Tuesday, 13 October 2020

I See a Baseboard and I want to paint it Black

On Friday morning I looked out the window to see that not only had the goats turned the ELR's coach on to its side, but they had already started eating it.

I swore. Very loudly and for a long time, using a very naughty word.

And I felt like giving up. Not just the ELR, but everything.

It was the proverbial last straw. 

On at least one level I've decided to scrap the ELR. It is the railways or the goats, and whilst their rescue was yet another "over my dead body"  argument that I lost, and they have left a trail of destruction in their wake, I am very attached to them.

At another level, and perhaps it helps that I'm thinking on more than one level, I'm considering radical alternatives for reconstruction. In pretty much every other aspect of my life this is where fate plays a card and there would be a ridiculous coincidence. If railways were like cats yet another wanted feral would walk into our lives  - currently nine of them, I think. But no such luck so far.

Perhaps it might even force me out to my comfort zone, and into the front garden, where I've been suffering from the 7 1/4" gauge equivalent of empty baseboard syndrome. 

One idea I'm exploring in my head involves abandoning the very first section of the line, at least for now, and gaining access to the front garden from the other side of the house. That would significantly reduce the amount of line exposed to the goats and force me to use the back garden section much more as a spur to the engine and stock shed just for use at the beginning and end of the day, rather than as a railway in its own right. It would also give me access to a better alignment in the front garden with less need for earthworks but would add the need for two substantial crossings of the driveway. And Issy would have to move the caravan. We will see.

On the 7/8ths front, I managed to find time to treat the marine ply baseboards. In the long term they will be covered anyway, but using a black tinted preservative seems to help me envisage how the line will fit in. I all still looks dreadfully ugly but I can see where I'm going with it. I need to start thinking about a few simple structures to provide scenic blocks.

It is odd looking forward to Winter with a workshop re-established. I lost so much of last year to the workshop/studio/office move.  I keep looking down at the "railway" end of the studio and pondering the long term 7mm plan. I can't yet free up the space to make a start on the Last Great Project but I'm increasingly wondering why I'm not focussing on 7mm  rather than 4mm. Not that the 4mm projects won't carry on, but I need to build up a feel for 7mm again.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Autumn Thoughts

 It has been an odd Summer, hasn't it? What has struck me is how busy I seem to have been despite lockdown. so much so that when I took a couple of weeks off at the end of September I more or less collapsed in a heap for the first seven days, before filling the second half of the "holiday" with some of the much need chores around the garden. One of the biggest was getting round to painting the outside of the studio. At some distant point in time this is scheduled to be the terminus of the ELR, so painting it a decidedly none railway colour was a big decision. Other factors swayed the choice, and it has certainly done a good job of visually shrinking the building so it is less obtrusive.

Being unobtrusive is also one of the aims of the initial 7/8ths line. I'm sufficiently happy with the proof of concept that I'll be bedding it in as a semi-permanent line over the rest of Autumn. I've nothing specific in mind but I'm also allowing for potential extensions at either end.  I was hoping to finish off the 7/8ths rolling stock whilst I was off work, but with the black dog yapping at my heels it was as much as I could do to get the roof on the gunpowder wagon. Again massive thanks to Bole Lasercraft for providing the replacement roof. It really is a lovely kit.

You might have noticed the slightly smaller rolling stock in front of it. It is one of several key purchases that I bought last year but have only recently been delivered. It is a Busch HOf set, destined to have a Narrow Planet 6point5 body on the loco.  I've three possible layouts in mind for it. The original intention was to provide the railway element of the Scalescenes wharfside boxfile layout, and that is still top priority. The second is a variation on a well known 009 rabbit warren layout which I think could work really well given the magnet aided adhesion and the possibility of hiding an absurd gradient in a tunnel. The third option is another variation on the Cadeby theme but modelled in  TTn2.

That would, of course, mean scratch-building or 3d printing some stock. And oddly that brings me to another recent delivery of something bought last year... but more of that in a later post.

Monday, 24 August 2020

Further proof of Concept

It turns out I was Oh so right! about the impact of Issy's she-shed/caravan on my time. I hate being right in that way. I suspect it means I will run out of time to get anything meaningful done on the ELR this year beyond building a few track panels and coming up with yet another plan to exploit the space created by the goats and their wake of destruction.

On the 7/8ths front I'm at that odd point where the wagons just need a few finishing touches that I keep putting off. All I really need is a single day off when I don't feel shattered and my muscles aren't shaking from the use of garden machinery. 

I have just found enough time to more firmly fix the layout for the first attempt.

Once the ground becomes workable again I'll give it proper foundations and then landscape it, but for now I'm just marking my territory. As before, what you see is pretty much the entire line but that is all i need for now. 

One thing it it makes very clear is just how small the Model Earth wagons are compared even to the Sand Hutton/WD wagon. Their future lies on a photoplank for inside the studio.

I was going to donate an offcut of the marine ply to the caravan, but the more I look at it the more I think it deserves to become a corner shelf layout. 

What I'm not sure of is what form it will take. I could use that curve either to reflect the flow of the track, or as a theatrical framing device.

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Proof of Concept

I guess my colleagues will tell me the title of this post should really be Minimal Viable Product.  That is the idea of building something that just about holds up to scrutiny but isn't yet fit to sell. It lets you see if the concept works, but if it doesn't you "fail fast" and learn lessons without falling foul of the sunk cost fallacy.

