Thursday 31 December 2009


I hope you all had a good Christmas! Mine involved a long drive to my parents, seeing friends and family, enjoying time with the kids, a tummy bug, and now a stinking cold. Pretty typical really! Nonetheless, at least I have some time off work. So what did Santa bring? Well, nothing big this year, but I did get some interesting reading:

I've rather enjoyed Paul A Lunn's series of articles in Railway Modeller proposing micro-layouts, obviously enjoying micro-layouts myself I was pleased to get his book on the subject. It contains a selection of ideas similar to the articles in RM, with some attractively illustrated plans. To my mind many of the plans verge on the gimicky, with extremely short trains (30cm in OO gauge?!) and much use of traversers, sector plates and loco lifts in the operation of them - personally I prefer layouts with slightly more prototypical operation. Also I thought the text could have been more in-depth in places, explaining construction and operation better. However there are some great ideas, and the first section of the book gives good tips on designing small layouts.

The biggest omission to me though was Narrow Gauge - using NG is extremely popular in building micro-layouts, so it seems odd that it is not even mentioned. I guess the book is aimed at the mainstream, RTR-using modeller (all plans use OO scale), but scales such as 009 and O-16.5 are established and popular and given the subject of the book I think they should at least have been suggested.

This is another book of plans by Iain Rice, and those that have read his other books on the subject will find no surprises here, just lots of great ideas for layouts in a variety of spaces, all with good scenic and operational potential, and well-illustrated and explained. Some may not like his style, and not all his ideas will suit, but his approach to layout design has inspired me over the years. And yes, there is even a narrow-gauge plan!

A friend of mine is a big fan of the Sittingbourne 2'6" gauge railway and is planning a layout based on the Bowaters Paper Mill. I know very little about this system so when I saw this book by David Hammersley at EXPO-NG I had to get a copy (although the elves came and took it away so Santa could deliver it!). As the name suggests it is packed full of photo's, showing the atmosphere and detail of this industrial narrow-gauge empire, with a number of colour photos too. The captions are informative as is the brief introduction to the line, overall a great book for the narrow-gauge and/or industrial railway enthusiast, and for any modeller!

Wishing you all a Happy New Year, and hoping for some more productive modelling!
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Saturday 12 December 2009

Work in progress (but not mine!)

OK, so I still haven't had much time for actually doing any modelling! Various other distractions, including small children and their usual tendency to pick up any bug going, and the usual pre-Christmas nonsense (why do we spend weeks preparing for one day?), have got in the way. However I do have a few projects lined up for the new year.

Meanwhile I thought I'd show some photos of some friends' work-in-progress, which have inspired me. Mark Holland is building a model of Welshpool, he showed this at the Haywards Heath club show back in March, at that point he had only just got the station and yards to a reasonably complete state. However at a recent club-night he brought along the next board which contains the line winding through the streets and back-yards of the town. Now Mark calls the layout "Spirit of Welshpool" as he does not claim it to be an accurate representation - indeed a lot of selective compression has taken place and a few landmarks have moved! - but nonetheless comparing the under-construction town scene with old photos in books it is instantly recognisable. Bear in mind that this is only Mark's second model railway layout, to embark upon such a model is quite a feat!

This is where the line crosses the canal, and then Church Street, and dives between the shops. These have lighting and will be fitted out. The canal wharf has been "moved" to add interest to the scene.

Behind the houses and shops, the line ran over a stream - and along it! - on a strange bridge-over-culvert arrangement. When complete there will be railings, washing hanging out ...

In the background is the garage, where cars always seemed to be parked inches from the loading gauge of the passing trains! The church would be to the right. Mark has based the buildings on old and modern photos of the area, although they are not accurate representations and many are missing, it really captures the atmosphere already. There's a lot of work left to do though!

Finally, here is another work-in-progress, my friend Rob is building this model of a Darjeeling railcar using a Worsley Works kit on a Kato chassis. It has now been primed, and I can't wait to see his painting skills again. This model interests me as I have something similar waiting on my workbench ...

