Monday, 11 May 2020

The Vale of Rheidol Railway

Just as lock-down got under way I got a new book by Peter Johnson - The Vale of Rheidol Railway.

This is an unusual narrow gauge railway, unlike most Welsh lines it's main traffic has always been tourist passengers. Yes it did carry goods and minerals when built, but tourism was the main driver for it's construction, and what kept it going through five different owners - including British Rail, who didn't close it but kept it running into the 1980's. Although it had a limited variety of locos and stock compared to some lines, and perhaps takes less of the limelight, it is an interesting railway in beautiful scenery.

The book is written in Peter's usual chronological story-line style, similar to that used in his recent book on the Corris railway and before that, his books on the Ffestiniog Railway, and the Great Western Narrow Gauge Railways. The latter book did of course cover the Vale of Rheidol since the GWR was one of it's owners, but in this book Peter is able to go much more deeply into the history of the line - which starts with the early proposals, takes us through construction and early years, ownership by the Cambrian, British Railways/Rail, and into private ownership in recent times.

There are many photographs giving a flavour of the line through the ages, including a few in recent years, although the majority are period and therefore black and white.Reproduction is excellent, the book is of good quality and the text is clear and well written. Peter is able to make history interesting and easy to read. Modellers may be disappointed that there are no drawings of locos or stock (though there are some excellent photos). There are some maps but the only track-plans are period documents showing the changes at Aberystwyth, and while there are lots of photos of the trains and scenery there are surprisingly few of the stations or facilities (perhaps unsurprising for a tourist railway).

So like the Corris book this isn't a definitive volume, but it is a complete story of the line to date, an enjoyable read and a good pictorial record of this attractive railway. So a good way to spend some time in lock-down!

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Loctern Quay is a winner!

Just got the latest 009 News...

Loctern Quay is the winner of the 009 Society competition!

Friday, 24 April 2020

Platform Paving

It was waaay back at the end of July when I last posted about progress with Hexworthy, when I had cut the platforms from 3mm foam-core board, and was experimenting with the idea of paving using individually cut "slabs" of 40-thou plasticard.

So with Loctern Quay finished, time to get back to making paving slabs. I lightly sanded the slabs for a  less smooth surface, and cut it strips, marking them by scoring with the calipers to ensure they are consistent and parallel. I then used my cheap "chopper" to trim them to length, the red quadrant on the right is being used to clamp a piece of plastic to act as a stop so all the pieces are cut the same length.

The large slabs are 3' x 2' (12mm x 8mm), and smaller ones 2' x 18" (8mm x 6mm). I used the large ones to line the edges of the platform, including the bay, while the smaller ones fill in the surface around the station building. They are stuck down to the foam-core surface (which is a thin layer of card) with Bostik impact adhesive. The rest of the platform will be gravel (sand) for variety, and to save time!

I decided to run the paving parallel to the station, which saved fiddly half-slabs. I was left with about a 2mm gap to fill with part slabs, so I cheated and trimmed it back to the whole slab! I made a step for the door to the goods shed/cafe too.

In the close up you can seen I've done a little more sanding to the surface after laying the slabs to give texture, yet there is still a slight unevenness and irregularity that looks quite effective. I'm quite pleased with the result and it didn't take as long as I thought it might. It just needs painting now.

You can also see the stonework face of the platform, which is simply embossed into the edge of the foam-core board. From this angle it looks like the platform is lifting slightly, though some heavy books on it when I come to glue it in place should sort that.

Friday, 17 April 2020

British Steam Locomotive Builders

British Steam Locomotive Builders by James W. Lowe, and published by Pen & Sword, is a pretty hefty book. It's about the size of an old family bible, and pretty heavy too, but with 700 pages of fine print it is full of information. It provides an index of British steam locomotive builders from the earliest days of experimental machines, through the Victorian era and into the Grouping, up to the days of British Rail.

