Monday, 10 June 2019

Bachmann Baldwin

This is an excellent time for 009, with several ready-to-run models now available, including locos from Heljan and Bachmann as well as several suitable Minitrains locos. I got a Heljan Manning Wardle because of my early narrow gauge inspiration - the Craig and Mertonford, and because they are elegant locos. The WD Baldwin is, on the other hand, not a pretty loco, and maybe I'm shallow when it comes to choosing my NG locos, but it is a versatile choice for a model - hundreds of these locos were built and they ended up on many railways around Britain, and indeed the rest of the world too. So actually on a freelance narrow gauge line a Baldwin will look at home, but the Manning Wardle will forever be associated with the Lynton and Barnstaple.

So when I spotted Rails of Sheffield were selling the Bachmann model at a bargain price I thought it would be rude not to get one. This is the Welsh Highland Railway version, in plain black. It looks very finely detailed, cleverly designed with daylight visible under the boiler, and blackened valve gear (hurrah!). It runs well too, though not as smoothly as the Heljan - I suspect the coreless motor doesn't like my controllers - but it does stay on the track which is more than can be said for the Heljan loco out of the box!

Since I'm not modelling the WHR I'll loose the "590" on the side (any suggestions how to get it off?), finishing as a generic black loco - perhaps with a nameplate - will mean it will look at home on any model set from the 1920's onward. I'll probably dull down the black a little, it looks a bit plasticky to me, but  only lightly weathered to serve as a preserved loco on Hexworthy, while still passing for an industrial loco if I need it to. At least that's the plan. It won't be easy to paint though with all that detail, and no apparent way to separate the chassis, so might need some thought first.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

North Wales Narrow Gauge

Back in half term week we spent a few days in North Wales with some friends. Of course no trip to that area is complete for me without a visit to the Ffestiniog Railway. Although I'm a member of the FR society I only get to visit every couple of years or so.

We joined the train at Blaenau Ffestiniog, where Merddin Emrys was looking in fine shape.

The sun was shining at Porthmadog, where Garratt 138 was preparing to depart.

Also Linda was giving footplate rides for charity. It's nice to see her gleaming in the sunshine, as one of my favourite engines.

We passed David Lloyd George at Tan-Y-Bwlch, in a classic FR scene.

Since we were staying at Rhyd Ddu it would have been rude not to ride the Welsh Highland Railway, and why not since it was typically Welsh weather!

I still love the ride into Porthmadog, over the Britannia bridge and down the street.

Out and about we also saw the Llanberis Lake Railway, though didn't have time to ride it. Here's Dolbadarn passing Dolbadarn Castle. I'm really looking forward to the Bachmann models of these popular little locos.

And a quick snap of the Snowdon Mountain Railway, though not the best angle. I'd love to ride this line, but it is very expensive, and has to be booked well in advance at busy periods. So we walked up the hill instead.

So an enjoyable time in one of my favourite parts of the country. Beautiful scenery, and lots of steam trains. What more could you want?

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Book Review: The Southwold Railway

Another book review: The Southwold Railway, 1879-1929.

I love books about obscure and characterful railways, especially narrow gauge lines, and the Southwold ticks all of those boxes so perhaps it's no surprise that I enjoyed this book. It's a classic book of the type too, a good quality hardback with an attractive dust jacket, and covers the history of the railway including the various proposals, building, operating, the route and stations, and the locos and rolling stock, so it is everything you would expect.

There are three authors listed: David Lee, Alan Taylor, and Rob Shoreland-Ball, and the introduction sets out how their work has come together. Rob is the main author, building on and including the work of David and Alan. This can mean there is a little repetition in places where the subjects of different chapters overlap, but the book is logically structured and presented, and easy to follow, with a consistent style.

Actually the text is well written and easy to read, and a good balance is struck of interesting detail without becoming dry. The photos are well reproduced and captioned, and clearly referenced in the text - a nice touch. There are plenty of maps, diagrams, and drawings too - including of course locomotives, stock, and some buildings. There's even a chapter on operation which describes train consists, and how shunting took place, a topic that could easily become dull yet does not. So there is plenty of detail for modellers and enthusiasts, but the story of the railway told in a way that even non-enthusiasts would find easy to follow.

Although a good friend of mine has modelled the Southwold Railway it is a line I knew little about, this book has introduced me to the railway with enthusiasm, and I have to say the love the authors have for the line, and keeping the memory of it alive, shows through. The book finishes with a summary of the Southwold Railway Trust, what they have achieved and their plans for the future.