Incidentally, these photos were all taken with my latest mobile phone. Normal room lighting and no tripod. It's amazing what they will do these days, I don't think I could have got better photos with my "proper" camera!
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Tuesday 17 November 2009

Ballasting - Quarry style!

Pen-Y-Bryn now has a new owner, but before passing it on I said I'd touch up the ballast from the mouse-attack damage. On this layout, and some other layouts I have built, I have used an unusual mthod of ballasting to give a half-buried look and a fine ballast, suitable for narrow gauge lines, quarries and sidings. Now I don't claim it to be original, but I don't recall seeing it used elsewhere.

The ballast mix contains plaster/pollyfilla, sand, and poweder paint mixed dry. I can't say the preportions as I mix it dry, but it needs to be about 50% plaster to stick properly. The sand came from the nearest beach and is quite coarse, and powder paint colours vary according to the effect required - normally a lot of black, with red, blue, and green mixed in. Here I wanted a greish colour that fitted with the stonework, cliffs, etc.

The dry mix is then applied to the layout with a tea-spoon, often through an old tea-strainer to ensure no lumps of paint or plaster get through, and brushed into place around and between the sleepers with a cheap stiff paintbrush. It is built up around the track and may cover the sleepers a little, but that is the effect required in a quarry. Once in place I use a plant sprayer to spray the whole lot liberally with water that has had a squirt of washing up liquid added, that is to reduce the surface tension rather than make bubbles, if the water forms droplets add more washing up liquid or adjust the spray pattern. It helps to start spraying away from the layout to build up pressure, otherwise the first spray splatters.

Once it is all well wetted more ballast mix can be sprinkled on to build up certain spots, and the process can be repeated as often as necessary. As always be careful around points, especially the tie-bars, and of course the track will need a good clean up afterwards. The rails should be painted before ballasting, but the sleepers get coloured with the ballast so I didn't bother painting them.

The photo below shows the tools required - the teaspoon has some ballast mix in but the jar containing the rest is not in shot. In this case I had mixed more than required when I built the layout, and kept the leftover in a jar, which meant touching up the damaged ballast was just a case of sprinkling it on and spraying.

The next two shots are supposed to show the dry ballast brushed into place, and the same after spraying with water. Not sure that it comes out, but I'm sure you get the idea!
The same technique has many uses. I use the same mix with different preportions of sand and colours to make roadways, gravel or ash yard areas, and even in a smoother brown mix, use it to cover all the open areas of the layout as a "soil" base for grass etc. In that case it can be mixed with water before applying, in effect a textured and coloured plaster mix.
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Monday 9 November 2009

Some Track Plans for Phil

Over on his Blog Phil Parker is planning a new micro layout in a space 73 x 20 cm, or about 2' 5" by 8". Now that's not a lot of space in OO, however I like a challenge and I just can't help doodling track plans, so for Phil here are some ideas!

Like Phil I prefer sketching out plans, as somehow track plans are very "organic", so I have simply inked over my sketches and scanned them in. I use squared paper and in this case 3cm to 1 foot, or 2" to each square. I've allowed for point lengths and clearances but these plans are just approximate, for any micro layout a full-size plan would be a great idea, using the Peco point templates (send them an SAE!) and actual stock to check clearances. You can even use boxes and card cut-outs to check buildings fit and appearance.

Phil mentioned an Inglenook, which is a minimal shunting plan with 3 sidings, and often used as a puzzle. However to fit this plan I've used the reduced size with sidings for 2-2-and-3 wagons, and a headshunt for a loco+2 wagons. Even then I've suggested wye points to save space! I've sketched an industrial scene, the gate to the front left might lead across a road to the main railway yards. This system might be operated by small industrial locos, and for interest there is a small engine shed, although operationally it does not really feature.

The next plan features a full-size inglenook, for 3, 3, and 5 wagons. However to achieve this an external fiddle yard is required, but that would rather defeat the point of building the layout in the box Phil has! So my idea is to hinge the yard such that it folds over the layout, when open a bridge could easily hide the hinge pillars. Using cassettes would allow the fiddle yard framing to be on top of the deck, saving height when folded into the box.

