Monday, 20 March 2023

The London festival of railway modelling

On Saturday helped man the 009 Society stand at the London festival of railway modelling at Alexandra Palace. It's a long trip from Sussex needing a very early start and a late return, but it was good to see so much interest in 009. I'm sure the recent increase in the availability of ready-to-run has encouraged many to take an interest since getting started and building a decent layout is so much easier now. As well as the showcase, demo layout (which being a roundy-roundy at table height attracts the younger kids!), we had some copies of the 009 Society Handbook for sale - all had gone by mid-afternoon Saturday. There were lots of families, and it was also nice to see a range of ages showing interest, we may not see many younger (sub-40!) people in clubs but clearly they are interested in the hobby, one young man commenting that his generation couldn't expect to have a house in London but 009 looked suitable for a small space. 

It's a big show but with two of us to man the stand we each had opportunity to look around, and it was good to see some old faces to chat to. Of course there are layouts for all interests, and I was pleased to find a few narrow gauge layouts. I didn't get a program so don't have all details.

Bunkers Lane in O9 is a new layout Bill Flude on the same theme as his Derwent Road layout (I last saw that at Fareham), inspired by the Leighton Buzzard Railway. 

There's some lovely, subtle detailing and the setting of place and time work really well. 

It was also nice to see Charlie Insley's French St-Etienne-en-Caux in H0e. 

The terminus is reminiscent of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme. 

Hook Basin by Richard Williams uses 1:25 scale and 16.5mm gauge to great effect, a simple yet engaging layout built in two "modules". This layout was also at Fareham last year. Richard pointed out the layout was over a decade old, although I still enjoy seeing it!

WWI Winter in France shows the military railways of the first world war in 009. Nice modelling of something we should never forget. 

Richard Holder's Launceston is a superb model of the characterful preserved line in 009, a favourite of mine it had a crowd around it until late afternoon so clearly it was popular. 

I also spotted this model of a Lartigue monorail tractor as used on a US mining line, and featured in Narrow Gauge and Industrial magazine, so I presume shown by the builder Adrian Garner. Yes, it does work and movement was demonstrated!

Of the standard gauge layouts, one that surprised me was James Street. It's a large N-gauge layout with multiple tracks and trains circulating - which doesn't sound like my kind of layout. However, the scenery was beautifully done even if it was squeezed between the tracks, and the harbour scene with it's detailed ships was impressive. Not just one model ship, but many of them. 

Copper Wort by Pete Goss is always a popular layout, and always worthy of another look. 

Arcadia is clearly inspired by Colonel Stevens' light railways, and modelled in S scale. This is a scale that isn't chosen for any logical reason, other than the builder wants to scratch-build as much as possible, and so is worthy of respect. Usually, as in this case, the result looks superb and performs well too. 

Next to our stand was this model of Moretonhampstead in 2mm scale. It is hard to believe it is such a small scale, it looks like P4 from stood further back!

So a large and busy show, with some excellent layouts, and nice to be back for the first time post-Covid. If the train strikes reduced numbers it wasn't obvious. 

Tuesday, 14 March 2023

Wealden Railway Group exhibition - Steyning

On Sunday I visited the Wealden Railway Group exhibition in Steyning. This group's show was the last show I attended before Covid, which was the first show I exhibited Loctern Quay at, so it was nice to see the show return. This time both the halls of the Steyning Centre were used making space for more layouts, but also more space around them, at least in some places (often the show has felt quite crowded). 

The larger hall seemed poorly lit so some layouts without their own lighting were difficult to see and photograph, but here are a few shots I did get. Also, no show guide so details are from what I know or can remember.

Rhiw by Chris Ford, his usual "less is more" style applied to "modern" standard gauge, and a second version of the same theme. 

Largarand Limeworks in On30, compact but interesting with double-sided viewing. 

Simon Hargreaves showed is lovely little inglenook, which has developed scenically since I last saw it last year. 

A top view of Simon's tiny layout which fits in a box on the back of his motorbike!

Ian Roberts showed his 1:32 scale 16.5mm gauge model of the Dalmunzie railway, this was a new layout although I'd seen a previous layout of his based on the same theme, albeit more loosely. 

This nicely modelled and presented little micro is, according to Chris, a Czech layout in TT by Alan Monk.

There was a diorama competition, both these two entries were by Giles Barnabe. I like them both, but the street scene is probably my favourite. 

Monday, 6 March 2023

Undergrowth, bushes and hedges

Last time I described making bushes, but undergrowth and weeds do not always form bushes. I've found an easy way to represent low weed growth. This started when applying the static grass, by building layers of longer (4mm and 6mm) grass. 

Then the grass is wiped with a brush loaded with just a little of the matt modge podge, so a little collects on the tips. The matt medium dries clear and (obviously) matt so any that would be left visible dries invisible. 

Scatter material of the ground foam variety is sprinkled onto and dabbed into the grass, where it sticks to the tips. I find a slightly darker shade than the surrounding grass works well, and sometimes use two or more shades. 

