Thursday, 18 September 2014

A delight in Sittingbourne

The Sittingbourne and Kemsley is a railway I'd been keen to visit for a long time, so we took the opportunity on the way back from our weekend in Kent. It doesn't start very promising, the car pack is stuck between a fast food restaurant and a retail park, and the station is approached under a dilapidated viaduct and round the back of a car wash. To add to the "atmosphere" there was an overflowing sewer!

The station itself is "basic", with overgrown sidings full of rusting wagons, the platform is made from very old sleepers, and the ticket office is a garden shed. Not quite the "atmosphere" some preserved lines try to create, though it is true to the industrial origins of the line so is perhaps more genuine! At least it looks like the "main" line is receiving maintenance, albeit with ballast sourced from a fish-tank...

Things improve when the train arrives though. The Kerr-Stuart loco "Leader" is beautifully kept, as are the coaches made from converted wagons.

The route sets off over the famous concrete viaduct, and though somewhat industrial surroundings, then moves into a more rural area before ending at Kemsley Down.

There's no public access here as it is still inside the grounds of the paper mill which the line was built to serve, but there are engine sheds and workshops full of interesting things - most of the locos are original to the line, though a few small diesels have been added. It looks like a lot is being achieved, and other than some heavy overhauls everything appeared in good shape.

The atmosphere is nice and relaxed here, with simple rope barriers to separate public from machinery, but otherwise there is a lot of freedom to look around. A small gift shop, cafe and picnic area mean it would be worth hanging around and waiting for the next train, but we didn't have time.

So a short but enjoyable visit to a line full of character, even if it doesn't fit the mould!

You can see the full set of photos from both lines here.

Monday, 15 September 2014

The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch

We recently had a weekend break in Kent, and managed to fit in a couple of steam railways (of course!). First up was the RH&DR, which is well presented and professionally run, as you'd expect of a line built for the tourist trade on a big scale. The locos are very well cared for, and bearing in mind they are 70 to 90 years old, still working hard!

At Romney locos are exchanged, presumably to give driver and loco a break in what is a very demanding timetable. The line is fully signalled, and about 60% of the length is double-track.

The coaches are somewhat cramped, but otherwise comfortable, just as well on a 3-hour round trip! Trains are very long - up to 14 coaches - so even though the line is relatively flat, those locos have a job to do.

The line cuts through the caravan park we stayed at, with a handy station!

 I think someone misunderstood the term "skip wagon".

Monday, 25 August 2014

Upgrading a train set

A weekend visiting family usually means a break from railway modelling. However this time my wife told me to pack my tools! Our 10-year old nephew wanted some scenery on his train set, so it turned out to be three days of modelling...

A while back his Mum had been looking for somewhere to put the railway, including the loft which wasn't suitable, so I sketched an idea for a baseboard that folded down from his bedroom wall. It turns out my sister in law is an excellent carpenter, so next time we visited things were up and running. My nephew has since built some downloaded card models, and laid some roads. Now he'd also been given some buildings and scenic items, plus some extra track.

My first job was to repair a broken lead from the wall-wart transformer to the controller, so out came the soldering iron. Then came the track; a long siding ended in a point and two short spurs, which was not very practical. I suggested a couple of alternative options, my nephew chose both, so we were off to the local model shop to buy another point. As it involved a kick-back siding we got some wire and a switch, so it could be fed from the adjacent track. Also the station needed a platform on a curve, so a Metcalf kit was purchased too.

With the sidings laid and wired, the controllers were screwed down too, then we added some hills in the front corners with some polystyrene and PVA soaked newspaper. The next day we painted them green and added scatter. He'd been given some nylon "static" grass but didn't know what it was for, fortunately I'd brought my static grass applicator, so we added plenty of that too. The platforms took a surprisingly long time over a couple of evenings, the awkward shape didn't help, but the kit is flexible enough to be built to almost any shape.

There remains of course plenty of things that can be added: fences, trees, bushes, backscenes, more buildings, figures, details, etc. That grey circle is to become a pond. However the trainset has progressed to a model railway, and should provide plenty of fun to it's owner. Now my son is asking when we can start building his new trainset...

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A Narrow Gathering in the Downs.

Last Saturday, deep in the Sussex Downs, there was a gathering of enthusiasts of narrow gauge and industrial railway models. I'd been asked to bring along Thakeham Tiles to join a number of other small layouts and models. Amongst the chatting, jelly and ice cream, I did get a few photos.

I've been following the development of Chris O'Donoghue's Compass Point on the NGRM forum, so it was nice to see the (unfinished) layout.

Chris Krupa's Sapple Marine (I think!) is small and beautifully executed.

"Roving Reporter" Mick Thornton filled a table with his kit-bashed stock, which is an inadequate term to describe the models that show superb skill and ingenuity in their construction. Here's a line-up of Irish style railcars, mostly built from the old Peco/Merit plastic bus kit!

