Friday 31 May 2019

Hexworthy Back-scene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 25 May 2019

Backscene preparations

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued...

Friday 24 May 2019

A Petite Property

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 23 May 2019

Shoreham Memorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 16 May 2019


A couple of weeks back I had a disaster. My scalpel broke! The piece that holds the blade fractured, and I wasn't even pressing that hard at the time. Mind you I had only been thinking shortly beforehand that it was looking a bit well-used, goodness knows how old it is, and maybe I should get a spare.

However that left me at the start of the bank holiday weekend without a scalpel, which would rather limit modelling opportunities. Fortunately while local model shop (Sussex Model Centre) doesn't stock trains (being specialists in radio control and plastic kits) it is very useful for tools and materials, so it didn't take long to pop out and pick up a new Swann Morton No. 3 scalpel as seen in the centre of the photo. It takes the same blades - I have quite a stock - but it came with 5, so at about £3.50 it seemed good value. Unfortunately my son came with me to the shop, and ended up buying a drone....

Anyway, sorted for a scalpel so modelling was not interrupted for long, but I miss the chunky easy to grip handle and retractable blade of my old one. Thanks to Amazon I got a new version "Swann Morton Premium Retractaway" handle delivered by the end of the week for not a lot of money (see bottom of photo), it's changed colour and the sliding handle design has changed slightly, but it's still the same and will no doubt become my favourite again.

The No. 3 will be a useful back-up, and handy for confined spaces, but I will have to be careful of the exposed blade on the bench or in the toolbox.


Friday 10 May 2019

Book review - Twenty First Century Narrow Gauge, A Pictorial Journey

I've just finished reading a new book from Pen and Sword - Twenty First Century Narrow Gauge, A Pictorial Journey by James Waite. I say reading, but really it is a case of enjoying the pictures! The book is exactly what it says on the cover, and as the sub-title suggests, is is a collection of photos of narrow-gauge railways around the world. More specifically, the photos cover steam-worked narrow gauge railways, and I was genuinely surprised how many there are. Of course in the 21st century most are preserved lines, or special trains on regular lines, but given that few of the railways feature more than two or three photos (and many just one), there are a lot of railways in this book.

The photos were all taken by the author, James Waite, who will be familiar to readers of Narrow Gauge World magazine, in which his photos of narrow gauge railways from around the world have featured regularly. I'm sure a number of the pictures in this book have been in NGW magazine, but that is in no way a detraction from the book. That one enthusiast has visited and photographed so many railways in over 50 countries is in itself quite remarkable.

Now I am no photography expert, but James clearly has an eye for an attractive photo, as well as a passion for narrow gauge railways. While a number feature the classic side or front three-quarter loco view, many offer different perspectives, and most present the loco or train in some context of the surroundings. Indeed some are landscape views where the train is a minor feature. This makes for a varied and interesting book for browsing, and as such it is a good coffee table piece. However each photo also has a descriptive caption, with details of the loco(s) featured and background about the railway, there's even an index of loco builders, so there is knowledge too. The captions are full of interesting facts but not dry, they are engaging with a little humour at times.

The pictures are well produced on quality paper, the covers are hardback with a loose fitting dust jacket. The book is arranged into chapters for each country. At times I did find myself confused as to which railway was being featured, where two or three photos on the same line follow each other, and so required careful study of the captions. It might have helped (me at least) to have listed the name of the railway with each caption for clarity, although that risks interrupting the flow. That though is a minor point. 

If you like steam railways and/or narrow gauge railways, with 288 pages each featuring one or two well composed and interesting photos, there is a lot for you to enjoy in this book. 

Friday 3 May 2019

Broken wires

Back at the Steyning show in March, while running Slugworth, we had a problem. The loco kept stopping and going, it got so bad we took everything off the track thinking there was an intermittent short. Then it twigged that the problem was in my hand...

It doesn't take a genius to figure that the wires shouldn't look like that! Fortunately I always take a spare controller, so this one got tucked out the way awaiting repair. The other day I had the soldering iron out fixing some microphone leads for church (mic leads seem to fail regularly), so thought I'd have a go at fixing the controller too.

The lead is retained by a zip tie trapped inside the box, the rubber shroud on the cable is meant to protect the lead from flexing too far at the entry, but clearly that has failed. The four wires then go to various parts of the circuit board. The board was fixed, possibly only by the knob and switch, but it wasn't obvious. So rather than try and remove it to de-solder the wires, and to save the length of wire I'd have to cut out, I decided just to cut out the broken section and re-solder the wires together.

Easy enough, but I didn't have any heat-shrink to protect the wires, and I didn't think insulation tape would protect them from each other and the circuit board. Time to improvise with some short lengths of plastic tube slid over the join and held with a spot of Bostik. The whole lot were then wrapped in insulation tape, and a new zip tie attached tightly to the cable to hold it in place.

I thought I should attempt to replace the rubber shroud to protect the cable at the entry to the box, but I didn't have rubber tube. The best I could find was a short length of another size of plastic tube which could be fitted tightly into the hole, and held with a spot of glue, while the cable was a tight fit inside. It remains to be seen whether this will do any good!

So the KPC is back in business, which is great as it's one of my best controllers in feedback mode. This one has a switchable non-feedback mode which should make it ideal for coreless motors, but when switched to that mode locos just shoot of at speed with the knob at zero. I've tested the output and the minimum is 4V in non-feedback mode - I've no idea why, or how to fix it, or why it doesn't affect feedback mode!