Monday, 14 November 2022

Experiments in modelling water

I have modelled Hexworthy on the bank of the river Dart, and so not only is there a little bit of river along the front to model, but I have added a stream across the scene too. Having modelled the river bed I need a method to model the water. 

As can be seen the waters of the Dart are clear so the bottom can be seen where shallow, but stained brown (I presume because of peat). 

I've not actually modelled this sort of water for many years (except the deeper river basin of Loctern Quay), and back then gloss varnish was the accepted medium. Now, there are a number of water products available from the trade, most either 2-part resin or the type that needs heating, both seem a bit of a faff though may be best for deeper water. I only need around 4mm of depth, and of course to get that deep brown tint. I decided that some experimentation was called for before attempting the water on the layout. 

A couple of thick sheets of expanded polystyrene foam from some packaged were shaped to give several stream-shaped grooves, with the ends capped with card. To replicate the scenic base used on the layout these were covered in the same brown tile grout, with a scattering of the stones/talus, and even a little acrylic paint in a similar way to the stream/river bed on the layout. I wanted to check if the "water" product reacted with any of the materials used. The result looked like some kind of strange chocolate pudding...

First up was gloss Modge Podge, an acrylic medium as used over a painted base for Loctern Quay. I started applying neat as I had then, and then tried diluting a little. 

Two of the trials used Modge Podge, here the one on the left used it neat or slightly diluted, the one on the right used it diluted and poured deeper, maybe 1.5mm or so. Diluted allows for a smoother less textured surface, but otherwise the result is similar - since more water evaporated from the dilute pour the actual depth achieved with each coat was probably similar.

I then tried colouring the Modge Podge with brown acrylic paint. This is very hard to get right since the Modge Podge is white, like PVA glue, and adding paint just discolours the mix but gives no hint as to what the final colour or opacity will be. As you can see, the colour is a bit too chocolaty and the result too opaque. Also, some bubbles have appeared in the mix. Not quite what I was looking for. 

The third trial resorted to the age-old technique of using polyurethane gloss varnish. Here's the result of three or four coats I think. The colour looks about right, the opacity looks good too - though possibly too dark in the deeper section. However, it has crept up the banks leaving a depression in the middle of the stream which looks odd as it reflects the light, and is a little too "runny" collecting at the bottom of the stream. As my stream flows down towards the river at the front this could be a problem. 

The fourth trial was the only one which used a special commercially available product for modelling water, Aqua Magic by Deluxe Materials. This doesn't need heating or mixing and is said to be suitable for shallow water, so seemed like the most suitable of the options. As per the instructions I first painted a thin layer to seal the stream bed, then poured a thicker layer, about 1.5 mm or so, enough to cover the stones. I also mixed paint into the product to tint it. The result certainly looks wet, but not only did I get the paint tint too strong but it seems to have changed shade - it wasn't that orange when I mixed it. It has also shrunk back a lot - the stones still protrude after two coats. Getting a moderate depth of say 4mm would take a lot of the product, and it really isn't cheap.

So of the four experiments with three products, which seemed best? Well the Aqua Magic would work well and looks the most "wet" but it seems tricky to get the colour tint right, and it would work out expensive as one bottle wouldn't be nearly enough. The varnish looks OK but I don't like the concave surface and creep up the banks, and it is a bit dark. The Modge Podge also looks challenging to get the colour tint the right strength, but the shade didn't change, it didn't creep up the sides, has a suitably uneven surface for a stream, the shrinkage wasn't as much as the Aqua Magic (unless diluted), and it's a lot cheaper. It can produce bubbles but I have found a solution to that. 

So one final experiment was carried out with Modge Podge again. Rather than mix the paint directly into the Modge Podge (which is white when wet) I mixed it separately with water then used that to dilute the Modge Podge. Here the tint is a bit weak but much better than the earlier experiments. I also tried a deeper pour, but as you can see from the opaque areas this hasn't worked.  Finally, a thin coat of Aqua Magic enhances the glossiness. With those lessons learned I think I have a way forward.

Sunday, 6 November 2022

A new fiddle yard for Hexworthy part 2 - making it work

Almost a month after I started the new fiddle yard for Hexworthy I got a free Saturday to get it working. Actually, it isn't entirely new.

The deck seen here is from the old fiddle yard, although it took some thinking to work out how I could use it with the same geometry with the pivot moved about 8" towards the front of the layout. The previous yard had tapered towards the wall, this one has to slew away from it to clear the pillar. The pivot had to move right to the edge of the board and as you can see, it's a tight fit to get the full movement. 