Here's a general shot of the right-hand end of the layout showing a variety of undergrowth and bushes on the river banks and the railway cutting sides. Of course, there is little undergrowth beyond the fence where sheep roam! The cocktail sticks are marking the eventual position of trees. 

There's a good growth of bushes along the riverbank too, though not obscuring the view of whatever may be in the siding or the station. I've tried to get a variety of sizes, textures and shades, but using a limited palette so none stand out. 

Behind the station there is a pleasing mix of untidy hedgerow and the post-and-wire fence, with bushes and undergrowth in front and around the back of the playground. There should be space for the odd tree too. Hopefully this makes a reasonably convincing transition from model to backscene. Now I just need to vacuum up, and crack on with some trees. 

Saturday, 4 March 2023

The Nursery

After the grass and fencing the next task was to add some shrubbery - bushes and undergrowth - which abound in the sheltered parts of Dartmoor where the sheep can't reach. 

My favourite base is some old fibrous carpet underlay which I tried to dye green intending to use it for making long grass many years ago, before the days of static grass. It turned out to be the wrong sort of underlay, but by happy accident it forms a nice bushy shape when teased out, like rubberised horsehair but much finer. 

The teased-out chunks are then sprayed liberally with hairspray and coated in scatter, ensuring all sides are well covered. Sometimes the bush is dunked in a pot of scatter. I use a selection of shades and coarseness, but try to limit the range of colours. 

The bush is then stuck down with a wipe of matt medium. The hedge on the right was an Auhagen product, with a little extra teasing out and scatter added, with a few strategically planted cocktail sticks to keep it upright. 

I also use rubberised horsehair (left), which is more coarse than the underlay (right) but makes quite good brambles, and the traditional lichen (centre). 

Either way the procedure is the same - hairspray and scatter. 

Quite a few bushes would be needed...

Thursday, 9 February 2023


I wanted a post and rail fence separating the railway land from surrounding farmland, but was wary that model fences can be vulnerable. I decided to make my own. 

I made fence posts from wire. Most are straightened paperclips, each provides 4 inch-long posts which are stiff but bendable (i.e. wont break if knocked), and at about 1mm diameter (scale 3") seem the right thickness. I reckoned about 14-16mm is needed above ground (3'6" to 4'), the rest will keep it vertical. However, such fences have braced posts at ends and intervals, those I made from 1mm brass wire so a second bracing piece could be soldered to it at an angle. After soldering the angled leg was bent parallel to the post at ground level so it could go into the ground. Finally, the posts were left in blackening solution for a little while, I then taped them to the edge of a piece of card and painted them a grey-brown colour. 

The fence was made up on a "jig" on a piece of packaging card (hence the pictures of saucepans). A strip of card makes an end-stop for the tops of the posts, and the bottoms are held on a strip of double-sided tape. The posts were placed at scale 6' intervals (24mm) using a piece of card as a spacer, this doesn't need to be accurate but the posts were set "vertically" as best as possible.

For the wire I got some "EZ-line", an elastic that stays taut and of course stretches if caught, it comes in various colours so I chose a rust colour.
The spacing is helped by notched paper "combs", folded and all cut together, crude but seemed to keep the elastic in place. The notches are a about 3.5mm apart as I chose 4 wires - 5 might be better but the effect of 4 is sufficient. The elastic line is pressed into double sided tape at the end and placed over the posts and through the paper notches, taut but only very slightly stretched, and fixed to tape at the other end. I then secured each line to each post with a drop of superglue from the end of a piece of wire. The superglue seems to hold it quite securely. 

The fence is simply planted into holes in the scenery, which if you recall consists of expanded polystyrene covered in a kitchen roll/PVA "shell" and a layer of tile grout. It is easy to push a dental probe in to puncture the shell, then force the post into the hole by hand (or pliers if stiff), the polystyrene holds the post upright while the hole in the shell stops it moving. Holes were spaced with the same piece of card, ensuring the elastic "wires" are taut (although too much or unequal tension might force the post to lean). Of course while the posts are placed vertically to about the same depth (around 16mm above ground), the wires follow the landscape staying parallel to each other.

As the fence progressed the unfixed end could get itself in a tangle. These clips held the end posts apart until I was ready to plant them. The card has a dab of PVA glue which was wiped onto the ends of the posts before planting, just in case they should come loose, although friction should be enough to hold them. 

The effect is rather pleasing, following the contours nicely, while being very robust - the posts are more likely to cause injury than break but could be straightened if they do bend, while the elastic wire stretches but seems strong and firmly fixed. I placed the posts with the wire on the far side, but the superglue doesn't seem obvious anyway. The braced posts add a nice detail. It's pretty cheap too, the only significant cost is the EZ-line but I think it worth it. 

The last photo shows I have added a little more static grass, mostly longer grasses, along the line of the fence (before fixing) and on the railway side where sheep can't (usually) get to it. Longer patches have been put down elsewhere too. This was done applying slightly diluted matt medium over the top of the existing grass, patchily to form uneven areas, the matt medium being invisible when dry. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2023

Adding some fuzz

A little while ago I treated the scenic areas of Hexworthy to a coat of green scatter. While this makes a big difference to the look of the layout, the use of static grass adds an extra level of realism when viewed close-up. The scatter provides a good base preventing the bare ground showing through the static grass, and the use of ground foam scatters provides an unevenness, onto which the static grass provides the texture. 