Although a new release from Pen & Sword it is actually an old book, originally printed in 1975 as steam locomotive building came to an end - except of course in preservation or tourism, which is excluded. As well as the railway companies themselves, locos were built by many independent companies which are listed - from those that built just one loco and most will never have heard of, to those more familiar names such as Hunslet, North British, and Beyer Peackock, that built many thousands for domestic and oversees use. That of course includes narrow gauge locomotives as well as standard, and even broad gauge, and locos for industrial and minor lines as well as main lines and public railways.

As such the level of detail for each company varies from a few paragraphs, some have tables listing all locos built, for others this would be impossible and their output could fill a book on their own, but main types and developments are listed or described. Railway company works are listed by site. As well as tables, the book is peppered with photos showing a few locomotives built, though of course these are just a tiny sample. The text does document some of the key developments in technology by some of the loco builders, and how they evolved through mergers and acquisition to form new companies. I cannot say how complete it is, no doubt some small loco builders could have been missed, but I would guess it is as complete as any such volume could be.

As a reprint of a 45 year old book and because of it's size, printed on ordinary book paper (i.e. not glossy), the photos are not of high quality. I guess the printers did not go back to the originals. However, this does not detract from the usefulness of the book, which is intended as a reference and interesting study of the loco builders. There is an index which looks potentially useful.

My interest in narrow gauge means I was familiar with a number of loco builders, so I found this very interesting - but was still surprised at the number and variety of loco builders in the "golden age" of steam locomotives. Perhaps it's not light reading and yes it is more of a reference, but if you have an interest in steam locomotives this is well worth having, browsing, and keeping for a spot of research.

Sunday, 12 April 2020


Easter is about Resurrection and new life, so here is a story of bringing new life to old locos. A few weeks back a friend having a clear-out gave me a box containing a couple of non-working Minitrains Baldwins, and a pile of bits, suggesting I might be able to make a working model from the parts. In the box were two spare chassis (one broken), three spare motors (only one with a gear), a cut-about body, and other parts.

An initial test confirmed neither loco moved, though both buzzed. On dismantling the first loco I found the motor didn't turn freely, I'm not sure why, but I fitted one of the spares that seemed to work. The wheels and contacts were cleaned, gears cleaned and lightly lubricated along with the axles, and then it was reassembled. It ran, but very slowly. Replacing the motor bushes didn't help, so I chose another motor. Now it ran well - a little noisily, but reasonably slowly and well controlled, not bad for an ancient mechanism. That said the 5-pole motor and decent gearing should provide good slow running. Even the headlight worked.

With one loco working I turned to the second. On dismantling it I found the chassis cracked through at the front axle, I think the plastic footplate was holding it together. I used one of the spare chassis to rebuild it, but crank-pins fell out and the wheels appeared to be out of quarter too. Quartering wheels isn't my strong point, and I've struggled with coupling rods and geared drive being out of sync before, but after some fiddling about I got it assembled so it seemed to turn freely enough. With the motor back in it ran, it's a bit more rough than the first loco and seems to stick occasionally - I'm not sure whether it is a pick-up issue or some binding, perhaps the quartering isn't quite right, but it may be OK on a continuous run.

And to show how they work:

Apologies for the dodgy camera-work, I'm no good at holding the camera, driving the train, and switching the points all at the same time! The better running loco goes second by the way.

So a pair of Minitrains Baldwins brought back from the dead. They don't really look at home on Loctern Quay, they are more likely to join my Son's growing fleet serving Slugworth, he's keen to repaint one.

Monday, 6 April 2020

Interesting times

I suspect the last few weeks have been a bit of a shock for most of us, surely no-one is unaffected by the impact of the dreaded virus on daily life, though I hope you are all keeping well and staying safe. Of course model railway exhibitions have been cancelled for the next few months, including Narrow Gauge South which was to be the next outing for Loctern Quay (and Slugworth too), and model shops are closed. However, many shops are still able to do mail order, so we can carry on making models in isolation - I managed to recently get a parcel of modelling materials delivered from Squires.