I've got a fair amount of LGB track in stock. It was bought with the short-term intention of using it to run-in Peter Jones and to visualise some possible locations. The longer-term intention involves grandchildren and a well known blue engine. After all, I started off with the old Meccano clockwork Percy.

I had been shifting towards hand-building the track from day one. Issy's latest enthusiasm (Poop Poop said Mrs Toad) means I'm going to be time poor for the rest of the Summer which has put paid to that plan. I've also got a nascent idea for a better location for the line in the long term and I don't see the point of building track until then. So I'm back to using LGB as my proof of concept and to get some sort of 7/8ths line in place to help my thinking.

I'm also warming to that idea of a little 16mm line in one of the raised vegetable beds. Teddy seems quite supportive of the concept.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Taking Stock

Progress is well underway with building the 7/8ths wagons, which means it is time to start thinking about building a railway to run them on.

This is an evolving process and I don't have a definite plan in mind yet. The mist has cleared a little though.

The first iteration is going to be kept simple so I can try out some ideas, especially around track building. A short continuous run to allow Peter Jones to run, and a long siding leading to a basic yard or quay. It is going to be a mineral line, so no station. Whilst it is going to be a ground-level line the construction will have to take into account how much the ground moves in these parts.

What I'm most worried about at the moment is not copying recognisable aspects of other 7/8ths lines. For instance, there will be no preservation society sharing the line. There is some stock already built that I might dispose of because they seem cliched now.. 

A bit of an accident meant that I had to recover a lot of my olf 16mm stock from a watery grave. As is often the way a coincidental event meant I came across some old photos of it in use.

As well as summing up my less is more thinking they might even make me consider a very simple battery operated line gfor one of the raised vbegetable beds.

Friday, 17 July 2020

A little More Progress

For some reason I've found building the Bole Lasercraft Sand Hutton wagons (spelling changed from waggons for Phil) much more fun than the Trefor wagon. They just feel that little bit more thought out, with some nice touches like the emulation of through timber bolts.. Having said which I made a major mistake by misreading a picture in the instructions. I also built the second body in a completely different order to that suggested by the instructions. I glued the underfloor bearers in first before the L shaped end supports. That made life a lot easier. I had been worrying that as 18" gauge prototypes they would look odd on 2ft gauge, but they don't, in my eyes.

I'm still struggling perceptually knowing that these are small prototypes but feel like big models. On the other hand they look just right in a large garden in a way that I found 16mm didn't after
we moved here.

Time to build a railway, I suppose

Monday, 13 July 2020

Almost There

I started writing this post at the start of June. It was going to be about how I batch built a rake of 7/8ths scale wagons ina  week. So, here we are, weeks later, and it is about how I have nearly finished the first one.

It is the Bole Laser Craft Trefor waggon.  A week ago it looked like this and I was ready to throw it in a bin

It isn't that it is a bad kit, James Hilton had already shown that it could be turned into a very attractive model. So what was the problem?


First of all, after success trialling it out with a 16mm kit from Matt Nunn I decided to use Littelefair wood stains. What I hadn't taken into account is that the frame of this kit is built from laminations of ply, and after staiinng that is just how it looked. I have some Sand Hutton kits from the same manufacturer  under construction as well, and they have black frames that disguise this. So I tried staining them black, but it didn't work on this model. Eventually, I added some heavy-handed woodgrain using a razor saw blade to disguise the construction. It works from normal viewing distances.

I made a major mistake assembling the body as a result of not picking up that the ends are handed. by the time I'd rectified that and clamped everything together, I missed that I'd not checked the fit of an end and a side. As a result, the body doesn't quite fit right on the floor. I'll never be able to unsee it.

I'll be honest I was also struggling with looking at a 7/8ths model with a mind accustomed to 16mm. I couldn't get it into my head that this was a big model of a small prototype.

More than anything else it reminded me of my early attempts at scratchbuilding in 16mm  35 years ago. It was something out about the proportions but also...well I think I've worked out that  it is the gap between the planks.

They are too wide for a newly built waggon but too regular for a well-used one. That has been exaggerated by the use of ply that makes it hard to reduce their impact using colouring because the cut reaches the dark layer. On the Sand Hutton wagons, the cuts seem much shallower, which avoids the problem.

When I build the next few I'll either partially fill the gaps, or distress from with a scrawker. And I will be building a few more, though as I look at photos of the prototype I keep seeing other things I will do differently as well.

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Figure it out

For someone who does not believe ghosts exist I've lived in a lot of haunted houses. Visitors to the cottage have often got very little sleep, and we give them the "quieter" of the bedrooms. Things certainly have a habit of disappearing and then reappearing in ridiculous places. it seems the new studio is not immune from this activity. Hence this post is not about batch building wagon kits for there 7/8ths line, because several bits of the kits have gone missing since construction started.

Even without supernatural intervention things were not going smoothly. All the kits involved are very good, in their way. But next time  I would build them in a very different ways than suggested by the instructions. If there is a next time, because once this batch is finished there really isn't much more stock I think I need apart from a workmen's conveyance.

What I have finally managed to make progress on is a Hardy's Hobbies figure. I was originally intending to put him in the cab of a loco, but he is rather tall.

Meanwhile, in The Repair Shop, a quick job for my beloved. Oddly painted in the same basic colours as the 7/8ths figure.