However, to allow the movement across all tracks and run into the same entry track to the layout without a sharp S-bend in the transition I found the front siding of the sector plate had to be repositioned. I managed to lift the track and its PCB end sleeper with a knife blade (having been glued with Bostick), and prise the brass pin out of its hole. A new hole was drilled about 10mm closer to the next track, the pin pushed in, and the track glued down with a slight curve ensuring the rails were in line with the pivot where they met the edge. 

Under the board I managed to refit the latching mechanism, after a bit of thinking. Here's how it works:
  • In the curved slot the white arc is the lip under the sector plate, with the three brass pins protruding (the right hand one having moved holes)
  • The wooden arm is pivoted at the bolt on the left, and on the right carries the aluminium latch, which has a gently curved edge with a notch at its centre. The aluminium is connected to the red wire so it carries power to the pin it touches. 
  • On the arm the white foamboard piece presses on the soap-dispenser spring attached to the block of wood, the foamboard allows some adjustment of tension in case ever needed
  • The plastic "T" shaped piece is a leftover from the fitting of our kitchen. I have no idea what it was intended to do, but it proved useful here as a stop to limit travel of the arm. A block of wood could do the same, although currently the spring tension is such that the arm stops just short. 

From above the sprung arm and its aluminium latch can just be seen, with the notch central to the track. Of course, I positioned the arm/latch first, then positioned the track to align to the sector plate tracks when latched. The transition track is on a piece of foamboard (both recovered and cut down from the previous fiddle yard), which allowed the track-bed height to be adjusted, in fact a 10-thou piece of plasticard was inserted at the sector plate end. 

Power connection to the layout is via an audio RCA cable. Previously I'd put sockets on both boards and used a "jumper" cable, but here I figured a tethered cable was less likely to get lost, so a few inches was cut from the end of an old cable. The grey block of wood is just there to ensure nothing rolls off the front track when pulled fully forward. Previously I'd fitted a lever to allow the latch to be disengaged to move the sector plate, experience found this wasn't really necessary so here I didn't bother, there's a little resistance to overcome but the plate can simply be pushed between positions. 

The good news is it all seems to work and fit. The new catches allow the fiddle yard to be attached and detached much more easily, and the self-latching sector plate works as well as before after its transplant. At some point it will get a coat of grey paint to match the layout. However, a bigger job is to rebuild the "exhibition" fiddle yard to use the catch connections, and to make it more reliable. 

Saturday, 5 November 2022

Mail by Rail

Right from the earliest days of the Liverpool and Manchester railway, the railways played an important role in carrying the mails. In Mail By Rail, Peter Johnson tells the story of two different ways the Post Office used railways to speed up the delivery of mail.

The first part of the book covers the travelling post office (TPO), the trains that didn't just carry mail but sorted it en-route and even collected and deposited sacks of mail while travelling at express speeds. This allowed mail deliveries to be speeded up so letters posted one afternoon could be delivered at the far end of the country the next morning. The TPO became famous through the 1936 promotional film and poem "The Night Mail", the Great Train Robbery of 1963, and the Hornby working TPO coach that added fun to many a train set. The book tells the story from the earliest mail sorting in a converted horse box, the development of the exchange equipment, to the network of TPOs that once covered the country, and to the end of TPOs as services transitioned to simply carrying sorted mail. It even lists the accidents involving TPOs. For the real enthusiast or historian, the TPO services are detailed and carriages listed, including for the many pre-grouping companies which ran TPO services. 

The second part of the book covers a less well known mail railway service, the private narrow gauge underground railway linking sorting centres and railway stations across North London. This was built to get around (or rather under) the London traffic - some things never change! This hidden automated railway known as "Mail Rail" operated for 80 years, carrying mail bags but not people, but now can now be visited and ridden, which is something I must get around to. 

The appendices include more detailed information about the Mail Rail system, including technical details and the rolling stock. I can't see it being an attractive model subject, but I found it fascinating. 

The book has an unusual subject - well, two unusual subjects that are linked - but it is an interesting area of history, since neither TPOs nor Mail Rail are in operation today. No doubt part of the appeal is that their operations were largely hidden from public view, occurring in the dead of night or deep underground, yet they provided a very ordinary public service. 

Monday, 31 October 2022

Trains and trams in Vienna

A couple of weeks back I was in Vienna on a rare work trip. It was nice to see loco-hauled passenger trains used from the airport, although it ran as a push-pull unit, rather like the old Gatwick Express I guess. 

The train passed a large railway yard. Not clear from this image I spotted this was a "hump" sorting yard, although the hump was partly obscured by trees as the train passed. I've read about hump sorting yards being introduced in Britain in the 1950s, but I don't think they lasted long as wagon load freight died out in the 1970s, and I've never seen one. 