While many have extra time on their hands at this time, I have still been working full-time - albeit from home - and monitoring the kids, who are also at home. Realising the dining table wouldn't work for business calls with kids in the house, I cleared the dressing table in the bedroom of junk and made a new top from the side of an old chipboard wardrobe - I knew keeping that would come in useful one day! I "borrowed" a chair from my daughter's bedroom, and set up my work office.

I'm certainly not complaining, at least I am able to work and I know many are facing financial uncertainty or hardship.

As well as spending time on Skype, Skype Business, Teams, and Zoom (how many have learned about these tools in the last few weeks?) much of the free time I have had over the last three weeks has been spent learning about live streaming - but no, I'm not going to be a YouTuber. Like all churches ours has had to shut its doors, but to keep services going we've started live-streaming the Sunday morning service. That meant hooking up the existing cameras, audio, and presentation systems to a computer, and streaming to YouTube, it's been a steep learning curve but we've managed, and three weeks in we're figuring it out.

Worthing Tabernacle Church on YouTube.

EDIT - After a concerned comment, I should point out that the photo above was taken on Sunday 22nd March - BEFORE the current regulations on social distance were introduced. Since then we have been careful to ensure anyone in the building is at least 2m apart, indeed the AV desk is manned by a single household (me, my wife and son, or another couple) to eliminate the possibility of virus transmission. 

So in the chaos and disruption I've not got much model making done, although I am helping my son with a model project, and I have been taking time out to "play" with Loctern Quay - a good way to relax, and maybe I'll share more on that shortly. However, I do hope to get back to some models over the next few weeks, as let's face it, I don't expect to be going out much!

Do take care and stay safe. Keep Calm and Make Models.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Loctern Quay stock and operation

Once I had completed Loctern Quay and taken photos for submission to the competition, I had a little over a week to prepare for its first exhibition. Now I have plenty of locos, Loctern needs three for full operation but I didn't have a problem finding enough to cover with a few spares...

It is nice that Loctern Quay is quite a different theme to Hexworthy, and locos that may not look at home in a preserved setting can find a home here, such as tramway (skirted) locos. As a shunting layout good slow running is important, particularly for the shunting loco - three of these locos use Minitrains chassis which give very good running.

Most of my wagons are grey, similar looking, and other than some different loads, not easily distinguished. To make shunting more interesting I wanted to increase the variety of wagons, so built up these four kits I had in stock. The two on the left are 009 society kits, nice and small. The L&B van is a Parkside kit (an old one from a friends un-built pile) in passenger stock green since it has vacuum pipes. The lovely little gunpowder van from Narrow Planet is tiny, but as yet I haven't figured out how to fit couplings...

The rest of the fleet are existing wagons, selecting a range of wagon styles, and adding variety with distinctive loads. Some are resin castings from Anyscale Models, some items from the bits box, and a couple of tarpaulins thanks to a creme egg. I spent some time checking and adjusting couplings to make sure they work reliably, and other than a couple of troublesome trucks they did at the show.

The last job was to create a way to make operation interesting. I took a photo of each wagon, and printed out a simple card for each of them which was then laminated. There are cards for 18 different wagons which allows some spares, in operation 12 are on the layout, of course if a wagon is swapped out the card must be swapped too. The display board is simply made from foam-core board making them easier to see and follow, like those things you get in Scrabble. At each end there is a pocket to store cards for wagons in the fiddle yard (off stage) or to be left in the yard, while the cards for the train to make up are displayed in the centre.

So operation goes as follows:
  1. A train is pushed into the rear siding from the sector plate, the loco decoupled and parked between the buildings
  2. The cards for the wagons in the train are shuffled with those in the "Yard" pocket. Four cards are drawn and placed on the display board "to dispatch" in a random order
  3. The shunting loco in the head-shunt is used to make up the new train in place of the old, which is made more challenging by the constraints of the siding and head-shunt lengths, and because all the wagons do not fit in the front two sidings. Indeed if too many wagons enter a siding the uncoupling magnet makes them tricky to get out!
  4. When complete, the shunter withdraws and the train engine couples up and takes the train back to the fiddle yard
  5. The cards for the wagons in the departing train are swapped for those in the "Off-stage" pocket, and the procedure repeats from step 1...
Initially we had just 3 wagons left in the yard but in practice we found 4 wagons in the yard as well as 4 in each train worked best, adding that little extra challenge. At home if a train does not need to go to the sector plate a train of 5 wagons can be "dealt", for more of a challenge, but this means the uncoupling magnet for the train loco is under the first wagon.