So if like me you enjoy reading about long forgotten railways, you will like this book. It manages to be a historical record while remaining engaging to read and showing warmth for it's subject.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Goodbye Awngate, hello Hexworthy

A big event happened at the weekend. Awngate has moved on to a new home. It's been growing on my mind for some time that I would have to dispose of the layout in order to make room for Hexworthy, I just don't have space to keep it safely. So when someone at an exhibition last year commented how they'd love to buy it if I ever sold, I said I'd give them first opportunity when the time came. And that time has come.

These are the last photos I took of the layout in the condition it sold, with the original cassette fiddle yard. I have to say I've been very pleased with the way Awngate turned out, an excellent home layout with plenty of operating interest in a small space, and has shown that a small well-presented layout can reside in the house, it has also proved a good exhibition layout.

In fact it was my first "proper" exhibition layout, rather than a micro or Expo challenge, and although primarily intended as a satisfying home layout it was designed with exhibitions in mind. The plaques show it has attended a good number - including some of the top NG shows - though I think there's at least one plaque that never got attached, and a few shows without plaques. Who knows, the new owner may exhibit it too.

Awngate was also the seed that started this blog, with the idea that blogging as I went might encourage me to make better progress. I think that's worked, and it's been great hearing from people who say they read about the layout on the blog. It's also nice that many people have commented at exhibitions or online about how they like the layout - that's a great encouragement.

So maybe I should feel sad about moving on from Awngate, but I don't. I've had my enjoyment from building and showing it for the last 11+ years, and I am happy that someone else can get some enjoyment from it, rather than it deteriorating, being broken up, or worse - ebay!

Meanwhile the shelf in the dining room has been filled by Hexworthy. Out with the old, in with the new. Hopefully this will mean faster progress with the layout?

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Adding light to Hexworthy

I've already described making the lighting pelmet, which was then painted along with the layout itself. A little secret, I've already described the lights too. Last year I got a strip of "Natural White" (4000K) LEDs to experiment with, with this embryonic layout in mind. However in the event it was my son's micro layout Slugworth that got to use them first. That did show the lighting was very effective and a good colour balance, and only used 1m of the 5m length, so I had plenty left for Hexworthy.

The strip is self-adhesive and can be cut at the marks every 3 LED's. Easy enough, but it didn't stay stuck to the ply even though it is painted, and even after a layer of PVA was tried first. The solution was to spread contact adhesive over the wood, then when it was tacky stick the self-adhesive strip to it. So far that seems firm enough.

The "holy grail" of lighting a "cameo" shelf layout like Hexworthy is even lighting, including right to the front of the layout. It's difficult because we want the lighting neatly tucked out of sight in the pelmet, but really it needs to be high up and well out front - where the viewer is. LED strips are good at distributing light with minimal shadows but putting them right over the models only lights them from above. I chose to add the main strip towards the back of the pelmet bar, putting it about 2" or 3" back over the layout facing down, then a second strip split between the front fascia facing backwards, and the underside of the beam facing downwards but right at the front of the layout. Hopefully this puts plenty of light at the front. Ideally the strips would be at an angle facing the layout, but I couldn't find an easy way to do this. A hot glue-gun was used to cover the ends of the strips, securing them and protecting the soldered joins, and also to secure any loose wires.

The view of the whole beam shows the arrangement of strips, plus the foil I pushed into the front edge to hopefully reflect and diffuse any stray light. The strips were joined by soldered wires, taking care to match the "+" and "-" marked on the strips (I hadn't thought of this when sticking the strips down so some are the other way round, not a problem as the wires can be crossed provided polarity is matched), and joined by a terminal block at one end. I added 5.5x2.1mm DC connectors to both ends of the pelmet - because it might be useful being able to plug the power in at either end - and bought cheaply as a pack of 10 pairs I might as well use them! These connectors have screw terminals but no way to secure the socket in place, so a big lump of hot glue is used, along with a couple of screws so they can't pull away.

As there is more lighting than Slugworth I thought Hexworthy needed a bigger power supply. The LED's use about 1A per meter, not knowing how many meters I'd use I went large and got a 6A supply - plenty as it happens, but I'd rather know it isn't overloaded. It wasn't expensive, and a sealed plug-and-play unit is convenient. I was disappointed to find it fitted with a 13A fuse though (the mains side is rated at 1.5A), I've swapped for a 5A for now as that's the smallest I had in, but will find a smaller fuse.

All plugged in, and we have light.

