Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Decorations

It is the season of goodwill and of course delightfully tacky decorations. Walking around a garden centre yesterday and looking at the range of Christmas decorations on sale, it struck me how many featured trains. Now this seems a little odd to me, after all we all know that Mary had to make do with a donkey, and I doubt the wise men came from the East by the Starlight Express. And as for Santa, Rudolph is a reinder not a steam locomotive. So why are there so many decorations of Santa riding a train, or trains running through a snowy village?

My in-laws even had a fantastic decorative tree with a Flying Scotsman running around the base, and various other famous trains working their way up the "slopes", including a Festiniog Double-Fairlie and a Snowdon Mountain Railway train. Sadly it seems to be suffering the wrong kind of snow and no longer works. Anyway here are a few typical railway-themed decorations spotted recently:

Perhaps the reason is that everyone likes a Christmas-themed train, and toy trains are associated with Christmas (at least as much as Mary Poppins and those big round tins of sweets you never seem to see the rest of the year!). I've often thought of building a proper Christmas-themed model railway as a decoration, it's been done before and 009 is an ideal scale for it, but I've built enough layouts this year so perhaps another year!

May I wish all readers a happy Christmas time, and may the new year bring many happy hours of making models!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Changing Rooms

Here is the reason for the lack of updates recently - the installation of a new kitchen:

When we bought the house we knew the kitchen needed replacing, but there were other more urgent priorities. Now nine years later we finally have a nice kitchen! I must point out that I didn't fit it myself - my DIY skills are nowhere near that good - but even so the installation has been disruptive. It is a kitchen-diner, which meant not just clearing out the kitchen units but my layout(s), bookshelves, and tools have been packed away for a few weeks. And that when the obvious storage space - the garage - was full of new kitchen, so the whole house seems to have been taken over with boxes. I've also been busy decorating the room, and laying the new laminate flooring.

While things are gradually returning to normal there are still a number of jobs I need to do (fitting curtains and blinds, planing doors, floor joiner strips...) in addition to the usual family preparations for Christmas, so it is unlikely I'll get any modelling done until the new year. Still, after several months of intense activity on two layouts it is nice to have a bit of a break ... and plan the projects to pick up in January!
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Thursday, 17 November 2011

Landswood Park - More photos and it's own page

Landswood Park now has it's own page, which you can find from the links on the right. While I am at it here are some more photos which have come out rather well.

You probably won't be surprised that after such intense activity in preparing two layouts for EXPO, I'm enjoying a rest from modelling. However there is another reason too, we're having a new kitchen fitted and suffering the upheaval that goes with that, not least that both layouts are in storage! And while I am not fitting the kitchen myself, there are plenty of associated DIY jobs to keep me busy...
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Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Boxfile Challenge

Finally I have got around to uploading the pictures of the Box-file layouts from the David Brewer Memorial Challenge at Expo. There were 11 entrants that made it to the show, a good turnout, and as always a variety of different ideas and scales. Most of them were finished too, which in itself is a challenge as it is easy to forget how much work is involved even in a layout as small as this! You can see pictures of all 11 here, but here are some of my favourites.

Eastlight (009) by Samual Eveleigh was awared a runner up prize, and I can see why as the scene is very convincing. Samual just 13 years old, but the quality of this model shows he has real skill and I'm sure he'll be producing superb "proper" layouts soon ...! He was also making a loco from tinplate, and making a good job of it.

Schrödinger's Cat (09) by Matt Wildsmith, also awarded a runner up prize. The name is a reference to a philosophical question, but being an Engineer I didn't get the point of the question! However I do see the point Matt was aiming for with the colouring, after all most pictures of old railways are in black and white aren't they? (yes, this is a COLOUR photograph!). The effect is better in the photograph than in reality, but it is very cleverly done.

Nine Wells Watercress Line (009) by Daniel Figg. Another young entrant, demonstrating the value of these sorts of competitions to encourage newcomers and youngsters into the hobby. Purists may scoff but the limitation of a container or size means that anyone can have a go, without the need for large budget, space, or time investment, and results (hopefully) in encouraging the builder on to greater things. Anyway, back to this model, the location and purpose of this line was obvious to anyone who has seen photos of the narrow gauge lines serving the watercress beds in Dorset, and that is an achievement in such a small space. A more suitable (small i/c) loco would have been nice, but they are very challenging in 009, even for an experienced modeller. The track plan is not the most exciting, but Daniel had it running on a shuttle module, I guess that saved him from going insane!