So, here's a selection of the fibres I used. It seems I've collected a lot of bags of scatter, mostly at exhibitions when I see it and think I might need some, but I've ended up with some duplicate packets, lots of long dead grass, and I could do with more shades and lengths of green! Still, this proved to be a reasonable selection. I mix fibres in a pot to suit the location; here I used shorter lengths (1, 2, and 4mm) of mid-light greens for the pasture where sheep graze, a more lush look by the river (some darker greens plus some longer yellow grass), and longer/more mixed paler grass (2, 4, and 6mm mid-pale greens and some yellows and browns) for embankments. 

I use Peco basing glue for static grass, I find this doesn't form a skin like PVA meaning it allows larger areas to be covered, and the fibres stick better, it even allows a second pass. It's also the right consistency to apply neat. I think the scatter base helps stop the glue running too. Cheap kids brushes are needed for this, they won't be good for much else afterwards. 

I use a Peco applicator, this works much better than the cheap tea-strainer meets fly-swat type I bought cheap years ago and is much safer, but I guess that isn't surprising! Here I've clipped the ground to a convenient rail, but if there isn't one nearby, a pin pushed into the ground is used. The applicator is shaken and moved at different angles to ensure even coverage, I find rotating it helps too.

I then vacuum off the excess almost immediately. A piece of jay cloth catches the fibres so they can be returned to the pot. Vacuuming while the glue is wet doesn't seem to dislodge fibres that are stuck, if anything it can help them stand up. The applicator can then be refilled, or filled with a different mix, and another application made while the glue is still wet - sometimes adding longer grass for example. 

Grass doesn't have to cover large areas. A small brush not only helps get into corners and close up to walls, but also to apply small areas of glue around objects, along the edges of pathways and in drainage gullies. 

Here's a close-up of the are seen being grassed above, once the glue has dried. This embankment has shorter grass in mid-green with longer yellow grass and a few browns too. The small brush allowed glue to be pushed between the rocks so the grass grows from between them. 

In a wider view some subtle changes in texture can be seen, the shorter and brighter green grass of the pasture at the rear, the longer yellower grass of the embankments (the join will be marked with a fence in due course), and slightly darker green close to the waters edge. The mixtures of fibres and variations of the mix avoid the lawn look, although it will still need breaking up with various types of bushes and weeds. It does show I needn't have worried too much about the colours of the base scatter though, the result of the static fibres being pleasingly dense and even. 

And here are the grassy strips along the edges of the track ballast. These seem to have worked well. I've tried not to overdo these, especially in busy yard areas, I'm not aiming to show neglect. 

Monday, 16 January 2023

The play switch

The last stage of the animated playground construction is to wire it into the layout, with a switch so it is easily started and stopped. There was space on the control panel, so I edited the Word file I'd created it in to add a couple more switches. 

I actually create two copies of the panel, one has outlines of the switch positions to ensure the design allows for the space they need and when printed out marks where to drill the hole, the other is the printout that is used for the panel. The playground switch has been added bottom right marked "play", you can see I have also added a switch for lighting as I plan to add platform lamps at some point. The holes in the paper were opened out with a scalpel after placing over the drilled aluminium panel (see below...)

The existing panel was removed from the layout and all the switches were removed, the clear plastic front and existing print-out taken off. 6mm holes were drilled in the aluminium panel for the new switches. This is the rear, upside-down (i.e. flipped over towards the camera) so the "light" and "play" switches are top-right, the sharpie labels help me remember which switch goes where. Just above the switch hole (so below in the photo) is a 2mm hole about 1mm deep used to locate the "tab" on the switch washer, this stops the switches rotating in the hole. 

With the new printout placed on the aluminium and the clear plastic over the top, the track switches were reinserted, then the holes for the new switches opened out through the plastic with a scalpel before fitting the new switches in place. Since point motor switches are bare metal and the only colour caps I had in that didn't match colours already in use were yellow, the new switches have yellow caps!

The playground motors are fed via a voltage regulator, these little circuit boards output controlled DC from a range of AC or DC inputs, and are cheaply available on ebay (something like this although I've had these in a while). In this case the input uses 16V AC which is provided from my transformer packs to the layout though the 6-pin DIN connection I have standardised on, removing the need for additional specialist power supplies, and the screw potentiometer is adjusted to give about 3V. The output from the regulator goes to the two motors via the panel switch - simple. While at it I put a second regulator in for the future lighting, which can be set to a different voltage. The regulators attached with some tiny screws to an offcut of MDF glued to the foam-core baseboard. 

I attached a choc-block connector to the underside of the playground sub-base with hot glue and wired the motors to it - there are enough connectors to allow a resister to be added to either motor if ever needed. The playground can then be removed by unscrewing the terminals to the two orange wires. 

That's all the practical work done, I just need to finish the playground scenically now.