Monday, 1 June 2020

Going up through the Scales

The Scalescenes boxfile layout is on hold whilst I wait for orders of card and the Scaleglaze windows to arrive. in the meantime I've been experimenting with water effects. Draw your own conclusions from the absence of photos of brilliantly modelled water.

I've had more success with revising an old idea, which was a 16mm diorama in a seed tray.

 It has used most of my stock of rigid foam, but then I've forgotten why I'd bought that in the first place.

Issy wanted me to dispose of some exhausted pot soil, and this seemed the ideal method. The original idea goes back to a plan I had to build a very small working industrial scene. Instead it has become an isolated halt on an abandoned line. Perhaps nature is just taking over, or a preservation society is just bringing it back to life ahead of time.

It is a bit of an experiment ahead of building the 7/8ths line, for which I'm thinking of using a tray style construction to facilitate planting and scenic features. I think the next couple of weeks are going to be dedicated to the garden scales. I'm really keen to run Peter Jones but I'm wary of doing so until a) Issy is away again and b) I have some rolling stock to keep him in check.

There is even a rumour that I might be in the mood to build the next 20m of 7 1/4" track panels as well.

In another world I was supposed to be in New Zealand this week...

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Barging On

Work has been keeping me rather busy during Lockdown. I didn't even realise Monday was a Bank Holiday until late on Friday. I've also mostly been working weekends and to Indian Standard Time which has further messed up my perception of reality.

Anyway, I did find sometime on Monday to do a little more refining of the Scalescenes barge.

Set against the well known Anyscale version it sits quite nicely. I'll add a little more weathering and then call it a day for this one, and move on to building the next one.

I've dug out some spare OO and OO9 track that might just do for a version of the boxfile layout, but I want to ensure the track doesn't overwhelm the scene.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Card Barge

I'm a big fan of the Scalescenes range, both the individual textures and the kits. The range is now extending to including almost complete boxfile layouts, and I'm really excited about the latest canalside one. Not least because it fits in with my plans for a larger version of a similar scene.

There are two things, in particular, I want to mention.

The first is the backscene. I love that John has chosen a misty autumnal view, and one that blends so well with the low relief elements.  Unfortunately, for me, it is very obviously a modern shot, so I'm either going to have to spend ages backdating it in Photoshop or I'll have to find something similar in my personal photo library.

The second is the barge kit included as a free extra. For me this sums up Scalescenes. It involves some very clever design work, especially around forming the hull shape.  The price for that is you really do have to build it accurately, but then part of the joy of Scalescenes is the low cost, in both time and money, of throwing a piece away and starting again if it isn't right first time.

I have to be honest that I made a couple of early mistakes that meant my first build of it was always going to be flawed, though I have corrected most of the obvious problems this photo shows.

I decided to carry on with the build to understand how the design worked so I could be clear on what I needed to do differently on future builds.

The construction technique will be very familiar to anyone familiar with the simple balsawood model boat designs of Glynn  Guest,  which I've always enjoyed building.. So next time I think I'll build it as I've built those in the past. That means adopting a slightly different order of doing things, which I hope will be easily repeatable, because I intend to build a number of these.

I'm not a purist when it comes to using just card for card models, so I'm going to sort out what detailing parts I can get from the likes of  Langley. I also want to make sure I'm building a model of a barge, not just copying the original model. There a few areas where I feel the use of card has possibly compromised the design, especially the deck, hold and coaming. I'm also less than convinced by the light grey colour choice for those parts. So the fate of this version will include some experiments with paint.

As for the overall design of the barge, I'm not quite sure if it has a prototype. Although it is a dumb barge there is something about the sheer and the stern that is suggestive of a powered craft, and I suspect a few people will add a wheelhouse and engine room, possibly shortening the hold a little to suit.

Incidentally, there is a very active Scalescenes Modellers Group on FB.

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Now is the Wintereley of our...

In the last post I mentioned I was going to dig out my stash of Winterely couplings.

Well I did.

Because the design is quite complicated, and as the instructions point out, none of the parts are instantly recognisable on first acquaintance, I wasn't expecting my first attempt at building one to go to plan.

And it didn't.

But, and it is big but, I've learned a lot and I'm going to have another go, and perhaps try a couple of improvements.

The basic idea seems increasingly workable, my problems were partly down to my own clumsiness working with small parts when you don't know exactly how they are meant to fit.

Part of that is also down to the instructions, They are OK, but a little vague at a couple of key points.

There are a couple of places where I don't think the use of an etched component is the best way forward, or where I would do things in a slightly different order and perhaps use a jig.

Strangest of all to me, unless I'm missing something obvious, is the need to mount them so low down that for most wagons, as the instructions point out, you need to provide 2mm of packing under the floor. This seems to be a legacy of the original 4mm version being designed to quickly replace an old style Bachmann coupling fitting.

So I'm definitely going to give them another go, using the other ends of my poor test bed wagons


In my day job I'm officially a "SAFe Agilist". For those who don't work in IT, it essentially means delivering small but constant improvements in products.

And the great thing about finally having a workbench is that it can make me an agile modeller. I don't have the constant overhead of unpacking and packing whatever project I'm working on. I can even keep on hand things that I use all the time. So for the first time in years my soldering iron, or one of them at least, has a permanent place to sit so I can use it whenever it is needed.