Little Hope Mine (009) by Trevor Street was nicely modelled and presented. Portraying a small mine working it is quite convincing, as small operations did indeed look as simple as this. I like the use of different levels to the scenery, and the spacious feel that demonstrates how much more the same space is worth in 4mm/ft against my own model in 7mm/ft!

Temple of Pfalocos (09) by Christopher Dack. Inspired by a photo of tracks used for moving stone blocks for the restoration of the Acropolis in Athens, this is another old ruin being restored with the help of a narrow gauge line. The idea was that a wagon would ascend and descend in the lift, with a loco to collect it at the bottom and a man pushing at the top. Sadly the lift refused to work smoothly! Still I love the concept and it was nicely finished, this being one of two models that used the box file in the vertical orientation.

I hope all the other entrants had as much fun building their box file layouts as I did building Landswood Park. And if that has got you thinking about building a small layout of your own, the challenge for next year has been announced on the EXPONG website, which will be for "pizza" layouts (circles) of up to 60cm diameter. If you decide to go for it, all the best - but I won't be doing another challenge. Have I said that before? Twice? Oh well...!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

EXPO-NG: The other layouts

I did manage a little time to look around the show, and as always there were so many superb and inspiring layouts it is difficult to pick out favourites. However here are a selection of my better photos, for the full set click here. EXPO-NG is also the place to find all the specialist traders for narrow-gauge modelling, but I didn't have so much time for shopping!

Charlie Insley's St Etienne-en-Caux is definitely a favourite of mine, even though French narrow-gauge is not something I take much interest in the quality and detail of the layout draws you in, and the interesting rolling stock adds to the character of the setting.

Garreg Wen (009, Matthew & Helen Kean) won one of the awards (The Reinier Hendriksen Trophy IIRC) and it is easy to see why, it looks so "right" for a moment I was wondering where in Wales the prototype was! Better lighting would have helped it though. The other award (David Lloyd Memorial) was won by Corris 1930 (009, Rod Allcock), another superb layout that was hidden by crowds much of the day - that and the fact that I have seen it twice recently meant I didn't get any photos.

Grossbierdorf was an 014 layout by the Group Escradrille St Michelle, set in East Germany just before the fall of the wall it had just the right care-worn appearance of an industrial line, while avoiding the overly-decrepit look. It was well detailed and ran well too.

I had been looking forward to seeing The Loop (0 and 0-16.5) by Giles Favell, after seeing photos on the NGRM forum. It is the careful attention to colours and textures - especially the ground cover and details - that make this layout feel so real when viewed close-up.

I has also been looking forward to seeing Peter Kazer's latest model, of Boot on the "Owd Ratty", in 1/4in scale, and as expected it was finely detailed and of the highest standard. However there was so little modelled beyond the boundary fence that it seemed to lack a sense of place, a little more depth of scenery would have made a lot of difference. Now I know this is being picky, and it was a great model - but for me Peter's model of Corris a few years back was the most inspiring of his work. Nonetheless, Peter shows that standards of Narrow Gauge Modelling can be as high as any, and it is great to see a serious model of an attractive but obscure prototype.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Exhibiting Myself

Well it has certainly been a long day. The traffic was kind and we arrived at the EXPO-NG venue a little before 8am, which gave plenty of time to unload and set up. This went smoothly too, and both layouts were set up and being tested by soon after 9am. This left me a little time for a quick look around the show. A big thanks to Simon Wilson and Mark Holland for helping out with operating, set-up and packing up, we rotated between the layouts and breaks which certainly kept boredom at bay!

Simon Wilson mastering the controls of Awngate just before the show opened
Awngate attracted a lot of positive comments, which is nice to hear, and some potential show invites too. The preparation of the locos paid off as the layout ran very well all day, with the only track-cleaning before the show opened. The fiddle yard improvements were worthwhile too. However the couplings were temperamental, with some items of stock refusing to uncouple and some magnets less effective than others, so shunting the goods was a brave move! The passenger trains ran more smoothly though.

Landswood Park set up and ready to operate

Landswood Park behaved well too, with the couplings working as intended about 95% of the time (remember both layouts use the same couplings!), perhaps better magnets? However with only one loco it was guaranteed to cause problems, which it did about half an hour into the show when it refused to go. Having checked the track power I stripped down the loco chassis and fettled the pickups, which seemed to cure the problem and apart from the occasional relapse requiring a poke, it ran fine the rest of the day. The other problem was that a point blade came loose, fortunately it was the "kick-back" to the workshop which I never use, so it could be ignored. Despite the size of the layout, the "inglenook" plan and the easy-shunting made it a pleasant and surprisingly engaging to operate.

