Monday, 19 December 2022

Trying it out for size.

 It is a long time since I dabbled in OOn3. So to get a feel for size I treated myself to a Shapeways purchase. Unfortunately, my wife mistook the opened box for rubbish so before I could come to any conclusion I have to go through the dustbin bags. Not nice, but it did take me back to the days when I would do that as part of my job. At least this time I wasn't trying to reassemble shredded computer printouts in search of frauds...

I think I found most of the parts.

It is a Blanc Misseron . How it is meant to have found its way to Shropshire will require some creative thinking. 

Thoughts on track plans are also developing, and I've identified a possible second site to be modelled. Trawling through old maps to select it has also thrown up a major surprise: An area I've always known as woodland was once watercress beds, and as we all know, watercress beds need an 18" gauge tramway to serve them.

Monday, 5 December 2022

Pico Pogress


Can you tell what it is yet?

Stage one of my experimentation is prototyping a very simple interlocking and route indication system. At some point I'm going to have to figure out how to add servo control of the point motors.

It is a new experience for me, combining coding with the logic of external hardware.  When to use a hardware I/O rather than software is something I'll be exploring.

Saturday, 3 December 2022

Down another Rabbit Hole

 Anxiety about the house move and the future of the ELR is getting to me. Today Teddy comes home, seven years after his first arrival, and tomorrow I start track lifting.

I had a dreadful dream about it last night, but all is not doom and gloom because the nightmare also included, incongruously, an idea for a micro layout.

Actually, I can see how my unconscious mind came up with the key concept, an on-scene fiddleyard. I've been reading lots of back numbers of Railway Modeller. Fiddleyards were much less common than today. many layouts ran from station to station and had all the track on display. My plans for the Tern Valley have also deliberately avoided identifying the fiddleyard boundary whilst I figure out how to arrange it. I've considered the idea once before, for an HO layout with a car float acting as a side facto fiddleyard. 

I've no idea how the idea in the dream could be made to work, it would certainly involve some visual trickery.

Thinking for the Tern Vally has also progressed

I'm increasingly keen on the idea of access to the foreground goods yard, engine shed, and carriage shed being from the fiddleyard. It was actually part of the original plan in Voie Libre. It would simplify a lot of things and make operation more flexible.

At this stage, the White Rabbit still hasn't made an appearance.

Ah, here he comes, late as always.

When I was a teenager I used to look through the Maplins/Radio Shack catalogue at the electronic components and kits. I never had an actual use for them, apart from once building an electronic dice set.

I also used to spend my lunchtimes coding, initially on punch cards, in the school computer club. Coding played a big part in the early years of my career as a statistician, IT auditor and lecturer.

And then I stopped.

New and very different languages came along, but I had no real reason to learn them. My view of coding was always as a means to an end and I simply didn't need to code anymore.

I must admit that the Raspberry Pi piqued my interest when it appeared, but it was back to the days of the Maplin catalogue. I saw interesting projects, but nothing that would be useful for me.

Recently though I've been thinking about how I'm going to control any future layouts. Especially if any one day expand beyond being micro layouts. My day job means it would be remiss of me not to build in long-term maintainability and resilience. 

DCC seems the obvious answer, or even radio control going forward. But that doesn't solve every problem, and much of my narrow gauge stock will never be DCC.

At the Spalding show I was both impressed with the digital displays on St Ruth, and worried by the number of comments from operators that related to mis-set turnouts and isolating sections. If I ever exhibit a layout it will likely be singlehanded, and that is when you make mistakes.

I'm beginning to think about adopting the MERG CBUS system, or at least elements of it.

And now we follow the rabbit.

So somehow I now own a Pi Pico. Unlike the original Pi which is a computer on a single board, this is an even cheaper microprocessor on a board. How cheap? £5.

I'm still at the playing stage, getting to grips with Micro Python and Thonny  But I can see real potential. In particular, it can control multiple servos for point control, 16 from a single Pico, and integrate with different sensors.

