Wednesday 29 December 2021

A Fairlie good Christmas

The release of the ready-to-run Double Fairlie by Bachmann just a couple of months ago took 009 modellers by surprise. I built a Langley kit in my teens though it no longer works too well, and compared to the Bachmann model it looks rather crude. The Ffestiniog Railway is a long favourite of mine, and so a Fairlie had to be on my Christmas list! The model is superb, highly detailed with a fine paint finish, and I'm sure it will look good pulling a train into Hexworthy, even if it isn't in Wales...

As well as the Fairlie, I was given a rake of Peco skip wagons for Christmas, and another item of rolling stock...

A fine model of a 6-wheel brake coach by Hornby. OK, I might not have a layout I can actually run this on, since it is standard gauge, but I do have a collection of industrial locos so I will have to build one someday, won't I?

The coach even has lighting - wave the magnet block over the roof to turn them on and off, very neat. There is some light bleed through the plastic sides, I'm sure a little paint over the inside will fix that when I get around to fitting passengers. 

My modelling output has been pretty slow this year (OK, almost non-existent) but perhaps next year will be more productive? 

Monday 6 December 2021

Book Review - The Snowdon Mountain Railway

The Snowdon Mountain Railway is unique in the UK being a rack railway, climbing steep gradients using a gear on the rack. While it is a well-known 19th century narrow gauge steam railway in the heart of North Wales it is quite different to all the others in purpose, design, and equipment - all the steam locos are Swiss-built and somewhat unusual. As such it is perhaps rather overlooked by enthusiasts. 

Peter Johnson is a prolific author of books about narrow gauge railways including several in North Wales, and in this book he gives the Snowdon railway the same type of detailed history. From its inception and unusual birth (without act of parliament), the opening day disaster (!), the early days of tourism, survival of two wars, through increasing popularity in the late 20th century to being a major tourist attraction, the story is fascinating and at times unexpected. The story also includes the key people involved in the railway and its changes in ownership, its equipment and infrastructure, and operation. 

The hardback book has 260 pages packed with well reproduced photos - mostly period, and some quite dramatic - accompanying the well-written text. There are also maps of the area inside the covers, and reproductions of the maker's drawings of the original locos, carriages, and track. While it may not be a definitive history or a modellers handbook, it does contain everything you would expect of a narrow gauge railway history. 

I've never travelled on this railway despite having holidayed in the area, but having read its fascinating history I do hope to in the future. It may be very different to other narrow gauge railways in the UK, and operates more as a commercial tourist attraction (which it is, and always has been) than a heritage railway, but it does have its own character. This book reveals that character, and does so in an interesting and engaging way. This is a book worthy of a place on an enthusiasts bookshelf, but will also be enjoyed by a wider audience as so many will have experienced the railway and have fond memories, and perhaps as a talking point on a few coffee tables too. 

Saturday 13 November 2021

Book Review - Narrow Gauge Panorama

Following on from his first book a couple of years ago, roving narrow gauge enthusiast and photographer James Waite has compiled another delightful picture book of narrow gauge railways - Narrow Gauge Panorama - Steaming Along The Rustic And Narrow. 

The formula is just like the first book, packed full of high quality and beautifully composed photos from around the world featuring narrow gauge steam, and each with a detailed and informative caption with brief details of the locos and railways featured. While there are some typical loco portraits, most of the photos show trains in the landscape. The book works its way through 50 countries around the globe covering mainly preserved steam operations, although a few include working industrial railways. The hardback dust-jacketed book of almost 300 pages provides high quality reproduction for the photos on glossy paper. 

So, as with the first book, this is a great addition to the library for those who enjoy steam railways and narrow gauge railways, whether as an attractive coffee-table distraction, inspiration for travellers or model makers, or indeed for the railway interest within. 

Saturday 30 October 2021

Uckfield Exhibition 2021

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Uckfield exhibition. This is always a good show, with a high standard of layouts and good trade supports despite the modest venue, so I was happy to see it go ahead this year and am pleased to report the format and standard are as good as ever. Chris Ford noted some "fingerpoken", there were some running issues on a few layouts when I was there (Saturday morning) which I guess reflects this being the first show in a long time for most layouts. All the layouts were excellent, but here are a few of my favourites. 

Axebridge (009) - Paul Windle

The only 009 layout present and Paul is a bit of a "frequent flyer" to this show having brought several layouts over the years. This little quayside looked nice with some operating potential too. 

Clearwater Harbor (On30) - Steve Waterfield

This American NG layout has a really pleasing harbour scene and lots of detail, with frequent trains too. There may be a few of the usual HOn30 cliché's but there's plenty to engage the viewer.

A favourite feature of mine is working unloading, here the Bachmann side-tip cars are used to fill the barge, which even rocks gently in the water as the gravel tips in. However, the barge will take a while to fill since there's a flap in the bottom discharging it as fast as it fills!

