Sunday, 24 April 2016

Print a wall

Joshua's train set is getting regular use, but he's keen for it to look more realistic - which means finding ways to hide the plywood and gaping holes between the levels. There's a lot of board to cover, and very specific size gaps to fill, so the Scalescenes retaining wall and tunnel mouth kits seemed the best option - as being economic and flexible. I printed out a couple of copies of each, bought a sheet of mounting card, and made a start at the front of the layout where the tracks pass by the high level station.

The Scalescenes prints give an excellent finish - the colouring and detail is spot on. I used a laser printer which I think gives a more robust (damp and light proof) finish, albeit slightly shiny - though a coat of matt varnish could address that. However what you really get is a kit to make a kit - the print-outs need sticking to card and carefully cutting out before even starting assembly. This all takes time, is rather fiddly - and I'm never sure what glue to use. PVA can cause wrinkling, so I use Pritt-Stick on the sheets of paper - but it really isn't very sticky and can lift at the edges.

The benefit is the freedom to adapt the kits. For example the set-track curves and track spacing, combined with the overhang of modern coaches like this Voyager, meant the tunnel openings had to be much wider than any of the suggested shapes. No problem - though I was running out of space to fit a large enough opening, so it is rather tight...

At the other end the loop off the inner track cuts acutely under the station, making a very tricky spot to present realistically. I found some Wills vari-girder mouldings in the bits box, which made up a suitable looking beam. Supports, walls, and parapets were made up to fit and dressed with the Scalescenes prints to match the walls. The result works well, although the Voyager won't clear that innermost track!

Thus the front of the layout looks much more realistic and is a good spot to watch trains go by. Now this is a train-set and is to be played with, so I haven't taken as much care in places that I could of to get edges sharp and disguise paper and card corners. However it's still taken me a good few weeks, on and off, to complete this 4-foot long wall and three tunnel openings, but there's a lot more of the layout needing walls and three more tunnels. I think I'm going to have to think of some short-cuts!

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Narrow Gauge South 2016

Last weekend was Narrow Gauge South, held at Sparshotl, Winchester. I was helping my friend Martin Collins with his layout, Llandecwyn. It's very much Ffestiniog inspired, though set in the next valley south, and features slate wharves, and gravity trains, with Double-Fairlie, small Hunslet and de Winton locos.


It's not yet finished, and being primarily a home layout it isn't an ideal shape for exhibitions, but the quality of the scenery and stock is superb.


As usual the show is scattered through a number of class-rooms, which disguises it's size, as they contained nearly 30 NG layouts, as well as several specialist traders (and both 009 and 7mm NG society sales stands). The event hosted the 009 Society AGM, but I didn't go preferring to play trains and look at the layouts (it's the quietest part of the day!). With such a selection it's tricky to pick highlights, but I do love the character and finely modelled stock of Tim Ellis' tiny Grindley Brook Wharf.


Chris O'Donohughe's Compass Point is another small layout packed full of detail, and atmosphere. And a little humour too.


This was the last showing of Isle Ornsay for my friend Tom Dauben, even though it is not quite finished the scenery modelling is quite superb, but the layout has now been sold. Hopefully it will continue to be exhibited.


However there was undoubtedly one layout of the show for me. I've been a fan of Ted Polet's Craigcorrie an Dunalistair - a slice of Scotland built in Holland - since I came across it in the Peco book of Narrow Gauge which I found in the Library when I was 11. This was the first time I've seen Dunalistair, and the last time Ted was showing it, so it was a real privilege.


The modelling is to a high standard, but it is the cohesive nature of the layout (of which this is just a small part) with a fictional history, and a fleet of stock to match, that makes it a convincing example of freelance modelling, and such a popular model too. The harbour at Dunalistair is a particular feature, and as Ted spent many years at sea, it is superbly modelled.


To see more photos - of Dunalistair and the rest of the show - click here.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Thakeham at Steyning

It was a short drive over the sunny South Downs hills to Steyning, where Thakeham was quickly set up at the Wealden Railway Group show. With the information board I think it made an attractive display, and being shown just a few miles from Thakeham a number of visitors were interested in the local connection. As usual, kids were fascinated by the "unloading" of the skips, and a few even had a go pushing the lever. I'm pleased to report the layout performed without issues.


This year the show was held in a larger hall than before, which meant more space in the aisles (which have previously been somewhat cosy!), and some larger layouts, but all fitted the club motto of "Layouts you can live with", that is they are home-built and kept in modest spaces. Thakeham certainly fits that description...


So does Simon Hargrave's tiny folding 009 layout, surely an answer to anyone believing they don't have space for a layout! It is superbly modelled and surprisingly uncluttered, given it's modest size.


This nicely done industrial layout was shown by John Bruce, who I know better for small 009 layouts.


Thunder's Hill was one of the larger layouts, a fine exercise in 3mm scale, modelled to a high standard. The station is reminiscent of the Sussex style, including those of the Bluebell Railway.

That's just a taster, all the layouts were excellent, and you can see more photos here. As usual the relaxed show format - with a free hot drink for visitors - made for a friendly show.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Thakeham comes out to play

Thakeham will be at the Wealden Railway Group exhibition next Saturday 2nd April, in Steyning. So I've retrieved it from the loft and removed it's cover to check it out. A bit of dusting and a vacuum was in order - some sawdust from fitting the cover mostly - and in some places the printed paper block-work has bubbled, but it's minimal and not normally noticeable.