I've added a kick-back siding again but this time run it under the bridge to suggest the end of a run-round loop, adding a little operational interest. Indeed a small platform could be squeezed in, OK a station is unlikely but perhaps an internal system running works passenger trains would be plausible, maybe a naval base?

Another good basis for a micro layout is a locomotive depot, after all you're never going to run much in the way of a train in 73cm but if you like locos (and who doesn't?) this gives a great excuse to show off your collection without bothering with stock! This plan is a rather small depot, and like my Southon Yard 009 loco depot only the front of the shed is depicted (we want to park the locos on show!). I've used a coaling stage to hide the exit track, but if that seems a bit grand a works building of some kind would do - a wagon repair shop if you like wagons.

However despite using a 3-way point, to allow reasonable space for locos on display there isn't really space for a fiddle yard, even though all that is required is a cassette for a loco. In fact the Peco Loco Lift would work a treat, even if just the end rests on the lead track. To support the other end of the cassette or loco lift perhaps the end of the baseboard could incorporate a telescopic or hinged arm!

The final plan takes on another aspect altogether. Phil wants somewhere to pose locos and stock for photographs, which brought to mind those ex-works photographs seen in books where the new loco is posed on the works traverser ... hmm, how about a model works traverser! This plan is completely pointless (!) and features the traverser at the centre. Making it work could be a challenge! To the left are sidings to pose locos and stock outside the repair shops, for added interest the back siding could be the goods inwards loading dock. For a fiddle yard the same cassette system as the last plan is used, hidden by the erecting shop and a raised walkway.
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Saturday 7 November 2009

Southwold at the Lancing Show

The local group of the N-Gauge Society hold an annual show not so far from me, and as they invite layouts in other scales too it is worth a visit. I have to say N gauge doesn't grab me, but then it is ideal for main-line trains and they are not my main interest. Having said that, London Underground is not an interest of mine either but the OO layout "Abbey Road" was superb, nicely detailed with a frequent service of colourful trains, great for my 2-year old too!

My friend Simon Wilson from the Sussex Downs 009 group was exhibiting his layout Southwold, based on the 3' gauge line that once ran to Southwold. Simon uses 009, which feels in keeping with the small stock the line used even though by rights it should be 12mm gauge, and runs various loco's and stock as well as models of the line's original stock. The relatively large area of the layout has been used to give feel of the train in the landscape, and getting down to eye level to look across the fields to the next station (there are 3 on the layout!) there are some great views.

Simon was awarded the Best In Show trophy - well deserved I say, even if the gremlins had been attacking the running (board joints need attention!).

Although I have seen the layout before I took the opportunity while there was good light, few people about (well, less than EXPO!) and my toddler was distracted (!) to get some photos. You can see more photos from the show and of Southwold here.

Saturday 31 October 2009

EXPO NG 2009

EXPO-NG is probably the biggest narrow gauge show of the year, so like many NG modellers I had been looking forward to it for some time. As usual there was a great selection of top quality layouts, but also excellent trade support. It could be just me but it seemed a little quieter than last year, but the crowds were deep enough in places!

For once I didn't have a toddler in tow, so I was able to take my time, get some reasonable pictures, and talk to the exhibitors. It was also good to catch up with people and put some faces to names. I did get to browse the trade stalls too, as well as picking up various odds and ends I have a new project for the workbench, of which more later! However here is a taster of some of the layouts, you can see more photos here.

Dunbracken by Tom Dauben is a small Scottish harbour scene built on an ironing board in 009. This was my fist chance to see this layout having followed it's construction on various forums, and I have to say it looks superb. It just shows what can be done in a small space to a high standard, and I gather he now has some more show invites.

The Oro Grande Railroad in the unusual scale of 1/64th, 14.2mm gauge, is a US outline quarry superbly modelled with (and indeed around) a working excavator by William Loyd.

The Blackwood Valley Railway by P J Saunders was another layout I'd seen on the internet so was good to see in the flesh, a characterful O-16.5 depiction of a Shropshire lead mine line.

