coast to Westport. Westport has several attractions of note, including a 15" gauge railway in the grounds of Westport House and several brilliant pubs and restaurants. For model railway enthusiasts the name will be familiar from Iain Rice's plan for a model of Westport Quay. In his usual way, he paints a picture of a wild and desolate place where he spent his honeymoon.  In recent years the site has been built over and is hard to recognise from his description, but the route from the Quay to the junction at Westport station forms part of the Great Western Greenway which continues on to Achill Sound, just one bridge short of reaching Achill Island itself.

On our rest day in Westport, as well as visiting the aforementioned pubs and restaurants, I walked the Quay line. It loops far south of the town through open countryside.

The next day we cycled along the main part of the route, and I've got the T-shirt to prove it. At times the greenway diverges from the railway line, but the route was usually still in view. The further we went the more bleak, wet and windy the landscape became. This, remember, was in August.

And the photos reflect the weather.
The steam era engine shed at Westport

Current end of the Quay branch

Looking from the site of Quay station to where the quay sidings started. There were goods platforms here, I think.

Westport House Railway

Many of the bridges still exist. Soon after here the line begins to get more wild

Newport Viaduct

A train passing by must have been really exciting if you lived here

It really is bleak

On the outskirts of Mulranny

A distant view of Croagh Patrick

Mulranny Station

360 degree panarama

Achill goods shed

Achill station

*Typically, having struggled to find historic maps of both Achill Island and Westport before the trip I found reliable sources almost as soon as I was back. Had I had them in advance I would have taken some very different photos.

** At least it ran to Darby Point according to Beaumont's definitive text. The historic maps seem to show it didn't.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

A Prelude to an Irish Interlude

CIE 071 class EMD JT22CW series diesel-electric 073 waits patiently at Westport Station whilst pit props are loaded. Behind it is the remaining spur of the line to Westport Quay

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

A Motor Racing Diversion

What better way of spending a Sunday than basking in the sun at a circuit that evokes the glory years of British motor racing, like Cadwell Park?

We had a great day watching the VSCC meet last Sunday.

Here you see a typical member of what someone we know thinks is the aloof Frazer Nash "Chain Gang" attacking the mountain in Thunderbug, powered by a Riley crankcase and 4.2  litres of aviation technology.

Both before and after the event drivers and owners loved talking about their cars. Thunderbug's owner took pains to explain to a boy how he drove it "responsibly" on the roads by reference to the red line on the rev counter. I dread to think what speeds that equates to.

Two highlights for me were this Targa Floria  Alfa

And the ex-Prince Bira* MG Magneta owned by John Gillett who was also immensely approachable and fun to talk to, as you might expect from an Aussie.

More photos, OK a lot more photos, over on Flickr

*Thus providing an obscure link to the world of models

Tuesday, 17 July 2018


Rails Round The Rectory is theoretically a week away from completion, but life keeps intervening.

I finally bit the bullet and bought a new computer. My old one had a decent enough basic specification on paper, but the build quality was pretty bad which in turn impacted on the ability to upgrade it, and how it performed over time due to cooling and power supply limitations.

The replacement from Chillblast is many times quieter and runs a lot cooler. In fact, it looks way cooler as well, especially on the inside.

The other cause of delay is that my beloved finally convinced me we needed to rescue some ex-battery hens. The thing with chickens is that I find myself spending hours just watching them and enjoying their company. This is especially true when you see rescue hens beginning to explore a big wide world for the first time.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Coming Soon

Being back in the UK with no prospect of travel has been so liberating, especially with the Summer evenings. I've never been a Winter modeller.

So Rails Round The Rectory Mk1, RRTR1 from now on, has made comparatively rapid progress.

Track is laid, and since the layout is so short and straightforward I've succesfully installed a simple shuttle module, as there is no point in using manual operation. I'm kicking myself that I spent ages over complicating the wiring before working out a sensible combination of two pin connections to allow for both automated and manual operation.