I've applied a fresh rubbing of graphite to the rails and test run, which revealed a mystery short circuit when the points were thrown. After some investigation it was found to be a point blade that had shifted along to touch the frog rail - this is a problem as the blade is electrically connected to the stock rail and the frog is switched. Forcing a blade into the gap shifted it back, I'm still thinking of a more permanent solution.


That aside running was smooth and problem free. I will need the super-glue to a couple of details that have fallen off though. However while it was out I took the opportunity to take some photos on my new camera, using a tripod and playing with the manual settings. I'm rather pleased with how they have come out.


I've been asked to provide some information about the prototype and the model, and exhibition organiser Andrew Knights shared some photos he'd taken of the railway shortly before it closed, so I put together a display using them along with photos I'd taken of the locos now at Amberley, the site today, and the model under construction. The board is simply two cork-boards attached with a pair of small hinges I'd put together some time ago for something my wife was involved in - I knew it would come in useful again!


If you get along to the show do say Hi...

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Using Map Data

Recently a work discussion about getting map data - in that case the altitudes for a route - resulted in a colleague pointing me at this website:
It didn't take me ling to think of non-work uses too. As a teenager I doodled many track plans, and often schemed out "might-have-been" railways on Ordnance Survey maps. I'd attempt to check contour lines crossed against distance to ensure they weren't implausibly steep, but it wasn't reliable and as I was often planning Narrow Gauge lines through hilly landscapes the gradients would have been pretty severe.

So I plotted one of my favourite schemes using the website, clicking points onto the map, the "Terrain" view gives contours which help. The string of co-ordinates produced can be copied from the box below the map which I pasted into a text file, then imported into Excel. Plotting the latitude and longitude and placing a map picture behind the plot is a quick way of drawing the route - the Excel plot can be stretched either way so I made sure the two end points were correctly positioned on the map, the rest will then be correct. Click the images to enlarge them.

That's rather fun but the data allows much more analysis - easy enough in excel, even if it is rather like the day-job! This site gives the formula for distance between co-ordinates, so of course gradient can be determined (change in height over distance). However for that I used an adjusted altitude - representing the track height after civil engineering - and calculated the deviation of that from the ground, i.e. the magnitude of the earth-works. The gradient can often be eased by increasing the height of embankments and cuttings, but for a Narrow Gauge line the balance would be in favour of less costly earth moving and more gradient. It's worth bearing in mind that a delta of a couple of meters can be regarded as negligible, and since my route is often running along the side of a slope, it only represents a few meters deviation of route - or of inaccuracy of my mouse-click on the map! I did go back and adjust some points to get a better route.

So here's my analysis. This line does have severe gradients - 1 in 44 for a sustained period, with another at 1 in 37 at it's worst - but these are not unusual for NG lines (the Welshpool and Llanfair has a section at 1 in 29) and are a good excuse for short trains! That does mean the earthworks are minimal, though an embankment or viaduct up to 25 ft (8m) tall is required to cross a valley just beyond Scorriton, and a 25 ft (8m) deep cutting is needed at Holne - both are plausible for this kind of line. A bridge across the West Dart is also needed near the end of the line, but at a point were that would be relatively easy.

This plot shows the altitude of the line (black) with the terrain (green), and also the gradient as a percentage (so 1% = 1 in 100, 3% = 1 in 33).

So I have a plausible route for an imaginary line, and I'll tell you about it's history another time!

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Solent Sky

With a house full of kids in a bleak February half-term the Solent Sky museum in Southampton seemed a good destination. Although a large building it is dominated by the Sandringham flying boat - a massive aeroplane for it's day, it was built in WWII to hunt submarines, then rebuilt to carry 44 passengers.

Rather than just look from a distance it is possible to go inside and explore, which gives a real feel for what flying in the aircraft would have been like. The accommodation is split into compartments with a 1930's style, resembling trains of the time - and more spacious than you might imagine. There is even access to the cockpit - which is more WWII bomber than airliner of course! Taking off from or landing on water in one of these must have been quite something.

The story of the Spitfire is also featured, including the Supermarine racers that spawned it, as well as the many other aircraft companies that were based around Southampton. And for more hands-on action how about sitting in the cockpit of a jet fighter? Here's my daughter giving it a go!

So well worth a visit, I'd say.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

A New Camera

I had a minor disaster over Christmas. My camera slipped out of my hand while I was sitting on the sofa - but it hit a lamp stand with it's lens on the way down, and that was the end of that. Grrrr...

So I went camera shopping, though the January sales were disappointing there were some offers. While a DSLR or bridge camera would be better for model photography I need a versatile compact camera to serve as the family/holiday camera too, and a limited budget, but there are some good compacts these days with many features previously only found on more expensive models. In the end I chose a Canon Powershot SX710 HS; the 30x zoom lens (yes, really) will be nice when out-and-about but the manual control options are useful for photographing models. Not that I know how to use them!

Of course I had to have a practice, and here is the new camera pointed at Awngate. I don't often use a tripod, but to get some good shots of the layout it's very helpful. As well as the layout lights I've set up a florescent lamp; good light is really important for photography but using the flash really doesn't work well here. I mean it when I say I don't understand all the settings, but I've picked up a basic understanding, so here I've played around with exposure times around a second, and a low ISO number for image quality, while adjusting the manual focus, and letting the camera do the rest.

And here are some of the results. I'm rather pleased with them, particularly the depth of field (that is, the range which appears in focus), which is always tricky with model photography.

However, don't get high expectations for the pictures on this blog, a new camera does not a professional make, and anyway the Auto mode works very well too!