In situ in the dining room, and with the building in place, the light is bright - actually, maybe a bit too bright. There is a reasonable amount of light reaching the front of trains on the station track, even with the lighting bar in the flush position, though as expected moving the lighting bar forward really helps with light on trains on the front siding. I don't think any further light will be needed at the back of the layout.

When I bought the light strip I also got a dimmer switch, being ridiculously cheap and thinking it might come in useful. The easiest way to try it seemed to be to attach in-line plug and sockets, and fit between power supply and lighting.

It's not easy to illustrate the difference with a photo, which exposes for the amount of light, but it does allow the light to be dimmed without affecting the distribution or colour of the light. Incidentally it doesn't dim all the way to off, but switches off from a low brightness. The dimmer allows the light to be adjusted to the light in the room, but I may yet experiment with just dimming the rear strip while keeping the front strips brighter.

Friday, 31 May 2019

Hexworthy Back-scene

In my previous post I'd described how I'd taken the back-scene photos and created a panorama.

I'd come across through members of the NGRM forum, who do custom back-scenes as well as a range of standard ones, so I contacted them with my big picture and carefully measured dimensions. John at Art Printers was most helpful, discussing the best way to crop/stretch the panorama to fit the layout and other edits (he could have created the panorama too if I hadn't already). We ended up with a little cropped from the ends, and a slight vertical stretch to the final image. When I was happy the back-scene was printed and dispatched immediately. I chose the premium option which is more hard-wearing, and I thought the price was very reasonable and the service excellent.

The back-scene was printed to the dimensions I requested, but with a small margin, which I trimmed easily with a scalpel, using books to keep the rolled paper flat while I did so. Because my scene went over one roll of paper I needed a join, which I had arranged to be towards the right-hand end where I expect to use more trees. It did give me an off-cut of blank back-scene paper for a trial run, so I found an off-cut of board in the garage, took it outside, sprayed the glue on, and stuck the blank paper on. I know that sounds weird, but it prepared me for how the real thing would go!

The next step was to dry-run the back-scene, and check it fitted. I needed to trim where it fits under the bracing at the ends, and figure out exactly where the two pieces joined. I marked the join with a pencil line. The next thing to think about was how to stick it on straight and in the right place... the dummy run had showed that the glue was strong, and although the paper could be pulled away gently if not firmly stuck, there wasn't much hope if it had been pushed firmly down.

I decided to hold the back-scene like a scroll, holding against the baseboard so it is level over the back-scene (layout on it's back) , line it up to a mark, and press down. So I put a clear mark in a place that would later be hidden, about a foot from the end.

The dummy run had also showed that the spray glue got everywhere, so the rest of the layout not already masked up from painting was masked up, including the top edge of the back-scene board, and the layout set outside on it's back on the trestles - also masked as best I could. Then a last check the board is clear of lumps and debris! The glue is simply Wilkinson's own brand as that's all they had. It was sprayed liberally over the back-scene board, including up the end boards right up to where they meet the "wings" at the ends. The glue instructions say to cover both surfaces, but that would't be practical so I just sprayed the wood, and to wait 5 minutes before sticking together - but I had a lot to stick, so gave it just a couple of minutes before starting with the longer back-scene.

And a few minutes later the job is done. Despite my best efforts the longer scene is very slightly skew, and has risen about 3 mm by the far end, but it fits and looks fine, the gap at the bottom will be hidden by scenery. Wit hindsight a second pair of hands might be helpful here, to ensure it is held in line with the baseboard and pushed down at the same time. The shorter piece was butted up to the first piece and fortunately the join is quite neat. Best of all the premium paper has gone on smoothly, without wrinkles or bubbles or tears, and is stuck firmly - even in those curved corners. Overall I'm very happy with how that went!

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Backscene preparations

As the model Hexworthy is set in a real location it seemed that the backscene should show that location. Dartmoor is quite distinctive, and the rolling moors and valley fields should really set the scene. So last summer while passing through Devon a detour was made to take some photographs from the small road up the opposite side of the valley from where the model is set, where there is a convenient spot on the side of the hill with a low wall and no trees. The detour may also have involved a cream tea at the nearby Badger's Holt, Dartmeet, a particular favourite in our family!

So this is the real view across the West Dart valley at Hexworthy. I remembered to take a tripod, set the image size to maximum, use a little optical zoom, and take lots of overlapping photos. Actually this was my second attempt - I'd done the same thing the previous year, but the 5 photos didn't make a wide enough picture to a high enough resolution. This time I took 12 pictures with more zoom to make a wider, less tall combined image.