Regular readers might find this familiar, as I saw Cwmorgoth Copper Mining Co at the Worthing MRS exhibition recently. However it has gained a lighting rig, and so that and the lack of a toddler to hold meant I could get some decent photos (without flash) that better capture the feel of this O-16.5 layout by Jean-Luc Pineau.
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Tuesday 20 October 2009

Steam without Fire?

No, this isn't my work! Last Friday I made it to a Sussex Downs 009 Group club night, where my friend Rob Kaczmarczyk was showing off (and test-running) his latest work. It's a model of a fireless loco, if you are not familiar with them (they were pretty rare) they had a large tank of high-pressure steam which was charged from a fixed supply (e.g. a factory boiler), allowing it to run for several hours. The lack of fire meant no smoke or sparks, useful for working into buildings and not setting fire to things!

This model is of a loco that worked the Bowaters Paper Railway, now known as the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway and has a preservation society. Rob is keen to build a model based on this system when it was still industrial, and capture the run-down atmosphere. Like me he is limited by family and work commitments right now, but we were chatting about possible micro-layouts in the meantime!

As you can see from this model Rob has a gift for painting and weathering, which I can only admire! The model was not fully assembled after painting (so if the cab and hand-rails look wonky that's why), and these photo's were taken on my phone so are pretty poor (the green is not quite that lurid in reality!), but even so Rob's skill at capturing that dirty, workaday, wiped-with-an-oily-rag look can be seen. I should also point out that Rob has done a lot of work to the original kit to achieve the detailed model seen here.

Next time I need a model loco painting I think I'll be talking nicely to Rob!

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Sunday 18 October 2009

Uckfield Model Railway Show

On Saturday I took a run over to Uckfield, and the show was well worth the trip. The quality and variety of the layouts was excellent, the only downside was that on Saturday afternoon it was pretty busy, and some of the layouts were difficult to see, particularly with a toddler in tow. However there were steps in front of many of the layouts - strong wooden boxes (probably used to transport the barriers) with a handrail attached, a great idea for kids. I've also noticed that my little boy has different favourites to me, perhaps unsurprising! There I am admiring a small narrow-gauge or industrial layout, and he's tugging at my leg saying "I want to see big trains Daddy!"

Anyway, here's a sample of some of the layouts I managed to get (decent) pictures of, you can see more
here. The trade support was also very good with some specialists there, I picked up some details for Awngate from Dart Castings.

Here is the Hellingly Hospital Railway by Phil Parker, you may be aware of his Blog, it was nice to put a face to him! Actually the concept of a Hospital Railway has caught my imagination recently, Railway Modeller this month features another layout based on this concept. I have some OO stock for a light railway layout that didn't get finished, it could fit a micro-layout based around a hospital ... ?

Portchullin in P4 by Mark Tatlow was a superb Scottish layout set in the 1970's, both of us were happy to watch the trains go by for a while on this one. It did seem to be suffering an attack of the gremlins though, after the second derailment I was cheeky enough to suggest they may have been better off in OO!

I admired Cornwallis Yard when I saw it in Railway Modeller a while back, so it was nice to see it in the flesh.

Purbeck, by John Thorne, I have seen before but it is a super layout and it was good to see it again, especially having recently visited the area that was the inspiration for this layout. As always there was quite a crowd around it!

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Friday 9 October 2009

Quayside Inspiration

Down on the seafront at Swanage there are more rails, set in the cobbles. After poking round the museum next door, and a bit of internet research, the history is quite interesting.

Back in the 18th and 19th century Purbeck stone was quarried around Swanage and used for buildings in London and elsewhere. It was carted down to Swanage and stacked on the front, before being shipped out. But Swanage does not have a harbour, so the stone was taken out to small boats at low tide using high-wheeled carts and horses bred with long legs (no, really!), then transferred to larger boats. Clearly this was rather inefficient - we are talking large blocks of stone!