This layout generated a lot of interest too, I'd say it provoked more conversations than did Awngate, perhaps because of it's unusual theme and relatively uncommon gauge. There was a good turnout for the box file competition with 11 entries making it, most of which were complete, and showing a good standard of modelling. So I was honoured to be awarded first prize!
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Thursday, 27 October 2011

Fiddling around

At home the fiddle yard consists of a 5 inch wide plank on which cassettes can be connected to the layout, however I had previously made an extension that could be bolted on the back to provide extra storage space when there isn't a chimney breast in the way! However after the first (and so far only) exhibition for Awngate it was clear that, despite the extension, there was insufficient space for organising the cassettes. Hence the addition of the "spice rack" shown below, providing space for two train cassettes to be stored above, which was simply knocked up from some offcuts of MDF and hardboard.

The other problem experienced is that when picking up cassettes the trains tend to run out the end. I made up pieces of plastic to slot in, but that was fiddy to do. So I used the same idea I had with the 014 cassette for Landswood Park, by having pivoted barriers at the end. The barriers are cut from a length of plastic section (square in this case), slots cut at the ends of the cassettes, and a pivot made from a length of paperclip wire passed through a hole at one end the barrier and glued under a lip inside the cassette trunking. Simple to make, simple to use, hopefully effective!

Here's a close-up shot of a barrier in the open position. I didn't bother with loco cassettes as they don't tend to roll, and they have less clearance. Also visible here is that the lead track has a couple of whire whiskers just outside the rails, these have been added to help with alignment.

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Sunday, 23 October 2011

Locos and Stock

Final preparations are under way for Expo-NG next weekend, with some small jobs being done. One was loads for wagons, as with my 014 stock it struck me that shunting empty open wagons around is both dull and generally unrealistic. I realise so is shunting loads into then out of the same station, but at least the trains look more interesting!

These loads are all quite easy. Coal is a piece of black plasticard to fit in the wagon, with an off-cut of plastic in the middle to space it up close to the top of the wagon. It is not supported all round, a prod with a finger tips the load and it can be lifted out. Real coal of course is glued on top. This photo also shows the carriages, which have had a weathering wash to tone them down and add shadows.

The timber load is made in the same way as the coal loads but with coffee stirrers cut up and glued on top instead. The sheeted object is offcuts of foam-core board with a single ply of tissue glued over it, and painted with enamels. The nearest wagon has various items glued to a removable floor.

A more important job has been the going over of the stock and locos. The stock have had the back-to-backs of the wheel flanges checked - and in many cases adjusted - using a borrowed gauge, I really should get one. All the locos to be used have been had their wheels and pick-ups cleaned, couplings checked, and a drop of oil where appropriate until they ran smoothly and at low speeds. The photo below shows them all lined up at Awngate. Of course this is at least twice as many locos as the layout actually needs, but it adds variety and provides spares!

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Thursday, 20 October 2011

Final details for Awngate

I've already mentioned that one of the tasks ongoing over the last couple of months has been the preparation and painting of a number of details. The fun part is adding them to the layout to complete the scene. I really don't want to over-crowd the layout - after all it is a very small layout, and meant to represent a quiet tramway - but it is also an urban scene, and I do want the railway to appear to be serving it's community.

So the details include a few more figures, fire buckets, a platform chocolate machine (can you even see it?), and signs of goods traffic including coal being bagged and loaded onto a lorry. There is also coal in the factory yard and on a (newly made) coal stage, with loco ash nearby. Despite the urban backdrop there are sheep in the field in the foreground, and sharp eyes might spot a rabbit, hare, rabbit, hedgehog, and three birds ...

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Saturday, 15 October 2011

Uckfield Show

Uckfield is a bit of a trek cross-country for me but it always proves to be worth the effort. This year's show lived up to that expectation, with superb layouts (no exceptions) and good trade support too. Here are some of my favourites, including of course, the Narrow Gauge layouts. Corris 1930 is beautifully detailed, and Christopher Payne's layouts are always interesting. However one layout that really impressed my was Yeoton Wharf, a mixed standard and broad gauge LSWR layout based in Somerset in the 1870's. Built in 3mm Fine-scale (with 14.2mm and 21mm dual gauges) it featured some highly unusual and interesting period trains, as well as superb scenery.