Llawrglyn (EM) - Richard Loydall

Models of the Cambrian railway are rare, this mid-Wales might-have-been layout is set on that small pre-grouping operation. The superbly finished and lined loco along with the variety of wagons looked great in the open and understated scenery. 

Wadebridge to Padstow (2mm finescale) - John Greenwood

We holidayed in Wadebridge a couple of years back, and as soon as I walked up to this model I recognised the town. This part of the station is now mostly supermarket and car park, but to the right the town centre and river bridge looked spot-on. The many buildings were finely modelled, the trains beautifully finished, and the track looked good too. Yet amazingly this is in 2mm scale. 

And there is more too... as well as the accurate-looking model of Wadebridge, the track continued to another layout part, where it curved around an estuary over a bridge and into a model of Padstow. Here the details looked more unfinished, with some bare mock-up buildings and limited detail, but it still captured the atmosphere of the place. The river bridge is impressive, and the roll-up (canvas?) "water" novel and convincing, except a few places at the edge where it didn't sit right. Together these two stations made a large layout, built to a high standard. 

Sherton Abbas (7mm scale, 31.5mm gauge finescale) - David Stone

It is not often that O gauge layouts are presented "cameo" style with a decent backscene and lighting, Sherton Abbas was not only presented well (other than the lighting failing to light the front of stock on the front siding - a common issue), but the scenery and composition worked really well too. Although GWR is not an unusual choice for a branch terminus, it was set in an earlier period which provided interesting trains, and very nicely modelled they were too. 

Newton Heath Works (7mm scale, 31.25 and 16.2mm gauge finescale) - Mike Baker & Martin Finney

My favourite layout at the show was also 7mm scale, but it did include narrow gauge. Based on the Isle of Purbeck clay systems around Norden the model depicts clay being transferred from narrow to standard gauge, and a processing works. The layout is very simple, but the setting which incorporates elements from real locations is well composed, full of atmosphere, and well presented too. This layout won the Model Railway Journal "Cameo" competition, and I can see why.

It's another layout featuring working tipper trucks, here feeding a standard gauge wagon.

Both standard and narrow gauges have engine sheds. The buildings are all based on real ones, as is the unusual bridge carrying the NG over the SG, although they are taken from different places. 

Overall a great show, and another encouragement that the exhibition circuit is slowly opening up post-Covid. 

Monday 25 October 2021

Britain's Railways in the First World War

Britain's Railways in the First World War, by Michael Foley, tells the story of how the railways of Britain were both involved in and affected by the Great War. 

The book is very similar to Britain's Railways in the Second World War by the same author, and clearly they make a set. The book tells of the way the railway companies (at that time there were dozens of independent companies) transported troops and materials, turned their workshops over to war work, and suffered staff shortages as so many men were called up or volunteered for service, and so played a vital role in supporting the war effort. The railways also suffered damage from enemy bombing (albeit nothing like as much as in WWII), lack of maintenance, some terrible accidents and loss of locos and stock to overseas, while the railway-owned ships and docks also played an important role. The use of standard and narrow gauge railways supply the troops in the trenches overseas is also touched upon, but not the focus of this book.

As with the WWII book I did find the text jumped around as it attempted to relate topics in a chorological order, meaning there was some repetition as the threads were picked up and dropped, and at times it was confusing to follow. I wonder if breaking the material by topics would have made more sense than by year. On the whole though it is easy to read and does not use technical or difficult language, making it suitable for all readers rather than just railway enthusiasts. 

The book is illustrated throughout which breaks up the text, the photos being printed on normal book paper are not always the sharpest but serve to add interest and some context to the text. Generally this works well, even if some pictures seem to have little relevance, but it would have been nice for them to include the date and location in the caption. Some of the captions add nothing to what is visible in the photo, and even seem to be speculative of the content in some cases. 

Accepting that this is not meant to be a historical textbook, rather more of a story, it does provide an interesting insight into the role of the railways at this difficult time in history. It is a time beyond living memory, and the happenings on the railways then are perhaps less well known than WWII. The book includes the social perspective and summarises political influences as well accounts of operations, giving a broad picture. As with the similar book on WWII, this will be worth a read to those interested in history or the events of WWI as well as those who follow railway history.  

Saturday 9 October 2021

The Great Electric Train Show - some layouts!

The star attraction at the Great Electric Train Show was Pete Waterman's Making Tracks model of the West Coast Main Line, built for display at Chester Cathedral earlier this summer, and I was keen to see it. I will admit I was slightly underwhelmed, although it was an excellent model that captured the look of the WCML the details were spread along its immense length, and so it was a little dull between trains, which whizzed by at mainline speeds! Impressive, but I guess not my kind of layout, and my photos all have blurred trains. Actually, quite a few of the layouts were large tail-chasers which I guess is what a lot of people want to see, but I'm attracted to more compact layouts with character. 