So a tramway was built from the town square around the bay to a pier in deeper water, it is about 2'6" gauge but may have been of wider gauge when built. Unfortunately the connection was never made to the quarries themselves, and the locals carried on with their long-legged horses rather than pay the fee for the tramway and pier! A few years later the standard gauge railway arrived, and the stone went out by rail, so the stacking yards on the seafront were replaced with houses and shops. The tramway was used to transport fish in later years, but so far as I can see only ever used horse power.

The line starts with two sidings (one visible to the left, the other along the building) just off the Square. I think this building was a fish store, and at the far end a siding clearly ran into it (that end is now an amusement arcade, the nearer bare brick end is the museum). The route of the tramway can just be made out on google maps here - running East around the shoreline to the harbour and pier, not the current pleasure pier but the aerial photos show the supports of the original stone loading pier. There are more photos of the tramway route here - helpfully the rain means less people in the way! More information can be found here and here.

Now that wouldn't make a very interesting model! But what if it had been connected to a quarry? And what if it had been connected to the standard gauge station when the railway came to town? After all, it would have only needed to run a little further along the front, cross a stream, then run up Station Road .... Stone was quarried from the cliffs around the coast and brought in small boats to Swanage, so the line could then have been used to bring it from the pier to the railway, as well as fish, coal (to the steam ships), rubble for sea defences, perhaps even passengers from the station to the pleasure pier and steamers.

So with a little "modellers licence" there is potential for an interesting layout. It might be rather long and thin, I imagine it could be built in a number of scenes. The pier(s) (including steamer pier, and some boats if you like), quayside with fishing boats, then the town front with the sea in the foreground and the fish shed as a backdrop, finally the line turning up the street towards the station. Even so it would be a short line, so small loco's and in later years internal combustion loco's would provide the motive power (in reality horses would do, but they are more tricky to model!).
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Wednesday 7 October 2009

Norden Narrow Gauge

While in the area I had to find time to explore the narrow gauge tracks at Norden, currently the inland terminus (and Park and Ride) for the Swanage Railway. A fellow blogger Steven posted some pictures from here on his blog back in July. This was where a number of narrow gauge tramways from local clay pits met the "main line". Actually the original lines pre-dated the standard gauge, and were built to 3' 9" gauge, although later a reduced size system was relaid to 2' gauge to utilise commonly available equipment.

The history of the systems is quite complex, but a number of boards around the site explained what was where, so it was well worth an explore, although there isn't actually a lot to see. Even some of the trackbed is hard to spot, but there is some track on a concrete base where an engine shed used to stand, and some bridge abutments where the line crossed a track - later used to tip clay into road lorries. The main visible feature though is the bridge where the original line was crossed by the standard gauge.

It is an interesting structure, an early use of concrete, it was originally an incline into a clay pit hence built with a distinct slope. Later it was rebuilt on the level as the line was used to connect to another pit and for tipping waste. The preservation group plan to lay some track around the site for rides and demonstration trains, and even re-open this bridge.

Meanwhile the preservation group are building this transfer shed and a demonstration "mine" (more like a cave!), where wagons will be hauled from the mine into the structure and tipped into more wagons below.

For now they have a museum in this restored foreman's hut (sadly it is only open Sundays, and I was there on a Wednesday!) and some wagons from this and other similar locations.

This wagon was one of the original 3'9" gauge lines, and although sheeted some interesting features were visible. The braking was achieved by pushing a sled or bar onto the rail between the wheels (see Steven's picture); and while one end of the wagon has dumb (solid wood) buffers, this end has an unusual transverse leaf spring behind a floating buffer beam!

These clay lines have already inspired models. Earlier this year I saw a model of Eldons Sidings (as the transfer sidings at Norden used to be known) by Peter Hollins in 7mm scale, he has modelled the narrow gauge at 3'9" and has some faithful models of the stock. I recall this was in Railway Modeller a while back.

John Thorne has built a freelance model (with some prototype features) based on the Purbeck clay mining industry in 009, last year I took some pictures at Narrow Gauge South:
Steve also published some pictures of John's model, which has also featured in Railway Modeller. I also recall a 7mm scale (O14?) model in RM a couple of years ago, which I think may have been for display in the museum in the foremans hut.