So what am I actually working on? Well, to be honest initially I'm working on producing a few more jigs and useful storage boxes rather than models. The big focus is on tools to make couplings. I've tried in the past and learned I can only do it successfully if I use jigs for every stage

It has taken on some urgency because I've decided that my lockdown OO gauge Inglenook isn't going to use tension lock couplings. Well, actually it is, but as we know, real modellers like to think they aren't by making them themselves and giving them fancy names.

So my initial plan for the Inglenook is, or rather, was, to use a delayed action version of the Iain Rice "Imprecise" coupling. This uses the Palatine Models  AJ jigs to produce the basic hook, but misses out the stage of angling the "tail" outwards and inverts the hook 180 degrees so it becomes a much less obviously visual version of the Sprat & Winkle.

Incidentally, if ever you find Stephen King novels too dull and want a real fright I can highly recommend the instructions that come with the various AJ jigs and their various warnings that if you mess something up halfway through the process you will be condemned to coupling Hell AND NEVER PRODUCE A WORKING COUPLING.

These are NOT idle threats.

Fortunately, as the name implies, the Rice version is more forgiving, and he avoids the use of guitar wire which is good because frankly, I can never get a decent bend in it, even if I do use jigs.

One thing Iain's design lacks is a delay hook., although he suggests a solution. Now for an Inglenook layout, which is always going to stretch the observer's credibility, I think delayed uncoupling is a must.t reduce unrealistic shunting moves. Now that suggests one other credible solution. Well, two if my eyesight was good enough to use three-link couplings. The alternative is the Winterley which, in theory, operates without any need for fixed uncouplers. My initial unease was two-fold. First they are single-ended, and secondly, they are relatively obtrusive.

It struck me at some unearthly hour of the morning that, for now at least, the single-endedness isn't an issue. The only stock I'm thinking about fitting them to will be dedicated to the Inglenook and variations on it. I've no intention of converting any of the stock to EM. Then later on and fully awake I realized that the visual issues were possibly solvable.. So another experiment might be called for.

The good news is that the Imprecise couplings will do the job for my EM projects. If, at a later date, I convert over to AJs then good, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over it.

No photo to go with this post? Nope, I've failed  miserably at taking close up shots of various bent bits of wire

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

A Workbench to call my Own

This blog can sometimes read like a long litany of excuses for why I haven't done any modelling. In my defence it is worth remembering, because even I forget, that in the whole time I've been writing it I've never had a dedicated modelling workbench.  Everything has been produced on the odd two square foot or so of space that I've found on top of cupboards or on the edge of a desk shared with a computer and printer.

In fact, I was shocked to realise that it is eighteen years since I last had a dedicated modelling workbench.

In the longer term, post lockdown, I'm going to get custom benchwork in the studio. In the meantime, I'm making do with an assortment of cupboards, some dating back to my first flat, but I still don't have a workbench.

Or at least I didn't until I decided to reward myself for finally sorting out the boxes. Well, most of the boxes.

It isn't the world's greatest, but it was cheap. In fact it is dreadfully cheap and cheerful and proof that you get what you pay for. I bought a cheap stool to keep it company

But it is a workbench to call my own for the first time in eighteen years.

Eventually it will end up in the Big Metal Shed as part of the ELR's workshop, though not for anything involving precision.

The box sort out revealed a few surprises, most notably three OO gauge shunters that I'd completely forgotten about. This is rather good news because one of them was a Sentinel and another a J70, both are ideal for the Casket Yard inspired layout. The other one was an old Hornby Pug which I'd earmarked for conversion to EM. I'm still not sure what to do with that.

I'm in a quandary about OO9. I had decided to put it on the back burner but I really have a lot of nearly completed locos and it seems silly to leave them unfinished. On the other hand it is all taking up space I wanted for other things. Time for a ponder. I'm thinking a halfway house between the current layout and the planned larger version. In effect a diorama of the station and sidings at Cadeby to display the locos that could later be extended to become a proper layout. Such a diorama would quite suit an Apa box.

Something else I need to ponder about is couplings. I seem to have accumulated trial packs of various sorts over the years without ever settling on anything. If/when I return to EM I feel inclined to finally give Alex Jacksons a go. I've noticed DGs in use on an increasing number of exhibition layouts, if you remember such things. Actually I had to look quite hard to notice them in the flesh, though they seem more obvious in photos. To date, I've had the most success with Sprat & Winkles, but I don't really like the big hooks. Iain Rice has a design for something similar but with a wire AJ style hook and I'm tempted to use the approach if I don't succeed with the AJs.

Finally, for those interested in musical trivia, here is a link to some photos of my old workbench in Herefordshire when it was being used by a  real craftsman, the late Bernard Ellis who made the mandolin used on Tubular Bells.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Spaced Out

Another weekend of sorting through sheds has added to the pile of boxes at the railway end of the studio.

It isn't as bad as it looks. At least that is what I tell myself.

For a start, this is the contents of both my old modelling rooms, both packed in a hurry and without regard to how much space I was taking up. I'm hoping there isn't too much duplication between them apart from paints and chemicals. I'm also expecting most of those paints and chemicals to be unusable by now.

Any organisation there is amongst the boxes is based on projects and stages of layout construction. So once I've re-organised them a lot of boxes will be going back into one of the sheds. That is presuming I've got around to tidying up the sheds themselves. the wooden one isn't looking too bad, but the big metal shed needs a real effort. Not only that, but the metal shed also needs to be readied for storing more 7 1/4" stock away from the goats.