I first used Liquitex to build up the bark texture on wire armature trees, but on RRTR1 I've used it to build the basic ground texture. What I should have done is to mix some cheap acrylic colours in with it first. I've also learned that the best approach is to build up thickness with multiple layers and only to add texture to a final top layer. I'm hoping it will prove more flexible than anything I've used in the past. and less messy! Results so far look promising.

Having mentioned wire armature trees I've actually decided to use the old standbys of seafoam and, primarily, Woodland Scenics plastic armatures for now. To be honest this is less from convenience than from wanting to try out a couple of  new ideas for "background" trees for RRTR2 that combine old and new approaches.

Background and back-scenes is another interesting topic with the diorama being built on such a small base. I'm simultaneously trying to open up views whilst also setting up cameo viewpoints. The consensus from exposure on Facebook is to go for magnetically attached back-scenes for photography but to leave them off for display purposes. That will also let me experiment with a couple of ideas, and settle on the final orientation for RRTR2.

The remaining big decision is about the Rectory. Whilst I have happy memories of it, it is hard to be enthusiastic about the real thing's aesthetic merits, so if I do add it to this scene it will be a small Victorian version. But I'm also not sure if even then it wouldn't unbalance the layout. I think I'm going to have to build something and then decide.

I'm going through a similar thought process with road vehicles. Again my basic conclusion is that most of them belong on RRTR2, not this version.  If I could find one I would model Teddy's Austin Maxi ,but instead, I think I'll include one of our family cars, probably the Mk2 Jag. At least I have a store of suitable vehicles for the next version.

Which brings me on to rolling stock. Part of the appeal of Cadeby as a model is the ratio of locos to wagons, and I think I'm close to emulating it rather too well, and with too many substitutions. In fact, true confession, I have enough locos to occupy the entire track layout of RRTR1. My excuse is that since I intend RRTR 1 and RRTR2 to co-exist I'll split the locos between them.

So that pretty much brings us up to date. Videos and photos will hopefully follow after another weekend of progress.

Friday, 8 June 2018


I try and keep my professional and hobby blogs separate, but sometimes something happens that is so important that it needs to be said on multiple platforms.

We tend to be a very male, and if not autistic then at least unemotional group of people.

I would have said I'm a hundred times more emotional than my cousin Danny, but he is the one who killed himself.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

More Progress

I dread to think how long it is since I last modelled in OO9. Suffice to say it wasn't in the current century, and my eyesight was a little better.

Thankfully, or perhaps not, a camera and decent sunlight makes it a lot easier to see what you have done, if not what you are doing, as these WIP photos show.

So still quite a bit to do still. As well as quite a bit of retouching I definitely want to replace the front glazing.

There are two things in my defence. The first is that these are horrendously close up shots of a very small model, and the second that the body is a very basic WSF Shapeways print.

That was quite a deliberate choice because I wanted to see if I could use the coarse surface to aid a look of dereliction on what was never meant to be a working loco but parked at the end of a siding mouldering away. It isn't meant as any criticism of the base model.

At that time I hadn't realised just how rough even a more expensive print can sometimes be. In fact, it can vary considerably even when you order two prints at the same time.

I was actually surprised that the flat surface cleaned up quite nicely though with a lot of effort. Where it has caused difficulties is the window frames where the graininess is still very apparent.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018


Well, it is very much one step at a time but ten days in the UK has allowed me to make some progress on what I think of as the basic locos for Rails Round the Rectory.  These are the locos intended either to be found mouldering on the siding or to be the operational workhorses leaving the Narrow Planet kits to be used on high days and holidays.

Building these from basic 3D prints has been entertaining and a learning process. The next stage for all of them involves bending small pieces of wire.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

16mm AGM 2018

Thanks to Easter I found myself getting back from the Netherlands at 11pm on Friday night, before flying back on Sunday afternoon. Anyone sensible would have just stayed out there and chilled. But then it is the 16mm AGM weekend.

So off I popped to the local showground.

Sadly I made a major logistical mistake and at the last minute took my little Sony camera rather than one of my trustworthy Fujis. All I can say is that I apologise profusely for the accompanying photos.

I found the whole experience slightly odd this year, for reasons I'll try and articulate. 