So after a busy but productive few days here's the layout on display at the show. The fold-out legs and lighting were easy to set up and worked well. As well as the wagon card display there's a short description of the layout on the right. The operator sits to the left front of the layout which allows easy operation and interaction with viewers, indeed the wagon cards encouraged interaction - viewers were invited to pick cards at the appropriate time, and having done so I found they lingered longer to see the train made up.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Wealden Railway Group show - Lancing

Yesterday was the annual show by the Wealden Railway Group in Lancing. Although a general show the group promote small layouts, and narrow gauge featured so I will round-up a few of those here.

A favourite is Vale Quarry by John Bruce, a 009 shunting layout that is very nicely modelled and runs beautifully.

The gate closes to limit the train length when shunting. The locos are characterful too.

Greg Dodsworth's Felsham Lane is a very compact yet surprisingly interesting O16.5 layout.

Stuan House by Ian Roberts is inspired by the railway at the Dalmunzie Hotel in Scotland.

Built in the unusual scale of 1:32 (which uses 16.5mm gauge to represent 2' gauge) it includes nicely built models of the Simplex locos and carriages, and features prototypical loads... not a model for vegans!

Then there was Rainbow Rock... and why not? Yes it isn't a serious layout but it was well crafted and imaginative, and popular with the kids!

This small friendly show was ideal for a first showing of Loctern Quay. I have spent the last week or so preparing (which I will post more on later) so I was as ready as I was ever going to be.

The wagon cards and operation worked well, and it proved interesting to operate too. It was also nice to get lots of positive feedback and interest from visitors. Other than a couple of troublesome trucks there were no issues.

So a good show, and a successful debut show for Loctern Quay.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Lock, stock and barrel

Loctern Quay is now finished! In fact it was finished a few days before the deadline for the 009 Society competition, thanks to a big push over the last few weeks. Anyway, with my entry now in, here are some pictures of the final result.

As displayed with short legs and lighting, I got a name for the fascia from Vinyl Lettering Online, which finishes it off nicely. The paint, lighting, and name are all as we did with Slugworth & Co.

A general view across the yard, with the final details and a few people in place. I found some old Tiny Signs packs, and got carried away with the enamel adverts - which suggest the building in the centre is a newsagent and tobacconist, although we can't see the front.

The other end of the yard, a pleasing composition I think. I've aimed for signs of life but not too busy, as befits a backwater.

The other end of the layout. Perhaps it could use a tree right at the end, it's a bit abrupt right now, but it would have to be a carefully selected/made tree to fit.

One of my favourite views, even without trains!

The first exhibition for the layout is this Saturday, held by the Wealden Railway Group in Lancing, West Sussex. It's always a good friendly show, so do come along if you can

The past week or so I have been busy with wagons, checking couplings, etc., so i hope I will be ready. More on that soon.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Hiding a fiddle yard in plain sight

What's this? A minimalist micro layout? A photo-plank?

It is of course the sector plate fiddle yard for Loctern Quay. Because of the scenic arrangement it would not be completely hidden, and bringing the backscene in front of it wouldn't work well on such a small layout, so I thought I would disguise the presence of the fiddle yard - that is, hide it in plain sight.

From above the sector plate is seen, though the scenic dressing ensures it does not stand out, while the brick wall disguises the hard edge of the sector plate and the void beyond it. The embankment and trees ensure there is no empty space and draw the eye away from what would be a bare corner. This does of course mean that access to the fiddle yard is tricky, but operation doesn't require access to the trains, and the sector plate is moved by the dowel protruding from the front of the layout.