As well as the boxes there are a lot of baseboards and materials that need to be packed away or used. At the moment I want to focus on the Casket Yard inglenook

I still haven't finalised the layout of the studio. The missing element is the workbench that I need to shoehorn in somehow. Then I can start to play around with locations for cupboards, shelving, and baseboard supports. a workbench will also let me resume work on the 7/8ths and residual 16mm kits that by their nature take up a lot of room.

Can you tell what it is yet?
It might not look like it, but I feel I'm beginning to make progress working on the site for the relocated vegetable plot and 7/8ths line. I'm a long way from having a plan for the 7/8ths in mind, though the manually controlled Wren more or less dictates a disguised continuous run of some sort.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Easter Aches

Easter here is always busy, whether it is hosting visitors or sorting out the garden. There are no prizes for guessing what it was this year. As for the source of my aches, well...

The ELR has always been a practical and purposeful line. From the days when it was, literally, a pointless 30m long it linked the house to the domestic and garden service area next to Quick Lane. The location of the terminus was a bit of a compromise.  Whilst it was quite close to the storage area it also had to allow for paved access to the big metal shed and the back gate that allowed access for dog walking. Despite that, I always thought it had a certain charm, especially in photographs.

As time went by the service yard got hidden behind a willow wicker fence to protect it from prying eyes. The extended running line allowed direct access to the metal shed and also to the main vegetable plot with the original terminus turning into a siding served by an awkwardly placed turnout. The wicker fencing meant it was as easy to serve the storage area by shunting wagons on the main line as it was to use the siding.

And then along came the goats, who trashed the wicker fence, the storage area, and the vegetable plots.

So the Easter weekend was devoted to demolishing most of the service yard and moving the vegetable beds. Last year's Sycamore cull has opened up an area for a new service yard, closer to the house. That means trains won't need to run so often, with more of a focus on the sporadic bulk movements when deliveries arrive than regular weekly workings. In an attempt to thwart the goats the kitchen garden is now as far away from the kitchen as it could be, next to my studio. Or rather it will be when I finish rebuilding it. The good news is that not only will the new plot be bigger but planning on-site suggests I should be able to fit in the 7/8ths line out of sight behind it.

It is, though, 100m from the furthest reach of the ELR.

Monday, 6 April 2020

An Unproductive Weekend

Well, I suppose it depends on what you mean by productive.

I did manage to get a little more sorting-out done in the office, including finding some old photos I'd forgotten about.

Flying Scotsman at Blackpool.
The Chester Festival of the Arts/Gainsborough Model Railway Society 'Chester Festival Flyer' special from Chester to Blackpool, 9/7/67
I'm the blonde!

Over the weekend I apparently walked over twenty-fives miles in the course of gardening.

I really should build the extension to the ELR. Where that extension goes is intimately connected to the decision about where to put the garden pond goes. Fortunately, I'm finding the location of the studio ideal for getting a different perspective on the garden, though it does look like I'm going to have to sacrifice the croquet lawn.

A very bad artists impression of where the pond might go

The pond is a long term plan, and if I get my act together  it will also be integrated with the 'proper' 7/8ths line. In the meantime some re-jigging of the new, and now hopefully goat and chicken proof, vegetable patch has freed up space for a short term 7/8ths  project. What form that will take I'm not sure. I suspect the Wren really needs a continuous run and I can just about fit one in. That then raises questions of access to the whole length of the line, which in turn might mean building it at a lower height than is ideal.

At the back of the sheds I've also found rather more 16mm scale stock and track than I realized I still owned. The jury is definitely out on what to do with it all. Most of it seems to date from my last line which, you might recall, was in a very small garden. So perhaps I could find space to squeeze something in, with a focus on battery operation. Looking through this blog that last 16mm line is conspicuous by its absence, which is odd. It went through a number of incarnations, each squeezed into less space in the desperate hope that it would survive life with three teenagers and two dogs.

A Faller conversion. The ballast was a resin paving joint filler.
The Brandbright Fowler "Peldon"
Currently sat on my workbench awaiting TLC
Peldon again. It needs new electrics, including basic R/C and some cosmetic repairs
As for actual modelling this weekend...

... I've managed to get my Tim Horn EM stock display stand back into a semi usable state. It really suffered from a combination of mice and damp whilst in storage. We solved the mouse problem by housing rescued feral cats, but they caused problems of their own. Whilst it isn't as good as new it has provided a useful trial run for seeing if I can restore the baseboards for future use.

I've also been playing around with some Scalescenes kits ready to embark on my modified dockside boxfile layout. Whilst rummaging through boxes I discovered my old Peco locolift, so at least it will have a fiddleyard of sorts. Looking at the Scalescenes kits has made me think aboutTAoC. I was going to user lasercut buildings that equated as closely as possible to the structures suggested by Roy. But perhaps it is equally valid to use card models from a single source, in the way he chose models from the Prototypes range. With that in mind I've already got ideas for a station building and bridge, roughly based on Steens Bridge. The question then is what to do about a goods shed.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

The Cadeby Conundrum

In happier days - now lacking a chimney and the cab backsheet is cracked
Having moved lots of books and tools from one of the sheds my studio now has a healthy population of spiders. In fact, the number of spiders has roughly achieved parity with the number of nearly finished OO9 kits.