Simon Hargraves brought his Brightwells Pumping Station Tramway, a 009 layout that has been dormant for years and is only now being completed. It's a small, simple layout that folds in half, with the hinges cunningly hidden by the road-bridge. But it still has character and interest.

And it certainly amused my son for a while... Rent-an-Operator anyone?

There were many other excellent models too, all in a great day out. You can see more pictures here.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Plas Halt - A School Project

Whilst sorting stuff post-move (yes I know it was 9 months ago!) I came across this model made as part of a school project. I was already a narrow-gauge railway nut by the time I was at secondary school, so wherever possible I picked railway related projects for my coursework!

I think this was a "Design & Technology" project, which involved planning how the Ffestiniog Railway could increase it's service frequency. I worked out from train graphs that another passing place would be needed, and that Plas Halt (a mile or so south of Tan-Y-Bwlch) would be suitable, so then I designed the "new" station there. This is of course all fiction, but good fun and earned me a good mark, and it's not often you could say that about school coursework!

As a centre-piece of course I had to build a model! Much as I'd have liked to make a working model of the whole station, the more practical and achievable approach was to model just the area around the station building, accompanied by maps and diagrams. In fact I even made a site-visit (on my own, by train, which at the age of 15 was rather exciting) to take measurements and photos of the site (must see if I still have the pictures).

Anyone who has been to Plas Halt will realise it consists of a stone hut and short platform next to the single line as it runs along dry-stone wall clinging to a steep hillside. My plan assumed a passing loop line could be cut back into the hillside to form an island platform, with a new station building built on the site of the existing shelter. A public footpath crosses the line here, and while much of the hillside is dense woodland, behind the station there is open ground for sheep grazing.

The model was built on a plywood base under the track, with sides and ends cut from plywood to the profile of the hillside, essentially an open-frame method. The track is PECO 009 of course, the stone wall is Slater's embossed sheet capped with small pieces of real slate, while offcuts of plasticard were cut up and wired together with thin wire strands to make the slate fences seen in the area.

The building was made from plasticard and Slater's embossed sheets, even today I am quite proud of it, despite the roof warping slightly. The design features a waiting room (on the footprint of the existing shelter), with a fireplace. To operate the passing loop and block instruments a signal box is placed alongside, doubling as a ticket office (single-manned for efficiency), and equipped with a kitchenette and toilet. Between the two stone-built rooms is a waiting area, covered by a roof that spans the whole structure.

I even modelled the interior!

Sadly I'll have to break up the model, but it was nice to remember the project, and I'm sure that building can be found another home someday.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

More fun in the sun at Tinkers Park

You may have noticed that I haven't done much modelling recently, but I have made the most of the weather visiting a few real NG lines! And so it was with the Tinker's Park rally this weekend, a friend and I took our 7 year old boys along to have fun riding the 2' gauge "Great Bush Railway (we couldn't decide whether it was the railway or the bush that was "great"), two miniature railways, and a steam traction engine.

There were no visiting locos this year, but a passenger train was run by the O&K 0-6-0 "Sao Domingos", and Motor Rail 4wDM "Wolf".

In addition there were three halls of model railways, quite a good show though not a great deal of NG. Lots of traders too, mostly of the new and second-hand 00 variety.

Despite a threatening cloud it was a fine day, and a good day out with the kids.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Sunshine on the Ffestiniog

Last week we visited the Ffestiniog Railway, as we try to every year or two. For me it is one of the most interesting railways in the UK and many years ago, as a teenager, I volunteered on the track gang. Unusually though this visit was in glorious weather - clear skies and bright sun making for excellent views of the scenery, though while sat at Pothmadog the coaches were getting uncomfortably hot!

We usually start our journey at Blaenau and there we met David Lloyd George, trying to blend into the slate walls in a strange unlined grey (had Blaenau been under more typically local weather it may have been hard to spot!). I understand this is due to the winter overhaul over-running though it may be a homage to the early years of preservation, where the first Double Fairlie returned to service in primer.

This being a 3-train timetable day we passed Merddyn Emrys leading Linda at Tanygrisiau - why double-heading was necessary I don't know, but Linda seems to be crewed by children!

And Earl of Merioneth at Tan-y-Bwlch.

The new Porthmadog station layout now allows for two trains to be there simultaneously, so providing a glimpse of Garratt 138 running round it's train before departing for Caernarfon.

Looking back across the cob it can be seen how much it has been widened to provide space for the new island platform (the left-most line is on the original formation). The new signal box and signals are attractive, while the wider platform and changes around the station building area make it a much more spacious and attractive area for visitors. I have no idea what those odd sheds are on the platform though...?

DLG had to add a tenth coach for the return trip, the trains certainly seemed well filled. And with such superb views, such as this one of Snowdon from the cob, it is easy to see why!

There are a few more photos here, and why not plan your visit?