The yard was vast, the gantries over the sidings are numbered to identify the tracks. It's like a full-size fiddle yard. 

These wagons brought new meaning to a "train of skips". 

I also spotted this traverser. It clearly moves perpendicular to the sidings, but is not recessed into the ground but running on rails at the same level of the track. It looks like it has ramps at either end to scoop stock off the rails onto its deck - rather like a Peco loco lift. 

I managed a couple of hours to explore the city, so I took a tram from the hotel to the centre. The one I rode like most was a modern, articulated type, as seen in many European cities. However, I did spot a few older style trams, clearly still in regular use. This looks like a 2-car unit with a trailer. 

I also spotted what looked like an even older tram sporting adverts for a tram museum. Sadly I didn't have the time to seek out the museum, and I don't know it the tram was in service or giving rides (there appear to be passengers on board), but great to see it running on the normal tram routes. 

The city is very nice, an impressive church and old buildings in the centre surrounded by very grand buildings housing museums, opera houses, and government buildings (including parliament). I'm glad I got a chance for a look round, maybe one day I'll have time for a longer visit.

Sunday, 16 October 2022

Uckfield 2022

This weekend I was showing Loctern Quay at Uckfield model railway exhibition. This has a reputation of being one of the best club shows in this area and this year was no different. In fact this year it was bigger than ever with a large upstairs room added to the main hall and two side rooms, all of which were packed with high quality layouts covering a range or subjects and scales, and a good selection of traders too. I was in the upstairs room which I'd thought might be a quiet corner, but the show was busy all weekend (well until the last hour or two of Sunday), so I trust it met the organiser's expectations. As exhibitors we were well looked after, with a good lunch served in strictly timed sittings due to lack of remaining space! An enjoyable show and Loctern Quay attracted interest and nice comments. 

I can't cover all the layouts so here are a selection of my favourites, starting with the narrow gauge interest. 

Abergynolwyn by Tim Tincknell (5.5mm/ft scale 12mm gauge) - showing how it looked shortly after the line was built, with the original engine shed and cab-less locos (and a lot less trees!)

Cox Lumber Company by Alan Bevan & Maggie Clark (On30) - for the geared loco enthusiasts. An unusual subject nicely modelled. 

Sewel by Bexhill MRC (O-16.5), a model of a brewery. 

Blackmoor by Ian Lampkin (009) - based on the Lynton and Barnstaple prototype. 

There was also a demonstration stand by Gordon and Maggie Gravett, which gave a sneak preview of their next French metre-gauge layout. 

So a good range of NG layouts for a general show (including my Loctern quay of course). Now for some of the standard gauge layouts. 

Old Parrock by Paul Rhodes (OO). This small but beautifully finished layout represents a light railway deep in Sussex. 

Wantage by Robin Gay (P4) is a model of the tramway terminus which inspired the track plan I used (adapted and narrow-gauged) for Awngate. It's nice to see a scale model of the prototype with it's tight clearances, unusual track layout and construction, and quirky trains. Some of the buildings and details are not yet finished, so I hope I see this layout again. 

Lananta Quay by Nick Salzman (mm/ft scale 21mm & 14.2mm gauges) represented the GWR in the 1880s with both broad and "narrow" (standard) gauges, with a nice quayside and sailing barge as well as fine models of early railway vehicles, including "singles". 

Copper Wort by Peter Goss (OO) depicts a brewery and its railway set in Burton-on-Trent. Unusually built in an hexagon shape forming different scenes, and set in the early 1900s, it makes extensive use of industrial Peckett locos. This took the awards for both exhibitors and public vote favourites. 

Underpass by Robert Strachan (HO) is an Inglenook shunting puzzle set in LA, USA, in the unusual setting under an underpass.

Blakey Rigg by Paul Greene (S 1:64 scale) represents a bleak location in the North York Moors, and has captured the remote openness very well.

Friday, 14 October 2022

Magnet markers

This week I've been preparing Loctern Quay for its outing at Uckfield model railway exhibition this weekend. Being a small layout this isn't especially onerous task, and thanks to the use of graphite I don't need to clean track or wheels, though the graphite is topped up in a few places. However the layout does get a vacuum and dusting with brushes, and a thorough test. All locos are tested including couplings against one wagon, and all wagon couplings are tested against one loco. A few couplings were adjusted, and one wagon which was reluctant to uncouple got a small block of foam positioned to rub against a flange. 