Work on them and the Cadeby based micro layout came to an end when I lost my old office. I have to say that storage and the move to the studio have not been kind to them. It is quite depressing contemplating repair work before finishing them. I might even be tempted to start again on some of the cheaper 3D bodies. Other than that I will progress the models as and when, a major factor beign the suitability of the weather for spray painting. As for the layout itself, well that has now found a home in a storage box. I suspect it will see a little more use as a test track and for photography, before been denuded of trees as I borrow them for other projects.

Like Apa Valley before it, it has served its purpose. It got me back into OO9 and relatively up to date on improvements in the trade. It was always intended to be the precursor to a larger version of Cadeby that would allow for more sidings and a greater sense of place. It won't be an exact model because I'm inclined to allow for a continuous run and disinclined to model the monstrosity of a "modern" rectory.

The conundrum arises over baseboards.  I've got an unbuilt Tim Horn baseboard that I originally had in mind. I've also got two other ideas that could make equally good use of it though.  What hadn't really dawned on me until moving it the other day is that it isn't going to be a lightweight structure, even before I build a layout on it. That means whatever I use it for is going to need a semi-permanent home, and I'm not sure OO9 is the best use of that space.

So what are the alternatives? I'll take a look at a few more commercial alternatives, but I have a feeling I might end up using foamboard. I also think I'm going to play around with some dimensions once I've built a suitable Old Rectory and some larger trees.


Wednesday, 25 March 2020


OK, not much, but more than is probably apparent here. A lot of the boxes contain paperwork that accrued whilst I was in office stasis last year. I'm hoping I can reduce their number considerably over the next ten days.

Most importantly of all I finally have a workspace again. It is still less than half the area I've planned for, but it will do for now.

Meanwhile, splendid isolation continues.

Monday, 23 March 2020


Well, not quite.

The forecast of a spell of warm Spring weather, and the prospect of losing five days of annual leave that I can't carry forward, finally persuaded me to take a week's holiday at home. I was actually surprised to realise it is the first week I've taken off since July.

It might seem odd to some of you to take a holiday when people are homeworking, business is quiet, and sensible people are self-isolating.  The novelty of home-working wore off many years ago, so unless I force myself to take time off it is just like working in the office, only with longer hours. The wet start to the year also means I have a big backlog of tasks. To put it in perspective, this weekend I walked sixteen miles without leaving the garden. If nothing else, that is proof that the ELR needs to be extended.

The big job for this week is to move the vegetable garden as far away from the chickens and goats as possible. That, unfortunately, is also where I was planning to put the 7/8ths line. Whether or not railway and vegetable plot can co-exist is something I'm going to have to think through. It might be possible in some form but not the one I intended. Another big outside task is to start putting in a loading dock for the ELR  in the eyesore space created when we had to remove a stand of sycamores. How far that progresses probably depends on how timber I can salvage.

The other big project is to start organising the studio. Leaving aside that many boxes of books and model railways haven't really been unpacked since we moved here four years ago it is still chaos as a result of the shift around of rooms last year. It is amazing what I'm finding that I'd completely forgotten about, likes these 7/8ths kits from Model Earth

I suspect for the next couple of months 7/8ths will be my main focus, since I had so many part completed models on the go last Autumn. After that, the layout in a box takes priority as a precursor to TAoC.

My O gauge ideas are firming up. I want to make use of some of the RTR locos available whilst not falling into the trap of being derivative. I love the Minerva Manning Wardle, for example, but it is so common on exhibition layouts these days. I'm homing in on the Leomisnter-Bromyard branch at the moment. I know the route really well, having lived near Leominster, on and off, for some twenty years, albeit in what now feels like a very distant past. Station layouts were relatively simple, and there is even scope for a narrow gauge interchange. I'm imagining a variation on Llanastr with a solitary 57xx as motive power.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020


I was going to write quite an angry post about people in our hobby living in a bubble divorced from the reality of the current situation. Things have moved on since then and I hope we all now realise the potential seriousness, and that the knock-on effects will be widespread. In the big scheme of things, this is still just a hobby. Having said which I've no intention of minimising the impact on traders, manufacturers and others who depend on the hobby for all or part of their living. I'm also extremely worried about heritage lines.

In the short term, the key priority is keeping others safe, and, in doing that, protecting ourselves. 

Here in the fens, it isn't making that much of an impact on us, yet. Issy and I both work from home 50% of the time so moving to doing so 100% isn't that hard. On the other hand there is no novelty factor and we've already got well-worn routines that mean we make the most of the working day rather than idling.

I am taking some time off, quite literally as gardening leave in the sense that I'm using it to do gardening, rather than before joining a new employer. And it is hard to ignore that the ELR takes u quite a bit of one of our gardens.

So as well as doing some maintenance I'm thinking about a wholesale reworking of the track plan to separate the workshop from the running line. After all, one day I might finally get around to holding an open day, and it would make life a lot easier and safer.

The title of this post relates to another dilemma that I half-hinted at a few weeks ago. Like Chris Ford I'm thinking about O gauge, and this seems like a chance to think about it a little more. At some point I still want to build an O16.5 layout based on the Glyn Valley. So it makes sense to start getting some experience in the scale again. It isn't a priority as things stand, but that might change. I'll have to see how I get on once I can start building TAoC. A big question is probably whether I can really face up to the backlog of EM gauge conversions that has built up whilst I've been without a workshop. We shall see. If I do make the leap somethign else will have to go, and it is probably the Tanat Valley based layout. You know, the one where this blog started. 

