Wednesday, 29 December 2021

Flemish Quay

 The OO6.5 layout finally has a name. I did toy with calling it Chain Bridge, since it features both a model of Chain bridge Forge and a, well, a chain bridge.

So why Flemish Quay? Trying to match other brickwork to the Skaledale building I came across my stash of Redutex Flemish brickwork. I believe that this is now readily available from Rails of Sheffield, but there was a period when it was in very short supply. So there is going to be a lot of Flemish bond brickwork on the layout.  This area of the country also has many strong links with the low countries. The geography here is also similar to Belgium and the Netherlands, as exploited by the inimitable Jonathon Meades.  It is even called South Holland, though oddly the derivation is different than the Dutch Holland. 

It is hard to judge progress on building the layout. It has certainly gone through an awkward stage where I questioned pretty much everything and despaired of it working. I'm now at the stage where I'm bringing together different elements that I've worked on off-stage. The photograph I posted in the last blog helped me decide to change the design of the dock, and that pile of Redutex sheets has convinced me to go for a brick-built quay rather than timber. I'm still not 100% happy with the dock. On the one hand, I have opened up more of a space and provided a logic for the placement of the buildings, but on the other, I think I would struggle to find a similar real-life basin. 

I've split the chain bridge into two parts to avoid damage during construction.  And for those who don't know what a chain bridge is in this context, it is, quite simply a bridge that was lifted by pulling on chains. The real one in Spalding had two spans but that would have made life awkward on the model with such limited space available.

Ballasting HOf track has not been the most fun I've ever had, and testing it too soon appears to have damaged one of my locos, though fortunately not one of the key ones

Being me, I forgot that it would be useful to paint the back scene elements of the baseboard as a short term expedient before installing the proper one when I work out how to design that. 

My next big challenge is the water. Frankly, I'm dreading it. Techniques that seem to work for other people just go horribly wrong for me. It doesn't help that pouring it is one of those no going back moments whereas at the moment I can take out the foam baseboard to work on it.

I'd hoped to get it finished for Xmas, my target is now NYE to get it sceniced and running, but with lots of finishing touches still to do

Whilst I'm still dissatisfied with it, I have to say I'm learning a lot in the process. Especially when it comes to composition. 

So what next? I would quite like another OO6.5 project, but the track is a real pain. I have a horrible feeling it might be time to abandon 4mm, at least in the long term, and start focussing on 7mm. In the shorter term, I do want to use the 4mm stock I already have.

Friday, 10 December 2021


 I can't remember what it is like to have time on my hands. Real, usable, time when you can get things done.

I've just taken two days off and it is amazing what I have, and haven't, been able to do.

The OO6.5 micro is making real progress. I'm rethinking a few things as I go along, and rediscovering old friends in my storage boxes like my static grass applicator. I'm hoping three good sprints and it will be usable for running my Xmas present on the big day.

James Hilton recently blogged around the concept of completeness. I was thinking about that in terms of my earlier "quickie" ultra micro OO 6.5 project. Although in six months I've never got beyond mocking ideas up it has been incredibly useful in clarifying my ideas for this layout. In a sense it has done its job.  Since I've already mentioned sprints I might as well go completely "Agile" and say it was prototype, and this layout is a Minimal Viable Product. So the next iteration will be an MEP or Minimal Economic Product. But what? I'm loving OO6.5 but the limited availability of the HOf system constrains my options. The W&U idea still depends on facing up to wiring that three-way point. The alternative has to be 7mm scale...

Thursday, 2 December 2021

The Big Picture

One of my very few skills is the ability to talk about my chosen subject in front of a large audience for hours at a time without any notes. Luckily for me, it has proven to be quite a lucrative one. I've never really analysed it but I suspect one reason I can do it is my rehearsals don't focus on learning fixed words, but on telling a coherent story.

What is a strength in one area is often a weakness in others. It has struck me that one reason I find building layouts difficult is that I need to have that complete picture in my head as a mental model. The only two big layouts I have built have been my old 16mm line and the ELR. In both cases their physical size was balanced by relative simplicity.

Building the original Apa Vally I found I could "take it with me" in my head when I was travelling for work.t I could mentally visualise it and what I needed to do next. Conversely the things that sometimes get in my way are as simple as trying to visualise where the wiring of a turnout will go. I have that problem with the Peco threeway point, which is a pain in the neck when I have two schemes that use one.

When I say I can't visualise it I don't mean what you are probably thinking. Here my dsypraxia comes into play again. but it is very hard to explain. Let me give you another analogy. When I'm in a busy pub at Xmas time, with lots of different individual conversations going on, my mind gives up. I'll explain it to people by saying that I can't hear them, but it is much deeper than that. It doesn't help if they speak louder to me, and it isn't just my hearing that is affected. In model railway terms it isn't that I can't see, an image, but that too much is going on, and changing, for me to make sense of it. Oddly there are other complex situations where dyspraxia works in my favour, cutting through Gordian knots.