Given that wireless and Bluetooth can both be integrated I'm also wondering about possibilities in the garden. I'm mostly using Loco Remote for the battery locos, but I could imagine using the Pico to change points.

Tuesday, 29 November 2022


This is almost an aide memoir for me.

I think I've got an OOn3 plan in my head that works. Based, on all things, on a tramway plan that appeared in Voie Libre a few years ago. It should fit perfectly on top of an Ikea Kallax unit. It is reminiscent of the Clun Valley Tramway but a lot simpler. In particular I don't think it will require much stock. I'm thinking two working locos, one static one, a railcar, three coaches and a handful of wagons. I've worked out sources for all of them.

As for the fictional location, I'm returning to one of my early OO9 layouts.

This was Hales. I was rather fond of it. I built a static OOn3 version a couple of years later that I never photographed.  The concept is a general carrier 3ft line with aspirations to link Market Drayton with Shrewsbury that ended up only getting as far as Hodnet, but later extended to a quarry at Hales as a mineral extension.

I might even repurpose some of the Apa Valley buildings.

If anyone recognizes the station building I used on Hales I would be very grateful. I think it was an HO kit. I could use the wills kit but it is both too wide and too recognisable.

The beginnings of a plan. I slipped in the double slip in homage to Iain Rice, but it overcomplicates it.

The line in the foreground that run off the on-scene turntable are the loco and railcar sheds. I might or might not extend one into the fiddle yard to provide a "virtual" shed larger than the one modeled.

The middle road would be a carriage shed, again possibly running into the fiddle yard to solve an operational problem I came across at 3am this morning...

On the other hand, I want the passenger facilities to cause a bit of an operational problem, to make the operation more interesting and to add a touch of the Schull & Skibbereen atmosphere, with passengers unable to leave or board the train until a shunt has taken place. 

That leaves the goods facilities. I envisaged the goods shed to be on the headshunt, but now I'm thinking that it is a case of choosing between the goods shed or a carriage shed.

Sunday, 27 November 2022


 I'm writing this whilst supposedly packing up the office and studio before the house move. Ideally, of course, I would have been at Warley this weekend.

I say supposedly because I'm running out of boxes and places to store them. The multitude of cats and dogs isn't helping. Another cat has just arrived through the window as I typed that. Yesterday she tried to come in via the door.

It also doesn't help that I keep coming across things that I'd forgotten I owned, many of which are relics of past projects that stalled because of home office moves.

There is no doubt that, with less space to play with in the new home, I have to do some thinking.  The plus side is that the new house will need less in the way of outdoor tools and equipment. The ride-on mower can be replaced by a small robot one, and I hope never to have to start another cheap two-stroke garden tool.

I've also made room by moving Tug and the coach offsite, into the care of Steve Purves and his There and Back Light Railway. They now reside on the Stapleford Park estate, and Tug is destined to a rebuild to 10 1/4" gauge. Not to run at Stapleford, though that would be amazing, but to be available for semi-commercial work. At the same time, Teddy has finally come to the end of its overhaul and should be returning to me soon. And rather splendid it looks as well, thanks to CDM Engineering's protracted overhaul. 

The future ELR will use lightweight temporary track, but I've decided to keep hold of the current PNP track for now.

The garden railways will adhere to my belief in simplicity, a simple L shaped 45mm 7/8ths line hidden in what is now the flower bed, and a slightly raised 32mm circuit in an island bed for Grandchildren to run robust 16mm stock, and me to run a couple of my 18" gauge 7/8ths models.

So we come back to the indoor projects...

My plan, if we weren't moving, had been to move to 7mm in the long term, with a GVT based line and a simple interchange with a very simple standard gauge line. The whole office/studio was built with housing that in mind.

The good news is that the original Roy Link GVT plan that was based on will still fit in the new house once I retire. For now, though, 7mm is a non-starter.