I also need to find a track plan that would fit in the space I'm currently allocating layouts. until I don't need the office space. That could be quite a challenge.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

The Summer Campaign

With a possible lockdown imminent I'm beginning to wonder if it was at the back of my mind when I wrote the Cabin Fever post. At least I should get a chance to seriously consider the next steps on the ELR. it does look a mess, mostly thanks to the livestock.

A positive piece of news is that the report on Teddy's overhaul is that much less work is needed than first feared. This has cheered me up immensely. Especially since I'm still struggling to find the time and space to get to grips with Tug's electronics.

I at least managed to re-seed the lawn today, a task that took 9,200 steps according to my FitBit. In the past it has bounced back quite well, so we will see. The main task is really to fence off the track and workshop to prevent this sort of damage

I have to remind myself that the line is actually still the longest it has ever been. It just doesn't feel like it. So relaying the lifted section is quite key psychologically.

The track used to run up to here, under a canopy of laurel bushes.
It might not be visible, but the current limit of the track coincides with the grassy area by the fence
Immediately behind me is a gate that will give access to a loading dock area for firewood.

Before reinstating this bit it makes sense to ease the curves past the workshop and the point that currently lead to the storage siding. Hopefully, that will mean Tug and the Coach can run this far for the first time.

Extending the other end of the line really means firming up plans for the route to the Studio and deciding the location of a planned pond.

The daffodils are just before the current head of rail, honest.

Meanwhile, we are struggling to maintain our isolation...

...which in reality means visits to the line are on hold, given that I fall into two of the high-risk groups.

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Cabin Fever

This is the one time of year when I dislike living in the fens. Visitors tend to shun us in mid-Winter, and those who visit at Xmas often question our sanity, but it is late Winter and early Spring that I find utterly depressing. Paradoxically it is because Spring comes early here.

Elder Cottage as it was in 1971.
Still as bleak today despite a windbreak of trees, and I wish the big shed had been retained

February isn't yet over but our snowdrops are on the way out. The early daffodils are also fading. Against a south-facing wall, we already have tulips in bloom. The grass in parts of the garden is already too long to mow and will need strimming first, and two of the fruit trees are setting blossom.

So why is it so depressing? Like all of the UK this year we have been lashed by a succession of storms, conveniently timed for weekends. We've actually got off lightly. Then that isn't surprising because unlike most of the country the fens accept strong winds and the threat of floods as part of life, especially at this time of year. And it is that combination of early spring with high winds and wet ground that is so soul-destroying. The garden runs away from you and you can't do anything about it. Every year I hope for a couple of those beautiful cold but dry and sunny winter days. Every year I plan to take a week off to prepare the garden but never choose the right week. This year seems worse because of the amount of work we had done last year, and the preparatory work for this year's plans that we've started. The new work has suffered by the inevitable, but planned for, shifting of the ground over Winter. Not built into our plans was the additional impact of the goats. It is a mud bath in the back garden.

Once again, oddly, the 7 1/4" track laid directly on the turf seems to be in better condition than the properly laid track. there is a lesson in that.

At least I now have the studio, though plans to move the last couple of bookcases and workshop equipment in have been stymied by hibernating butterflies...

And then there is Geoff and his brilliant foray into 7mm https://luggvalleyrailway.wordpress.com/

With his use of Tanat Valley structures it calls into question if there is a point to me building a version that will not come close, but he is also making 7mm look a very attractive option now I have a little more space to play with.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

The Joy of Books

Moving into the new studio is a protracted affair. I suspect It won't be complete for another year as things get juggled around.  Progress is being made though, and most of my key railway and modelling books are finally accessible again. It isn't the same as having the dedicated library that we had in the old house, but that isn't all bad.

Moving did mean an awful lot of books going to charity shops. Most of them were fiction titles. Some were old friends from university days and before but it seems silly to use up precious space in the cottage when they can all fit on my Kindle and go with me on my travels.  It is also true to say that whilst in the old house Issy considered books to be "mess" in the cottage she sees them as adding character, so they are to be found in most rooms of the house. I just hope she never realises the combined value of the books in the photography section.

That raises a key, if morbid, point that many of us don't give our partners an indication of what is particularly valuable in our collections, be it in terms of monetary value, historical interest or just the things we would like to keep in the family as long as possible.

The original subject of this post was going to be the disparity in my books between those about making the best use of RTR models and kits, and those about scratch building. This is especially true when it comes to books about building structures. Putting them all on a single bookcase seems to have really highlighted this.

When I started Apa Valley I intended to scratch build all the buildings, but I did end up using a repurposed Hornby moulding for the wooden platforms and an Lcut signal box. I did have a couple of other signal boxes in mind and half-constructed both a scratch-built and a kit-bashed version, and one of them will end up on the next TVR based layout. For me the TAoC layouts need to use commercial kits to be in the spirit of Roy's original design. The ones I have sourced are very good, though not without issues. The problem is that those issues aren't easy ones to solve. And even if they can be solved do I still end up with people saying "Oh look that is xxxx kit of....." rather than "That is nice model of ....."

I think the scratch builder in me might win this particular battle.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Inglenook Issues

There are good reasons why the inglenook is considered a classic layout plan, but that does not mean it is without flaws. This is particularly true if you use it as the basis of a British layout. The good news is there are ways around some of the problems.

So what are the issues?