I found a program called Hugin which did a great job of combining the 12 photos into a complete panorama image. The result looked good and should work well, but at this point I got a bit stuck, as I didn't have suitable software or knowledge to do further editing or the means to print out such a large image, even on multiple sheets. So I will pick up that story later...

Now I wanted the backscene to wrap-around the internal corners of the layout in a curve to avoid corners and shadows. I know you can get bendy MDF and thin ply, but adding more wood to the layout means adding much more weight, and seemed overkill. So I cut some formers from foam-core board, cutting round a metal cake-tin lid to get the curvature (the picture shows the layout lying on it's back). I then cut a shallow slot into the ply just beyond the end of the formers, with a shallow chamfer back towards the formers.

The backscene support was then simply made from a piece of 20-thou plasticard cut to fit into the slots - which both force the plastic into the curved corner, and recess the edge to hopefully give a smooth transition from flat to curve without a step. I glued it to the formers with contact adhesive, although my formers were not entirely consistent, so maybe something with more gap-filling properties (no more nails, silicone caulk) would have been better. Anyway it seems to hold fine.

The last preparation step was to make the layout presentable. Although the ply outer skin could have been varnished, after a discussion with the wife (the layout will sit in the dining room) we decided on the grey paint used for Slugworth & Co. This is actually Wilkinson's primer, so goes straight onto the wood, although visible areas got a rub-down with fine emery then a second coat, which gives a nice smooth satin finish. I also painted the rear of the layout, the lighting bar, the domestic fiddle yard, and even the backscene boards as it should give a better surface to stick the backscene to when sealed.

To be continued...

Friday, 24 May 2019

A Petite Property

I came across the Petite Properties stand at Alexandra Palace, and was impressed with their products. Actually I'd heard of them and seen the website already, although I've not seen many built up on layouts, but looking at the range on their stand I was struck with their potential. Petite Properties come from the dolls-house hobby but have found a ready marked in model railways for their laser-cut building kits, with a range of non-railway buildings (houses, shops, etc.) and including the popular low-relief format. Anyway, although I didn't have an immediate need for one, I picked up "No 12 Station Road", a small shop in low relief, to see what it was like.

Here's the contents. I've already assembled the main walls which are cut from 2mm MDF - the sides, front, and floor. The fit is so precise no cleaning up was required, and the back panel is a tight fit. There's also the chimney pieces, and the rest of the kit is laser-cut card for the roof, window frames, lintel, and other details like the shop-front, the printed clear plastic windows, and a length of tube to make chimney pots. The instructions are clear and comprehensive, although I didn't follow the order of assembly prescribed, thinking instead about the covering of the walls and painting. Wall and roof finishes are not included in these kits, allowing you to finish them as you like, I suppose that means they are a sort of partial or scratch-aid kit?

One thing I really didn't like is the chimney, which is designed to stick on top of the roof. Well firstly that tends to look like it's just stuck on top, and secondly chimneys are usually built up a gable wall where there is one. So I stuck the chimney to the top of, and flush with, the gable wall, reinforcing it from underneath with an off-cut of foam-core. Incidentally I used Micro Krystal Klear glazing glue for much of the kit, it's essentially a very sticky clear PVA with a quick grab and I had a pot on my workbench.

Moving the chimney meant trimming the roof around it, but as well as that I trimmed about 2mm from the depth of the roof and 3mm from one side as it seemed to me it overhung far too much. I then added the barge-boards to the outer edges of the roof, flush with the top.

I decided on a brick finish, I used a brick-paper downloaded from Wordsworth Model Railways, which I think are rather good, and they are free. I printed it on a laser printer which looks good, but a bit shiny. The shop front was assembled and along with the window frames, and barge-boards, were painted a deep red-maroon, I also painted the wall corners within and behind the shop front. To get rid of the shiny brick and any traces of gloss in the paint I sprayed the lot with matt varnish - Testors Dullcote in this case - this must be done before glazing is fitted.

The roof was covered in York Model Making slates, I had some left over from Hexworthy's station building, and I think they work very well in this scale. Such a small simple roof was easy to cover. Learning from the station I ran the slates over the barge-boards - trimming excess off with a sharp knife afterwards, and overhanging the bottom edge of the roof slightly.