I really want to try out TT120, but not for a big project. I think I can fit something onto one of the existing TAoC baseboards. TAoC itself looks like being the other major victim of the move. There is one possible location for it, but it would need to be hidden away when not in use. 

Looking at a map, the Tanat Valley will almost be within cycling distance. It will be a very low priority, but I'm wondering about a 2mm version of the original Apa. 

The Cadeby and Flemish Wharf micros will continue to sit in their existing bookcases. I have half an idea for a very simple Penhryn-inspired OO9 layout as a home for some of the recent RTR products. 

So what will be my main focus? Well, I still have a lot of W&U tram locos, and I love the Rapido W&U coaches. So I think I'll carry on with that plan, but with two significant changes.  I'm going to drop the Inglenook aspect and abandon the White Swan Yard second baseboard. I'm also going to move it to a more generic East Coast LNER location and add in some North Sunderland aspects to widen the options for stock. Whilst exhibiting has never appealed to me, I suspect I might build this layout with that in mind.

And the overall winner? We need to move in first, but I think it might be a relatively old-fashioned OOn3 layout set in the Welsh borders, and using a corner cameo location. As much diorama as layout., where nothing much happens and most of the stock will never move again. 

Monday, 7 November 2022

Spalding '22

 My first model railway show for what feels like ages.

And yes it was good. 


I'll get on to the buts later.

The Spalding Model Railway Exhibition is always worth a visit if you are within reasonable travelling distance. Every year there are a few layouts that justify the admission price by themselves. I must admit I never feel that I'm the target audience. Having said which it always gives me something to think about, even though I rarely spend more than 90 minutes visiting it. 

So this year's observations. a bit scattergun, I'm afraid.

The 2mm layouts were, overall, the most impressive. Some were generic N gauge layouts you could see anywhere, but others were superb. If anything let them down it was the ground textures. Less is sometimes more. 

I found those layouts using sound less jarring than in previous years, but I still have a thing about stupidly bright lights. Dim them down a little, especially in daylight scenes.

On the subject of lights, as at Warley I found those layouts with built in lighting hardest to photograph. Partly it is because they seem to use very warm lighting, but I also wonder if it is about the spectrum of the lighting.

There are layouts that I like whilst "not being for me." Copper Wort was a prime example this year. I loved it, there was a lot to see, but I wouldn't want to emulate it in any way.

Operations on some layouts hinted at how long it is since the exhibition circuit was in full swing. I noticed a lot of hand of god, but mostly it was silly things like forgetting how to set the right path for a train. Not a big issue, and I'm sure won't be noticeable this time next year. You can forget that some layouts only get erected for exhibitions.

A real plus point is I saw a lot of engaged conversations between operators and viewers.

Sprat & Winkle and Kadees still seem good choices for couplings. Unobtrusive and effective.

People still like trade stands. They all seemed very busy. Was money changing hands? Harder to say.


I've always loved Bewdley, not least because it is a location I know well, but it also seems to capture that location so well. I suspect for the period being modelled things should be a little more dilapidated, but I don't care too much.

St Ruth is exquisite, again a layout I could watch for hours.

A lot of layouts featured point rodding. My photos don't do them justice. To my mind, it makes a real difference.

The atmosphere.

Before we come on to the photos I have to address the buts.

It was incredibly crowded. A good thing in some ways. Trade stand opposite layouts often meant those looking at layouts could only stand one deep. Living in the area I wasn't surprised that the number of people with accesibility issues also caused problems with flow. I'm a massive believer that if we make things better for those with access issues we make it better for everyone.

What I'm less understanding of is the number of people who stopped dead in the middle of a congested aisle to have a conversation with a family member behind them.

I long ago gave up any hope of getting into the cafe area, the queue was snaking along a corridor.

Trade stands didn't seem very focused on box shifters. That probably comes back to me not being the target audience.