So I'll start with the only other narrow gauge layout present, the SM32 layout 4000 Yards by the Norfolk Model Railway Syndicate. Big scale and a modest layout size meant it was a little cramped, but the stock was nicely modelled and the available scenery well detailed and observed. The DCC sound was a bit loud though!

Foldham is a compact OO gauge layout shown by the Double O gauge association, which still had enough operational interest and scenery in its limited space to show what could be achieved in a small space. 

Humphrey Road Sidings (OO, Norman Raven) is unusually depicted in winter with snow, which was well done. The scenery included several Petite Properties - I was spotting those I used on Loctern Quay, albeit with quite different finishes. 

North Cornwall Brewery (OO, Malcolm Briggs) depicts a brewery railway, and has well modelled buildings. I found this detailed scene including building site and garage fascinating, even though there are no trains in this scene!

Models of engine sheds, or motive power depots, were also popular. I really liked New Kensal Green (OO, South coast model development group) which depicted a GWR mainline shed. Not only was the detailing excellent, the general colouring and dirty overcast atmosphere worked really well. 

I also liked Old Elm Park (O, Mark Pollard) because it included the inside of a roundhouse, as well as the outside yard tracks. However, while looking into the gloomy shadows was atmospheric, it did make getting a photograph very difficult....

The outside yard was a little easier to photograph. The layout is viewed at eye level, really adding to the depth. 

I did a double-take when I saw Portsea (3mm scale/TT, Paul Hopkins) since it is so recognisably Portsmouth Harbour station. The rest of the layout includes a portrayal of the Town station too, along with other local features - including elements of the naval dockyard - just not in the right places, hence the name change. All very nicely modelled in this nice scale (lots of scratch-building) - and some lovely boats too. 

The layout also hosts a visit from the Queen...

Arrowmouth (OO, Redditch model railway club) showed a mainline seaside station, I particularly liked the modelling of the town, including this riverside scene. 

Little Burford (O, Michael Hickling and Dan Evason) depicts a GWR branch line station, and although compact for the scale the modelling is rather fine, with trains and scenery to a consistent standard and subtly weathered. 

Whithorn (OO, Alisdair Macdonald) featured delightfully modelled scenery on deep baseboards with a well-painted backscene and effective presentation. It was another layout with a crowd all weekend!

That's just a snapshot of the many layouts, and there was loads of trade too - albeit little for the NG enthusiast. It was great to see a big exhibition again and the crowds suggested lots of others thought so too - lets hope other exhibitions are able to follow. 

Tuesday 5 October 2021

Exhibiting Loctern Quay and Slugworth - The Great Electric Train Show 2021


Back to exhibiting then - at the Great Electric Train Show, in Milton Keynes, organised by Hornby magazine. This claimed to be the biggest exhibition of this year, although to be fair the shows at the NEC and Alexandra Palace have been called off this year. It is certainly be biggest show I've ever exhibited one of my layouts at.

Here's the main hall shortly after opening - it got much busier, suggesting the modelling community were pleased to get back to exhibitions. There were some big layouts, and traders too. We were on the second floor balcony, where this photo was taken from, and which was less crowded, 

Our two layouts set up (definitely the smallest two layouts in the show!), Joshua ready to start running trains on his layout. To the right of Loctern Quay we had also brought the 009 Society showcase, banner, and leaflets, and had an (intermittent) demo, with the help of a couple of friends in the Sussex Downs 009 group who also provided relief operator duties. We set up Saturday morning, having driven up Friday night. 

Slugworth was placed on the end of the row, set at an angle to allow visitors to see both sides. This little layout proved very popular with families, the list of items to spot entertained children who were rewarded with a sweet, but many people liked the detail that Joshua managed to fit into such a small space.

Loctern Quay with its shunting puzzle display board. I invited visitors to select cards from the shuffled pack to make up a train, they then usually watched while the train was made up. It was nice to get lots of nice comments too. Other than the odd reluctant coupling and a wagon that occasionally decided to derail, the layout ran well. 

Loctern Quay also featured a photo in the program!

It was a great weekend, although tiring, and it was great to get back to exhibitions. I will share a few photos of other layouts when I've had time to check the camera...

Tuesday 28 September 2021

Returning to exhibiting

Big exhibitions are back. It's been a while, but since restrictions lifted over the summer there have been a few exhibitions. It was a bit of a surprise to be invited to a big show - The Great Electric Train show in Milton Keynes (2nd and 3rd October) - and with not one, but two layouts. I will be taking Loctern Quay, and my Son Joshua will bring his Slugworth & Co. layout too. 