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Monday 5 October 2009

The Swanage Railway

Recently returned from a family holiday in Dorset, staying in a cottage in Corfe Castle. This is a beautiful part of the world, and as you will see from the pictures, we had great weather too (and this year that has been in short supply!). However railway enthusiasts will also have figured out that the Swanage Railway passes through Corfe Castle on it's way to Swanage, so a few minutes walk from the cottage were real steam trains!*

What a great opportunity to continue the kids education :-) This is a lovely line and well worth a visit, it has a real atmosphere and is very well kept.

We even enjoyed a ride in the lovely Pullman observation car, although it was like a greenhouse in the sun!

*Note - other attractions are available! There's a nice castle too, but someone blew it up before we got there (about 400 years before). Still, it made a good location from which to photograph the trains ...
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Tuesday 15 September 2009

Worthing Model Railway Exhibition

On Saturday I got chance to drop in on the Worthing MRC show with my little boy. It was at a new location this year, and oddly most of the exhibits and stands were in the corridor! (Albeit a wide, long corridor). The layouts were of a reasonable standard, and overall not a bad show.

One superb layout I had previously seen at EXPO-NG a couple of years back, and was pleased to see again, was Pelporro (45mm Gauge) by Brian Taylor. That backscene is amazing, and it is incredible what can be fitted into such a small space in what is normally considered a garden scale!

Another layout I liked was Cwmorgoth Copper Mining Company (O-16.5) by Jean-Luc Pineau. It was a Welsh copper mine featuring a working counterbalanced incline, and some nice internal-combustion locos, again in a very small space.

You can see more of my photos of some of the layouts here. As ever taking photos of layouts with a 2-year old in tow is tricky, especially getting good ones! However he did enjoy watching the trains, in particular a large modern-image OO layout with working colour light signals and lots of trains passing, and a G-gauge setup with Postman-Pat riding on a carriage. Well, that one was aimed at the kids I guess!

Friday 11 September 2009

The ultimate train set?

A couple of weeks back on a fine summer's evening the Sussex Downs 009 Society area group had a special gathering, in the garden of a cottage in a pretty village deep in Sussex. We'd been invited to see the garden railway of a friend of Nick, one of our members. However this was not your usual garden railway - no, not SM32, O or G gauge, this was proper 7 1/4 and 5 inch gauge ride-on live-steam!

You might be thinking this was some huge garden of a mansion, but no it was a normal size house with a modest (well, probably slightly bigger than average but we're not talking football pitches, more tennis court sized) garden. But into it had been squeezed an oval of dual-gauge track, a station with passing loop, a turntable leading into the garage (sorry, engine shed!?) and a full-size signal box! Yes this line was fully signalled, albeit the real signals were slightly out-of-scale! The photos give some idea of the character of this amazing little line.

Here is the "MPD", with a steam loco being prepared, and a battery powered Hymek. As well as the dual-gauge track, the loco's were a mixture of standard and narrow-gauge outline.

Further down the garden, just past the station platform, was the signal box. The owner of the line had built this himself, but the lever frame was a ground-frame from Lancing carriage works. It all works too, the real signals are connected to the levers although the furthest signals and the points are operated electrically.

Nick on duty as the signal man inside the fully-equipped box, as a single line the trains have to carry the token of course! Later on Nick took control of one of the locos.

By the time Quito was ready to steam it was dark, all trains carried a tail lamp of course but those driving had to rely on those strap-on head torch thingies! So apologies for the quality of the photos.

Finally, how do you fill up a miniture steam loco with water? With a miniture water crane of course! Here it is in use, just to prove it works, note the torch to see the water level in the tank (it was pretty black by then!). Not in the picture, there was even a miniture, working, fire-devil (a kind of stove with a tall chimney, put under the water crane to prevent it freezing in the winter). Despite this a large watering can was usually used to fill the tanks, it didn't rely on stopping the train in the right place!

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