A couple of detail junk items have also put in an appearance. My assistant operators sometimes struggle to locate the magnets, now those on the front sidings are in plain sight but they do disappear when a train is over them, particularly the front siding, and the rear siding magnet is invisible under the track, so they do have a point. I figured a discrete marker by each magnet might help.

The chain I've had in the bits box for decades, I think it must be iron since it is attracted to magnets but it is plated in some shiny bronze-like material that resists paint. I tried applying gun-blue which had little effect but perhaps dulled it a little, so I dropped a length of it into gun-blue solution and left it for a couple of hours. As you can see, that actually worked. 

A length was then cut, roughly shaped, and dabbed with a little matt Modge Podge to see if that got it to hold its shape. That seemed to work, which allowed me to wash over some dark brown, then dry brush a little rust colour, followed by a dusting of weathering powder. The suitably grubby chain was then stuck in place alongside the front siding magnet with a little more matt Modge Podge. It's the first time I've used matt Modge Podge but I've heard it is a good scenic glue, drying without trace, and it seemed to work here.

The rear siding magnet got a couple of old sleepers. These are cut from Peco "crazy-track" with the webbing removed, the sides and ends roughened with a razor saw blade dragged across and rough emery paper, and the hole under the rail fixing filled with filler. They were painted dark "track" brown with the fixings picked out in rust, dry-brushed with pale grey, and then dusted with weathering powder. Matt Modge Podge was used to stick them down too, with a heavy weight to sink them into the grass. 

We'll find out this weekend if the markers help locate the magnets reliably, but hopefully they also add a little visual interest without looking out of place and being discrete as to their true purpose. If you make it to Uckfield - and I hear it will be a great show - do say hello, I'll be upstairs. 

Sunday, 9 October 2022

A new fiddle yard for Hexworthy

Hexworthy was designed to use the same exhibition-friendly fiddle yard I'd made for Awngate, but that is large and not pretty, so for home use a compact fold-away fiddle yard was built with a simple 3-road sector plate. It's seen here before the boards were painted grey. The frame attached to the layout with split hinges front and rear for a rigid joint, and the board rotated around the vertically-mounted flat hinges to stow inverted over the layout. 

It worked very well being tucked neatly out of the way when not in use. However, after redecoration and reorganisation of the room the layout is tucked into a 6' space between a wall and a pillar. This means neither the fold-away nor the exhibition fiddle yard fit in the 18-in or so gap. 

My solution is a new home fiddle yard fitted around the pillar, which gives me the extra length needed to hold a train. 

A sheet of 5mm ply and off-cuts of softwood were assembled into this odd-shaped baseboard. It was a tricky board to make as there's no real datum, most of the side protruding above the board while none of the battens are full depth. The end is 3" by 1", the inner battens 2" by 1", and the thinner diagonal batten will I hope help resist any twist. The curved slot is for the sector plate. 

The split hinge alignment and joining method previously used worked well but getting the pin in and out was tricky and involved a pair of pliers, plus it would have required more height to the corners of the board. The club layout has adopted over-centre catches with alignment pins which are really easy to use, so I thought I'd give them a go. I bought packs of each from Station Road Baseboards. 

I got what are described as "bullet dowels" which have reasonably tight tolerance while being easy to fit, just needing a hole through the ends. The problem was I realised the ends of Hexworthy are just 3mm ply over 5mm foam-core board, which wouldn't be substantial enough to hold them, so I stuck blocks of softwood behind the foam where the holes would be. The boards were then clamped together, and pilot holes followed by the 7.5mm holes to take the dowels, the locations of the holes being dictated in part by where I could fit the blocks. The dowels then hammer into place, although where the dowels passed through the foam into the blocks I used a sash-clamp as a kind of vice to squeeze it into place, ensuring it didn't tear the foam apart instead. 

Fitting the catches was also limited by the existing boards, fortunately there are softwood blocks in the corners of the Hexworthy board but existing screws had to be avoided, and the end fascia panel had to be trimmed to fit around the catch. It would be much easier when building new baseboards to think about the locations of these catches first! Nevertheless, catches were fitted both sides. 

You may notice that the dowels and catches are handed, I'll have to adapt the exhibition fiddle yard to use the same attachments and this means only one more dowel set and catch set is needed. 

The new arrangement is much easier to connect and release, especially when reaching behind the layout on the shelf unit. The connection is not as rigid as the split hinge, which allowed one end of the layout to be lifted without any bend at the join, but having got the catches as tight as I could it seems good enough and the dowels make for just as good alignment. 

Now I need to fit the sector plate and tracks, although it might be a couple of weeks. Next weekend Loctern Quay will be at Uckfield, which looks to be an excellent show as always. Do say hello if you're there.