The thought of exhibiting again brought realisation that some jobs needed doing. We've dusted and tested both layouts and their stock, although no need to clean track the graphite on the rails was touched up. A while ago Joshua bought a new loco at the 009 Society sales stand - this rather nice Lilliput 0-6-0 - which ran nicely but looked rather plasticky. Clearly it needed to look more realistic, but we had little time, so a touch-up and weathering was in order. I forgot to take a photo beforehand, but here's how it ended up:

In the end I painted the smokebox, chimney, roof, and footplate matt black (the boiler staying black plastic), the buffer beams in red (the front was black, the rear green), and dry-brushed some brass onto some of the pipes and fittings on the boiler. The valve gear was dry-brushed a mix of gunmetal and silver, with some graphite rubbed onto the moving parts. The whole loco (except moving parts) then got a very thin wash of dirty brown to dull down the plastic and add some relief as well as a hint of grime, followed by a dusting of brown weathering powders on the lower parts and black on the roof and boiler top. This didn't take very long, but has made a massive difference. 

My Minitrains Decauville was treated to the same weathering treatment. Further detailing may follow, but like the Lilliput it was mostly self-coloured plastic, and the toning down and extra relief from the weathering adds a lot of realism. 

The Decauville has a Microtrains coupling fitted to the rear, but I'd still not got around to changing the front coupling as it looked tricky. This is quite useful, as it can operate on Loctern Quay and Slugworth - since on both layouts locos only need a coupling on one end. The Lilliput is a touch large for Slugworth - the cab barely clears the scenery on the corners, and the rear overhang is rather large - but we found some stock it will pull coupled to the front. I also changed couplings on a couple of small coaches I found for Joshua to run, from one of my early layouts. 

As well as having spare locos I like to have spare controllers and power supplies for exhibitions, though I don't think I have ever had one fail. I have plenty of controllers, although one I'd picked up a year or so back still needed a plug fitting. I also have two power supply packs, but of course we will have two layouts, so a third could be useful. Slugworth & Co. only needs a controller input and a 16V supply for the lights, these are provided through a DIN plug, but with no point motors no CDU is required. I found an old Hornby 16V AC "wall-wart" transformer from Joshua's first train set, the rather nasty controller had failed but you never know when a transformer will come in useful!

It's not pretty but it works! The controller plugs in the DIN socket at the top (with the red marker), taking its 16V AC input from the transformer. The DIN plug at the bottom (with the blue marker) plugs into the layout, providing the controller input, and 16V AC for the lights (the same supply that drives the controller will be able to manage the lights too, it is rated 800mA). It's actually quite a handy compact power supply for my micro-layouts that don't have point motors. Sometime I can mount the terminal block into a suitable box rather than clingfilm, but time is tight and it works!

So all is ready for the show, if you are there do say hi!

Sunday 5 September 2021

Target Railway

While on our family holiday near Okehampton in Devon, I met up with friend and fellow 009 modeller Tom Dauben, who lives in the area. Tom suggested we meet up a mile or so south of the town at a remote spot near Rowtor, on the edge of Dartmoor. This wasn't just so he could walk his dog, but because he'd discovered an interesting little narrow gauge railway...

What could be mistaken for an ancient burial mound from the rear, or a bunker or gun emplacement from the side, turns out to be a small 2-road loco shed, with narrow gauge tracks emerging to the barren moorland. This is not far from Okehampton Camp army base and the railway was built as a moving target...

I was aware such lines existed, as this little trolley preserved at Amberley was from another. Built by Wickham the low body covers a petrol engine and it is set running, carrying a plywood (replaceable) target on top. Clearly it is not meant to carry passengers. This link shows a similar trolley exists at the Rowtor railway. 

I suppose a bullet-proof engine shed is unusual? It may have been out of use for some years, but the doors show signs of maintenance, the right-hand doors having a fresh coat of primer by the look of it. Shining a light through a crack the frame of the trolley could just be made out, 

The track is of pre-fabricated steel type apparently ballasted with turf, according to the above link it is 2' 6" gauge. The points to the shed have levers although the turf seems to stop the blades moving now. 

The other track from the points curves around into a balloon or reversing loop, and there is a similar loop at the other end. Between the rails in the spur to the shed a piece of bent rail sticks up, I presume to activate a trip switch to stop the trolley. 

The balloon loop points at each end are sprung. 

Between the balloon loops the tracks run in a shallow cutting behind an embankment. The trolley would be protected by the embankment with the plywood tank visible above, for the squaddies to shoot at. 

The loop at the other end looks even more desolate than the one at the shed end. Tom's dog was more interested in his ball. 

The far end of the line curving behind the embankment, with Rowtor in the distance. It was a fine summer's evening and as you can see an absolutely stunning spot, as scenically spectacular as any narrow gauge railway. but it would be bleak in bad weather. The railway is small and there is little to see, but it's interesting, largely complete, and certainly unusual. Thanks Tom for showing me - and it was good to catch up!