The good news is that with the OO6.5mm project I DO have the whole model in my head. OK, there are a few things I've not yet made my mind up about, like the backscene, and a couple of ideas I have concerns about, but they are manageable for this Bear of Little Brain.

Actually, whilst minor, the ideas that I have concerns about are, perhaps, interesting.

The track plan is a simple small oval, but I think I can largely disguise that. My concerns are that in doing so I'll reduce the attractive viewpoints. There is also a question in my mind about the fictional backstory for the layout and how it justifies the trackplan.

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Or Then Again...

When I went to bed last night I thought I had the plan for the new desktop layout falling into place. It was quite a good plan as well, with some clever scenic ideas and with the OO6.5 dominating over the standard gauge. But looking at it in the light of day it struck me that it was going to be a lot harder work than could be justified. I also had to admit how I'd enjoyed just watching the locos run round whilst I had been doing the planning.

So we head into Plan B territory, which is actually to revert to the baseboard I was originally intending to use for an OO6.5 version of the Scalescenes Canal Box Folder layout, but to build it around the Hornby Forge instead.  This will be my watching the trains go round layout. That leaves the ex TAoC baseboard to be used for a simpler scheme that is mostly a standard gauge shunting plank, but with a simple section of OO6.5 retained.

With a bit of rearranging, I even think I might be able to get both of them on my desk at the same time.

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Desktop Decisions

I mentioned recently that I've been missing my original Apa Valley as a layout to just sit on my desk.  I think it is time to start moving forward with that idea. Since they have been sitting around for a long time without being used I've decided to sacrifice one of the Tim Horn baseboards intended for TAoC. If I ever return to that it will be on boards with built-in facias.

So that is one decision down. Another is that as with Cadeby I'm not going to use a permanent back scene.
The picture provides a bit of a clue that I'm not yet wholly decided on much else. I think the final choice will probably be a mostly static single turnout OO yard, based on the Wisbech and Upwell combined with a simple OO6.5  line playing the role of one of our local potato railways. I could always use OO9 but I feel the urge to do something a bit different, especially since James Hilton has just built another loco for me as a Xmas present from my wife. as it happens Hornby have released a new building based on our local heritage centre, the Chain Bridge Forge. Getting my hands on one proved to be a mammoth task and an object lesson in Hornby getting customer service both very wrong and very right.

Monday, 22 November 2021

Revival & Revison

 With short winter days, a full working week and Xmas preparations the ELR isn't yet getting that attention it deserves. A priority is to get the new small engine shed assembled and a lean-to beside the main shed to keep the goods stock under cover.

Most of the dead trees have been cut back
and the old terminus line slewed over

The old household yard was on the right.
It is hard to tell with the leaves,but
 it is now grassing over nicely.

But before doing that I'm beginning to rethink the track layout. The original layout evolved for were what very valid reasons at the time but a lot has changed. The household service yard is in a different location and the trees that the line had to fit around before were either removed to avoid poisoning the goats or have been killed by the goats stripping the bark. I also still haven't decided if the new vegetable plot, attempt number three, will go back where it was or somewhere else.

On top of that there are operational issues. I was never really happy with having all three points in quick succession all coming off the main running line. It was acceptable when we only had one loco, most of the trained were for goods traffic, and the tight reverse curve enforced low speeds anyway. How much of that will change in the future I'm not sure, but passenger services are going to have to start soon as the grandson realises they are an option. With some of the trees out of the way, I might even look at putting in a continuous run, or at least an option to provide one using temporary track. If I do I will just feel that little bit happier if trains can whizz by whilst work goes on in the service area.

So what does this mean in practice? 

I'm still not exactly sure.  Especially if I still want to access the gate onto Quick Lane, which can be very convenient for bulk deliveries. I have a soft spot for it as one of the original terminuses of the line, and it has been good for photos as well. But even before the goats it went long periods of time without being used, and got in the way of bringing bikes and garden machinery into the garden from the road. In any case, for now it has been slewed out of the way whilst some dead trees are cleared and I build the new shed.

Deciding where the running line should go is probably key. I want to use a more generous radius which, whatever I do, will mean moving a point. I guess once I've done that I can design the rest of the yard in a more leisurely fashion 

Friday, 5 November 2021

What First?

It still seems odd to look out the window in the morning and not to be greeted by a chorus of goats demanding food. The good news is they appear to have settled in well at their new home.

I'm still coming to terms with the reconstruction of the ELR. It really is difficult to know where to begin. I think it will be with the original terminus of the line, next to our back gate. In the last year of operation, this saw very little traffic because we moved the service yard for the house to a new location.

Front and back garden sections of the ELR are finally reunited

There is a railway somewhere under there. 

My initial plan is to realign the track and build the running shed here, to house the coach and at least one of the locos, freeing up the workshop. At a later date, I'll build a lean-to against the workshop to store wagons undercover. I'll still need a siding leading up to the gate to move deliveries of ballast, but that is likely to be a temporary track laid down when needed.