From the front, even an unusually close and high viewing position, the subterfuge works quite effectively. With the sector plate pushed back to access the front track a train can just about be seen on the rear track, but that's OK, perhaps there's a siding behind the warehouse?

The wall moved! Perhaps there was a land-slip? With the rear track lined up there is a small area of bare board just about visible. However, painted brown (with a bit of graphite to help smooth movement) and with the wall hiding much of it I don't think it is obvious.

From the other end of the layout the buildings, water tower, and tree do much to hide the transition to fiddle yard. What can be seen of the sector plate does not stand out thanks to the ballast and grass, while the embankment and trees behind fill what would otherwise be an empty void.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Book Review - Works Trams of the British Isles

I've just finished reading a book a little different from my usual - "Works Trams of the British Isles" by Peter Wallis.

I'm not particularly a tramway enthusiast - well not the urban passenger-carrying type, usually electrically powered, that are featured in this book. While they are very nice, to me all the trams look the same after a while! But the sub-title "A survey of tramway engineer's vehicles" got me intrigued, I do like unusual and quirky rail vehicles, and this book is full of them. All sorts of tramway vehicles are included - stores vans, tower wagons, snow ploughs, open and tipper trucks, even a crane; and I was surprised at their variety and the number that are found in this substantial book.

When I say "reading", it is really a picture book with detailed captions, so isn't heavy to read. The book is roughly divided into applications, although some of the vehicles had multiple uses so there is some overlap. The pictures are generally well reproduced and the book feels good quality.

As I am not a tramway enthusiast there were acronyms and terminology used which I was not familiar with, such as the initials of tramway companies. It would have been nice to see them expounded on first use, or a separate glossary. Also, most of the photos were undated, I'd have liked to see an indication of the year each was taken. However, they are minor quibbles, on the whole the captions were informative and surprisingly detailed.

This is a somewhat different book then, a bit of a niche, but of interest those who like unusual rail vehicles and not just tramway enthusiasts.

Saturday, 22 February 2020

The river

The clue is in the name - Loctern Quay has a quayside, and that means water - I've chosen a river. I've not modelled water since I was in my teens and back then sloshing some gloss varnish about was the accepted method - to be fair it looked OK for mountain streams, but had a tendency to soak up the banks. These days there are many different products available to model water, so I did some reading up on what might be best for my flat, dirty, deep(ish) river.

I settled on simply using acrylic gloss medium - in this case "Modge Podge" - having seen some youtube videos that showed it gave the sort of result I was after without looking too difficult (or time consuming, or expensive). I used an offcut of foam-core as a test piece, and found:

  • It is thick and sticky - it won't run off the edge of the board so no need to "seal" the area, nor wick up the banks. 
  • But it also won't settle smooth, it will show brush strokes (so use a fine brush) and is hard to lay flat and smooth (see the left end of the test piece - I wonder if diluting it would help it settle more smooth?)
  • Ripples are really easy to make by dabbling with a brush - but the size of the ripples depended on the size of the brush
  • It could be applied quite thick - a good couple of millimetres - and sets clear within 24 hours, further coats can be added to thicken it. I didn't try pouring it.
  • It was easy to do and looked very effective!

The base of the river is simply the MDF board, which I painted to look like deep river water. My first attempt was too green, so a tried a muddy brown. That looked too like mud, so went to a dark almost black with a hint of greeny brown, but blended this into the muddy brown towards the bank and quayside as though the water was getting deeper. Happy with that result, I worked out where to place the sunken barge and wildlife.

Next to apply the Modge Podge, thickly with a largish brush then dabbed into ripples with a smaller brush, working it carefully up to the banks. This is just before the barge and birds were placed into the wet Modge Podge. The foil you see at the bottom was arched over the "water" while it was drying to prevent anything landing on it.

I am very happy with the finish, I think it looks just like I was hoping it would and wasn't as difficult as I had feared. The light glares off it a bit in this picture, but it definitely looks "wet"! I've only used one coat and I don't think it needs another, but I guess I could add a thin coat if it ever lost it's shine.