Corris 1930 - 009 - Rod Allcock
Gravel Bottom - 0-16.5 - Brian Wilson
Brink Valley Tramway - 0-9 - Christopher Payne
Yeoton Wharf - 3mm scale, 14.2 & 21mm gauges (yes, broad gauge!) -
Nick Salzmann. Set in the 1870's.
Superb modelling of an interesting railcar on Yeoton Wharf
A great afternoon out. If you want to see more of my pictures click here.
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Thursday, 13 October 2011

A spot of fencing and some gutters

It is the subtle details of a model that make it feel more complete, and hopefully more real. The lack of some details is not always obvious, but the mind knows something is missing. Something I felt was lacking around Awngate station was fencing, even though the line represented is a tramway where the railway had it's own right of way - such as this semi-urban terminus - it would have been well fenced off.

Some digging around in my stock of useful bits revealed some lengths of Ratio fencing. So the field along part of the front of the layout has post-and-rail fencing added, carefully bent to follow the contours of the ground and boundary. Beyond the tree towards the road (on the backdrop) this changes to iron railings, assuming the neighbouring property is a building rather than livestock. Compare the view below to that in the last post. The rest of the front is left as open ground as I like the eye-level views of the trains, I'm assuming the land was bought in irregular-shaped plots and so the boundary there is further from the track.

I've used more of the railings at the back of the station, separating the access path to the houses from the railway property. The Wills railings are moulded in plastic, but are not only as fine as any etched railings I have seen, they don't look as flat as etches, and are not as fragile as you'd imagine. Amazing really. I'm not sure how long the fences at the front of the layout will last though!

You may also notice that the houses have gained guttering and downpipes, after someone on the NGRM forum suggested they would be a good addition. He is right, they do add relief and visual interest to the card kits, although it would have been a lot easier to have added them before the houses were stuck in place! Again it was by bits-box that provided a pack of Wills building accessories, the gutters are half-round rather than hollow and the downpipes a "D" section but for the back of the layout who would know? This is another detail that is subtle, but missed if not present.
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Thursday, 6 October 2011

More greenery ...

Yes, I have been busy with trees and grass again - but this time for Awngate. There's not a lot of greenery on the layout, but what there was wasn't that convincing. So I set to with the dilute PVA glue, static grass and the Noch puffer bottle, adding layers of the static grass over the existing flock. I wasn't that impressed with the grass effect on Landswood Park, but over the (slightly) larger areas here it seems to have worked more effectively. I've blended in longer yellowy grass over a greener grass, which I think has been reasonably effective.

The trees were described a couple of weeks back, they have had extra flock added to give variety of colour, and have been planted to create deliberate view blocks to the scene. Hopefully their placement will look natural, add visual interest, and by splitting the scenes may even make the layout appear bigger. A few more bushes and extra texture to the existing ones has helped too.

I have also given the track a couple of thin washes of muddy brown to tone down and colour both the sleepers and the ballast. The darker brown of the sleepers and the grey of the ballast still show through, but the overall tone is much more natural now.

Where the engine shed doesn't (yet) stand I have grassed over the end of the siding, and a large bush from rubberised horsehair and ground foam flock helps to disguise the end of the layout. This corner is barely visible from normal viewing angles anyway, so the engine shed can wait for another time. Anyway, I'm stuck for ideas as to what it should look like.

I think the result is that the greenery is less "flat" and is much more convincing than it had been, and the track blends it better. Next a few more details are in order.

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Friday, 30 September 2011

Closing the file!

So after a busy few weeks the Box-File is complete. This is one of those stages of building a model railway where everything comes together, and it appears that a lot of progress has been made in a short space of time, in reality the preparation and painting of the details has been ongoing for a couple of months. I'll do painting in batches two or three evenings at a time, but then need to do something different or I'll go potty!

The details are mostly from Duncan Models and Phoenix, and have been picked to be in keeping with the farmyard/estate setting. I've tried not to get carried away, although to be honest the scene is a little crowded, hardly surprising given the size of the layout! This 7mm scale is still bigger than I am used to ... anyway such a small layout needs visual interest, and I think the balance is about right.

I'm very pleased with the end result of Landswood Park Farm, especially given that it was entirely built within 9 months, including track, scratch-built buildings, and of course the loco and all the stock. It was my first exercise in building my own track, just as well it is buried in the cobbles! Indeed it is my first ever venture into 7mm scale, so despite it's tiny size this layout has provided plenty of challenges and interest, and best of all, fun.
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