Before final assembly I found some photos online of bookshop interiors, which I printed out along with a sign - it took me a couple of attempts to match the colour to the paint - but I'm very pleased with the result. It was simply stuck to the back of the shop front before it was stuck to the building, while the bookshop interior photos were stuck to the window display (which fits behind the shop window), and the back wall of the shop. The chimney pots were cut to length - a little fiddly to cut square and equal length - and stuck to the top of the chimney and painted. Assembly of the windows and door is straightforward, but worried that the upper window might look through to the downstairs, I formed a paper "blank" to go behind it and coloured it black.

So here's the final, assembled building. You will see that as well as the interior photos, I've added a couple more details not in the kit. The gutter is simply a strip of 40-thou plastic just wide enough to protrude from below the slates, and with the front lower edge sanded to a curve to look like a gutter. Good cheat eh? The down-pipe is 40-thou plastic rod with the end bent, and a few tiny microstrip brackets stuck on, and stuck to the gutter with solvent. Painted matt black it adds realism. I also decided to add flashing around the chimney, which was simply paper coloured with a grey Sharpie pen (borrowed from the kids), then cut to shape and stuck around the chimney. The stepped flashing up the side was a little fiddly to cut. You might also notice the curtains - more paper and Sharpie pen!

I'm really pleased with the finished shop. It's a small building, just 55mm wide, the door is 25mm high so looks OK as an old building. The matt-varnished brick looks great, and in this scale is probably more realistic than embossed plastic. The shop front has nice relief, although the windows sit a little deep they look good. I'm glad I moved the chimney and cut down the roof as I think it looks much better for it, while the added details bring it to life for not a lot of effort. Maybe it could use a little subtle weathering, though I'm not sure how best to treat the paper roof slates.

You can't see much inside but there's enough to give an impression. There's a hole in the bottom for lighting cables, and the back is still loose for now (but a tight enough fit to stay put) so they could be fitted later. Extra marks if you recognise the name.

So I am very impressed with this little kit. Yes it needs wall and roof finishing; you could used embossed plastic (Slaters) on the walls or even just paint, replace the rood with a Wills plastic sheet, and adapt it to whatever finish you like. So it's not a complete kit and the finish is down to the builder, but it's not hard to do and I think many will like that flexibility. It also benefits from a little thought in assembly and added details. I think the chimney could be better designed integrated into the gable, the roof less overhang, and thinner MDF would make the windows less deep, but these are minor points. So I can see me building some more of these little kits.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Shoreham Memorial

A couple of days ago I happened to be walking over the Shoreham old tollbridge and passes this newly installed memorial to the 11 victims of the Shoreham Airshow disaster in 2015. In fact it was only revealed that day.

It's a beautifully designed and created structure, with an arch for each of the people remembered. The arches are all in line - and together create a tunnel pointing towards the site of the accident (a couple of hundred yards away over the river and up the road). The effect is like a cathedral, or an old boat. Yet each arch is individual in shape, size, and style, and although not immediately obvious, individually decorated with elements important to the life it represents. Seagulls for the local football team, plants for the keen gardener, and so on.

What caught my eye was the third arch, which has railway company initials on cast plates in a railway style. It turns out that Graham Mallinson was a keen railway enthusiast, photographer, and volunteer on the nearby Bluebell Railway.

The memorial is at a  peaceful spot on the river bank, overlooking the airfield on the far bank, and next to the old wooden bridge over which the path/lane to the site of the accident runs. This photo was taken a year or so back from a similar spot. The airport is behind the trees to the left, and if you look carefully you can see two WWII pillboxes on the bank - presumably guarding the bridge as well as defending the airport.

Another railway link, the site is a popular walking route not just over the bridge, but also along the Downs Link path which follows the line of the old railway line between Shoreham and Steyning, along the river bank. This photo was taken just after the bank was raised as part of new flood defences, and on the right are some old rails set up as a level crossing. Until recently they were still in place at the end of the bridge, where the paths cross (that on the left is the old railway route, that crossing is the old road over the bridge) but about 3 feet lower. They may have been moved, but I'm glad the trouble was taken keep them as a historical link. I suspect Graham would have approved too.

Also nearby is this rotting boat, resembling some kind of skeleton, full of character and reminiscent of the memorial shape. Even though there are busy road nearby and both the airport and (existing) railway lines are in sight, this is a surprisingly pleasant place, with wildlife on the tidal river and the riverbanks.

I think the memorial is a fitting way to remember those that died in a tragic event that touched the local community, and is in a very suitable spot. I do hope it gets a plaque of some sort to explain it to those who do not know why it is there. I trust it is a place of comfort to the families that lost loved ones, and will ensure the event and the victims are not forgotten.