As expected I'm slowly being able to move more things from the office down to the workshop. That is making me think about my next plans for the indoor layouts. Finally having a clear space on my big desk has taken me back to the original gestation of the Apa Valley. What is different this time in the space I have in mind is going to be viewable from at least three sides and is more L shaped.

Option one is an OO6.5 layout to just watch the trains go by. I'm thinking something that runs from an industrial setting, out into the marshes, and then back to a harbour.

Option two is a bastard combination of an Ian Holmes inspired idea for a Kings Lynn based layout crossed both with White Lion Yard in Great Yarmouth and an old idea I had for a pointless EM Inglenook.

As with the OO6.5 layout I've not got a detailed scheme in my head yet, but it would involve an off-scene traverser or sector plate, with the tracks entering the scene in such a way that they appeared quite separate.

Option three is simply that pointless EM gauge Inglenook to finally get the Tanat Valley out of my system and make use of the old station buildings.

Then Bachmann had to come along with their double Fairlie announcement.

For years I've had two kinds of slightly absurd OO9 ideas in the back of my mind. One is an extended rabbit warren based on a couple of CJF plans, or, in a simplified form, the original Jopuef preformed HOe layout. The other is based on an old layout that appeared in MRC back in the sixties of Minffordd. It might well have been  built by Chris Leigh, and might even have been in 5.5mm scale

Both of these schemes would involve a certain suspension of belief. Here is my badly drawn concept for the Minfford layout.

Note that the hidden loop is placed at the front, and the operating interest would really be focussed on the yard.

Saturday, 30 October 2021

An Ending and a New Start

 This week has been a  sad one at Elder Cottage. 

Our five beautiful goats have gone to better place. No, no that one, this one.

It has become clear this Summer both that our age meant we were struggling with their care, and that they have become very destructive. This culminated in a single week when they:

Demolished their housing
Killed a mature tree by stripping the bark off of it
Tore planks out of the "station" shed
Escaped down the lane.

The back garden seems very sad and quiet without them.

It also looks like a battlefield.

It does allow me to reconstruct the ELR. And I already feel like I have more time on my hands for my own hobbies, but it is going to be a long slog just to get the railway back to how it was.

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Canals and Railways

One of the most common model railway cliches, for understandable reasons, is the interchange between a railway and a canal, or between two gauges of railway. Of course, there are many prototypical examples of these kinds of interchange. One of the more interesting, and well known is at Bude.

It is quite a complex story. The Bude Canal opened in 1823. Connected to the sea by a lock, it provided access to two safe basins for small trading ships, but it also provided a way of taking sand from the beaches into the countryside for use in improving the soil. Whilst the sea lock might appear conventional, other changes in level were addressed by inclined planes. And to use the inclined planes the tub boats were equipped with their own wheels to run in U shaped rails.

There was also a 4ft gauge plateway, running from the beach to the wharves, to deliver the sand into the tub boats. In 1923 this was replaced by a 2ft gauge tramway that remained horsedrawn until it closed in 1942.

When the LSWR reached Bude in 1898 they built the terminus on the outskirts of the town, but a single-track branch was laid that reached the wharves. 

One thing I haven't been able to work out, either from maps or old photos, is whether there was an interchange between the standard gauge and the tramway(s)

UPDATE I think this photo from Britain from Above shows there were definite steps in place to PREVENT a direct interchange. 

Today the canal is only navigable for a relatively short section - I went paddleboarding on it, remains of the 2ft gauge can still be seen on the slope down to the beach, but plans are in progress to cover them over to prevent further corrosion and reduce the tripping risk. Storms not so long ago revealed that the track is still in place under the sand on the beach itself. The site of the LSWR station is now a housing estate, but you can still follow the route of the branch to the canal. The Castle Museum also have a fair few relics of the station 

The infamous Bude Tunnel.
The most popular tourist attraction in Bude according to Trip Advisor

Somewhere around here is the buried track on the beach

The tramway ran over this bridge

The old lifeboat station, somewhat inconveniently sited on the canal!
The footpath is the route of the LSWR 

Looking the other way, with a delightfully corrugated building on the other side of the basin

Thursday, 23 September 2021

Lynton & Barnstaple

Odd childhood memories stick with you. One of mine is walking down to Selly Oak Library with my mother and brother to pick up new books, and finding an album on the Lynton & Barnstaple.

At that time I really only knew about the Welsh narrow gauge. Here was a revelation. Seemingly massive locos running through what seemed an exotic landscape, with hints of the wild west.

Alas, it was long gone, and Devon was a long way away when your family never went on holidays and only took Sunday afternoons off.

Fast forward another 10 or so years and I did make it to Lynton, but we were on a tight schedule on a day trip from Southampton that also included the West Somerset.

So somehow it has taken until last week for me to finally make it to Woody Bay, and as we now know it really was only sleeping...

Confession time. I made the mistake of relying on my old Sony compact superzoom camera. It is really time I binned it. The superzoom can get shots I would struggle to by any other means but the images it produces are incredibly soft and blurry, even at the less extreme end of the zoom. Most of these photos have only been saved by the use of Topaz Sharpen AI.