The most basic one is the lack of British prototypes for the track plan and mode of operation.

Yes, there are lots of reasonably compact three road goods yards. But most inglenooks don't have room for any actual goods facilities and most small goods yards didn't have to handle the traffic density that an inglenook does. In any case, when being used as a shunting puzzle operation bears no resemblance to how goods yards are really worked.  In a goods yard the location of wagons is driven by the loading and unloading of goods of different types. An inglenook yard is more akin to a small marshalling yard, with wagon position determined by where they have arrived from and their eventual destination.

So we can use an inglenook to model a marshalling yard, but they tended to be much larger facilities and located near a mainline. That brings up another possible issue for the inglenook, which is that the train never leaves view. That has a plus side as well, of course, in that no fiddle yard is needed and you get maximum scenic value out of the space, but still, it is nice to think our trains are going to and coming from somewhere else.

Mention of the scenic aspect also brings to mind what, for me, is the biggest issue. The visual imbalance between the two halves of the plan, and how to make use of the space on the half of the board that accommodates the headshunt.

But it is still a great plan.

So can we resolve some of the issues? Well, people have done. To be honest the easiest solution is to build it as an American layout, with two of the three sidings serving lineside loading docks modelled in low relief. After all, who knows what a boxcar contains and it seems reasonable that a raw product could be needed at factory 1 and then a finished product is delivered from factory 2. American boxcars can also be made individually identifiable to a casual observer without hinting at what they are carrying, which is less easy for UK wagons. In the last year I've come across some interesting prototypical US  track plans using interlaced trackwork that could also make the plan more interesting. Put it into an urban setting and you can make the headshunt area more interesting, and I've also considered using a car float as one of the tracks to explain the need for some of the stock movements.

But I still want to build a British version.

So the most obvious solution is to build it as a marshalling yard where a colliery or quarry is feeding traffic into one end of a line for onward travel. But that means all the wagons will be of the same type, so you need to set it in a period when PO wagons were around if you want casual visitors to take part in the shunting game.An alternative might be an internal manufacturing site with wagons going between workshops as part of the production process. that would require the game to be slightly altered so that rather than assembling a single train you would be redistributing the wagons across the sidings. I quite like that idea.

We could also make the yard seem bigger, by, for instance, having an overbridge across the ends of the sidings. That could work well in an urban setting.

Add a high level "mainline" and you connect the yard to the wider railway, the headshunt could even disappear under the mainline.

So what am I actually going to do with Rhwbiwch Planc? Well probably none of the above!

Monday, 13 January 2020

Rhwbiwch Planc

...or Apa Valley Lives

Those with long memories will know this blog started to document the construction of a micro-layout to test the waters on my return to modelling 4mm standard gauge after a long absence.

Unbelievably it is now four and a half years since I demolished Apa Valley before our move to the Fens. Since then my indoor modelling space has been restricted to an 18" square corner of a desk, when it was available. Bear in mind that the Rails Round the Garden OO9 micro took up 12"x12" of that space.

As the new studio/office/model workshop takes shape I've been doing a lot of thinking about what the first project should be, as well as the longer-term ones. I've learned a lot about 3D printed kits and scenics in the last few years, but I feel like I'm starting yet again with standard gauge. That means I need to regain my confidence, (re) learn some lessons, and take on board recent trade developments to make life easier.

After the capital outlay on the building I also want to be relatively frugal with my modelling this year, and where possible exploit my store cupboards.

My last plan was to use TAoC to do that. But then Phil Parker had to come up with this idea, Casket Yard! Not only that but BRM also put together this deal with Gaugemaster.

OK, perhaps not that frugal if, like me you have the basics already, and you do need to add the cost of the baseboard kit and storage box in as well. The concept, though, seems too good not to play with. Certainly, that is what my mind decided at 7am this morning.

Two options I've discounted for now are both dockside schemes, one an HO layout based on a picture I came across last year of a 1970's urban New York scene, and the other one based around Scalescenes kits*. Both have their merits, but whilst moving boxes I've come across odd bits that have survived from Apa Valley.

Even at 7am it didn't take much thinking to work out that these could be combined with the Casket Yard idea, and I already have the storage box lying around since we decided getting the Xmas tree into it was too much of a struggle. In fact it also turns out I already have a suitable baseboard built. It is wider and slightly shorter than Casket Yard, but can still fit in the storage box on its side if I use a lower backscene.

Peco medium radius code 75 bullhead points are just a little too long...

At least, that is the overall plan. A lot depends on playing around with track templates and my usual overthinking. Blame the latter for the observation that Casket Yard can be overlaid on to TAoC. Truncate the yard, bring the road bridge scenic bridge a bit closer to the platform by dumping the water tower, and place the back scene right behind the station as I did on at Apa Valley and it gives you Casket Yard. That, of course, raises the question whether to actually re-use the Apa Valley structures or to go for a mini TAoC  -"The Art of Compromise - Compromised."  In fact, I think the major compromise is going to be the use of the Peco asymmetric three way point. It will need to be slightly modified to look more realistic. I can justify the use of a FB profile by claiming the line was built as a light railway

The end of the beginning, perhaps, as the studio begins to become usable

* Both of these ideas remain roundtuit projects if I can find suitable homes for them. The HO one might even just fit into the Apa box that Apa Valley once occupied. The dockside one  needs a space big enough to suit a Tymesaver trackplan