Every available seat was taken, with an elderly demographic that needs addressing. In fact most of the issues come down to the show being a victim of its own success. I feel it has outgrown the venue.

Finally, there was the show guide. It was glossy and in colour, but it felt dreadfully dated, and more to the point, wasn't a lot of use in the show or afterwards trying to recall layouts. A lot of effort has clearly gone into it, but it could do with a design overhaul.

If all that sounds negative it doesn't take away from what a deservedly successful show it was.

Before the photos a quick note.

I decided to try out the Q2M  even though I, correctly, suspected it wouldn't be ideal. My biggest issue was layouts were so crowded I couldn't get into viewpoints to exploit the things it is good at. I wasn't that upset because we spent the rest of the day in Hunstanton where it came into its own.

I was more disappointed with my Google Pixel 7 Pro.

My previous pixel 6 Pro was really good in this sort of situation. But this one seemed inconsistent in when it would open the camera app, proved hard to get the right zoom level, and worst of all sometimes refused to focus. I suspect the latter might have been a humidity issue. So, by some margin, these are the worst photos I've ever taken at an exhibition.

Tuesday, 1 November 2022

Modern TT

 With the house move now in prospect, I'm beginning to give serious consideration 120th scale. 

But in my heart, I feel it is going to fail commercially. And sadder still, I think the reasons lie at the heart of our hobby.

I joined one of the first 120th groups on Facebook set up after the Peco announcements. Like the swamps of RMweb it feels like half the membership represents the worst aspect of our hobby. You would almost think that some are diehard 3mm modellers who want the scale to fail.

You also get a vague feeling of "not invented here" as if a well-established scale gauge combination in other geographies is somehow totally new.

And then you have the people who make pronouncements about it who are clearly yet to model anything in the scale but are already "experts" which, being frank, I have to put up with quite enough in my professional life.

Then there is the trade.

Is it me or are PECO and Hornby pulling in very different directions? Now I could be wrong, that could even be a strength. Hornby's focus on the trainset world could lead people into Peco's more grown up approach aimed at modellers. To some degree that is what happened originally with TT, the failed trainset product turned into a rather good eco-system for 3mm scale modellers. I'll always have a soft spot for a 3mm scale layout, not least because TTn3 is a lovely combination.

I can't help thinking that for it to succeed we need a joined-up approach, whereas at the moment we have a scattergun one. Choose your era and part of the country and you'll find about 10% of the available products that fit, which represent about 2% of the period and era.

Take Minories, the classic CJF design, originally envisaged to exploit TT. I'm very, very tempted to try it out. I can use Peco track, the Hornby suburban coaches and.... an 08? A HST at a push?

Wednesday, 19 October 2022

So Elder Cottage is sold, STC, and now the race is on to find somewhere to move to. Neither Issy nor I would countenance viewing properties before we had sold.

We need to be near Market Drayton, and I have a feeling we are looking for a relatively short term property, not the house to see out our days.

What is clear is that we will have to make lots of compromises, partly because of the dearth of houses for sale in our top choices of location.

In a  way, that is a good thing.  First of all there is the health issue, for both of us. There are days here that leave me fighting for breath after dealing with the garden, and Issy, as well as some friends and relatives, needs somewhere with easily accessible facilities. Secondly it simplifies the future of the ELR. well sort of.

I've never wanted a massive line, just one that gives me somewhere to play. And possibly a base for doing other things like visiting other railways.

Teddy is ideal for that, he can fit in the back of a car. I doubt any future line will need to fulfill a practical role, so entertainment and fun becomes the driver.  In fact, I'm seriously thinking of downsizing to 5" gauge for the home line using the track I bought from Steve Purves a few years ago. That makes steam a practical proposition for me.

And talking of Steve and his portable railway empire... 