First and foremost it struck me how small 16mm seems. Not just in comparison to the ELR, but to 7/8ths, plenty of which, incidentally, was on show. I don't mean that in any derogatory sort of way, but it made me think what 16mm does and doesn't suit in terms of layout design and garden setting.

It was whilst pondering this that I ran into David Rowbotham, who suggested the idea of an indoor quarry layout with overhead  power. Now just a few minutes earlier I'd walked past the Houstoun Gate Locomotive Works stand with their new kit for the OH powered Wittenberg Schafer Loco that had already caught my eye when it was announced. It also chimed with the number of excellent small prototypical models on offer from the like of Matt Nunn's Harecroft Models and others.

So a few strategic purchases were made with two ideas in mind, one an indoor industrial line and the other an outdoor micro layout with more of a touristy feel to it.I've not quite decided on the location for it, and one idea is that it could be made relatively portable, like Brian Dominic's "Slugs' Crossing" 

But generally not much at the show grabbed me personally. I like that there seems to be more emphasis on scale, and that the layouts on display have largely moved on from being portable test tracks, but with the exception of some breathed upon 7/8ths scale Bagnals nothing left me feeling envious. I did get the feeling that despite the purists disdain the Silver Lady from the TV was generating a lot of interest. which is a good thing. Somehow though I missed a point of focus.Perhaps we were spoilt last year with having 15" gauge steam

Incidentally as well as those I've already mentioned it was to chat to so many people, including David Mees and Phil Parker. It seemed fitting to run into Phil in the queue for food.

Anyway here are some of the photos:

The Model of the Year is always one of my favourite parts of the show. I was terrible at taking notes this year, so I'm not sure whose 7/8ths Simplex this was.

I have a real soft spot for the DHR Railcar

I loved this collection of 24mm gauge locos, all built for a relatively small cost 

One of the best Mamod based Geo England locos I've seen. I can't believe we've never seen a commercial version other than the Kenversions pastiches

One day we'll see a proper 16mm W&LLR layout

Super Nellie from Smallbrook Studios. I have the Gn15 version to build one day. Very impressive.

There were several excellent versions of the Accucraft Bagnal on display, as I've mentioned. This one is by Rhos Helyg but the Berry Hill Works onewere alsoso excellent. And yes, I am still tempted.

I do like the Bole Laser Craft kits

"Where are my brakes?" said Skarloey

 Probably my favourite layout in the show

I don't know if it was the Railway Modeller effect, but Hambledon was getting a lot ofwell-deservedd attention.

A truly large scale MOTY entrant

I've found the MOTY entries look a lot better later in the day when more light falls on them

Another of those 24mm gauge locos. Hard to believe this began as a Faller loco

I nearly missed this, but I loved this large scale barge

And my final MOTY photo, of one of my favourite prototypes, my family having strong links to Fivemile Town.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Rails Round The Rectory

I'm one of those odd people who doesn't see indoor modelling as a Winter activity, but one for the Summer nights. So with the clocks changing and a long weekend I've made another effort to restart progress on the Cadeby inspired micro layout.

I'm a big fan of both the Petite Properties kits and the Redutex self-adhesive textures sheets. In fact, I've had some of both in store for a long time so I decided it was time to actually do some modelling.

I still haven't got the hang of getting the quite thick Redutex to go round corners. I've also been experimenting with a combination of "watercolour pens" from Arteza and gouache colours to build up texture.

Talking of texture, having finally got hold of a Gorden Gravett's book on modelling broadleaf leaves I thought I would have another go at trees, since they were a big feature of the garden at Cadeby. This was really nothing more than a 3D doodle, made from twisted wire, acrylic gesso, and artificial hair. Still a work in progress, but it is amazing how many deficiencies a photo reveals.

Having said which I still think it is better than my attempt at a tree on Apa Valley using a commercial armature and rubberised horsehair., despite the best efforts of my workshop assistant to get in the way.

Incidentally, that is a Tim Horn display stand on view, the start of the shed containing Teddy's 4mm layout and a corner of the baseboard.

A story for another day is about how I very nearly made a very silly mistake with the wiring....