... He has taken on the custodianship of Tug and the coach. Even here Tug wasn't really a suitable loco. We have joint plans for an upgrade to make it a really useful club loco

Tuesday, 11 October 2022

Iain Rice

I'm sure many pages of blogs and magazines will be focussed on the sad loss of Iain Rice. It is hard to add anything to them except, like so many others, to acknowledge the massive debt I owe a man I never met and yet felt I knew. 

His books have a section of their own on my bookcases. His "bitsa" station concept is always at the back of my mind. There are layout concepts he created that I look at time after time and think "One day..."

What you suddenly realise though is it wasn't about those plans. It was about his ability to make the once esoteric fine-scale concept, in some form, available to all of us, and within the capability of the most ham-fisted of us. 

Much will be written of his legacy, but his real legacy will be seen in attics and spare bedrooms, scout halls and the NEC for many many years to come.

Tuesday, 4 October 2022

Cornwall and Covid

Things were going so well.

On  Saturday, our son got married to a beautiful girl and the wedding was incredible.

Then we headed down to Bude and a week with friends. One of whom developed a bit of a cough. How we laughed that it might be Covid.

It was, and whilst she got off lightly Issy and I have been really suffering. The current variants might not be that bad but every day feels like an unlucky dip of different  symptoms.

In the middle of which we seem to have sold the house for more than the asking price.

Stressed? Me?

Anyway, back to Cornwall. We did have a good time, though it was more food than railway orientated.

There was a lot of food.

The railway aspect was restricted to two visits to places I haven't been for perhaps 25 years. The first was a glorious visit to the Launceston Steam Railway on the last day of the season.  

The second was a trip on the St Ives branch. Last time I did it on a day trip from London and we literally just had time to take some photos and take the next train out. This time we had a full day there. The highlight was the food at Portminster Beach Cafe.

Saturday, 3 September 2022

Signpost to the Future


So, here is the big news that I've been vaguely hinting at in recent weeks.

The decline in Issy's health, hopefully fixable by surgery, has made Elder Cottage a handful, especially if I end up back on the road racking up the Airmiles. Meanwhile, my mother and her partner aren't getting younger either, and more grandchildren are in prospect.

We have loved our time here, but we must be realistic about the future.

I will stress that the the ELR, in some form, will be resurrected.

Wednesday, 31 August 2022

Starting Them Young

Freddie, the grandson, is at the age where he is falling in love with Thomas the Tank Engine. Unfortunately, he seems more enamoured of the modern travesty than the originals, but it is a start.

On Friday he turned up clutching his Tomy Thomas and on his way into the house noticed, for the first time, the track of the Eaugate Light Railway.

He then proceeded to get confused about why his Tomy train wouldn't fit on the 7 1/4" track.

A diversion was clearly called for to avoid tears, so whilst Grandma took him out to do errands I had a frantic search for some of my old Faller track and loco.


It isn't ideal, still being a bit fiddly for him. And that is all the working Faller stock I have. Somewhere I have a stash of Big Big Train Rustons, but no compatible wagons.

The solution? A quick visit to Phil Sharple's webshop

(Note: I'm experimenting with fonts to make the text more readable for the neuro-diverse. There is a font I would like to use, but unfortunately it won't work on the web unless you have it installed)

Monday, 22 August 2022

Market Drayton

Ninety years ago last Thursday my mother was born in a rural cottage near the site of the battle of Blore Heath. I was born in the house she was brought up in. At the time it had no bathroom or electricity. Strangely it doesn't have a blue plaque on it yet, though it does now have a bathroom and electricity.

Anyway, the occasion meant a trip to see the extended family, including those in the nearby graveyard. And, for me, a chance to really try out the Leica Q2 Monochrom now I'm over the initial learning curve. One thing I'm clear on is I would rather work with the .DNG files than the very flat JPGs it produces.

The photos are around and about Drayton, Hales and Market Drayton Museum

A quick update. Thanks to the power of social media I was able to identify two "mystery items" for the museum.