Tuesday 19 March 2024

Alexandra Palace - London Festival of Railway Modelling, 2024

 Last weekend I helped my friend Martin Collins exhibit his layout Llandecwyn at Alexandra Palace. 

The layout depicts a Welsh narrow gauge slate railway terminus and port, Martin displays a history with maps and photos of the "route" that is so convincing it fools a surprising number of people! I didn't get any photos from the front as there was a crowd there most of the two days, so you'll have to make do with an over-the-backscene shot...

Needing at least two and ideally three people to keep the sequence of operation moving at a reasonable pace to entertain, I had only a few short breaks to look around the rest of the large show. There was some other narrow gauge interest, including The Yard in O16.5, This features a working crane and radio control trucks to take away and bring loads for the wagons. 

Purgatory Peak on On30 is an impressive American mountainous layout featuring a switchback operated by geared locomotives, and some impressive trestle bridges.

Phil Parker had his cake-box 009 diorama (can I call it a pizza layout in a cake box?) with one of the new Bachmann models of the RNAD Baguley 60hp diesels - so new, they won't be on sale until May. Of course, it looks great and runs smoothly. 

I also spotted a prototype of the VoR 2-6-2 locos for ModelRail on the Revolution Trains stand. 

A few other layouts appealed, including Wantage, a detailed representation of the original including the town square the other side of the station building, and the trains too of course. 

Llawryglyn Cambrian Railways - a layout I've seen before, but its open uncrowded feel and subtle colouring makes for an attractive and realistic scene. 

East Quay also has subtle colouring but in a more compact, urban scene, with nicely made buildings. 

West End Drift is a compact model of a coal mine, with lots going on and even a little 009 for the mine trams, and a nice selection of industrial locos. 

Welby Lane RTC is an unusual model based on the Railway Technical Centre, which used to have an eclectic selection of research and prototype rail vehicles.

Shame there wasn't more narrow gauge in the selection of layouts but there were some good quality layouts. Operating Martin's layout was fun and it was good to hear so many nice comments about it, and the interest in narrow gauge and 009.

Friday 15 March 2024

More life for Hexworthy

I mentioned that I'd been adding more details to Hexworthy as one of the multiple tasks I was working on ahead of its first show last weekend, but I'd not managed to keep on top of blogging. As well as painting passengers and loco crew, more people, animals, and some details were prepared for the layout. 

On the top row are Bachmann trackworkers, given to me by my son when we dismantled his train set. I've touched up the paint in places and given them a shadow wash. The rest of the figures and animals are from the Finescale Figures batch I got in a sale a while back (it may have been a closing down sale as the website has gone!). They're 3D printed and appear to be scans of real people (probably not the animals though they are well proportioned), maybe not quite as crisp as Model-U figures but very good. You can see I got carried away with the animals, and even got a Dobby (if you know you know). All painted with enamels, with the aid of Google images to help with the animals. 

So, starting at the left hand end we have a group of (presumably volunteer) trackworkers in conversation. The compressor, welding kit and generator are by Westhill Wagon Works. There's also a robin on the wall, a squirrel on top of the container, and a (HO scale Faller) photographer in the distance behind the gate. 

Under the station canopy we have a lady checking her phone, and a cat (Monty's models) curled up by a bin (Layouts 4 U). The birds on the canopy have a special role. Lining the end of a carriage roof up with the blue tit puts the coupling over the magnet for Greenwich or modified Peco couplings, the same against the robin puts the coupling over the magnet for Microtrains couplings. This is a real help when uncoupling locos while operating from the fiddle yard end. 

Over by the café a young man seems to be in conversation with his Dalmatian while his partner checks in her handbag, there's another bin, and a long-haired lady tells her partner to hurry up with his coffee. There's a bottle of coke/beer on the table and crates of bottles left outside the café (Faller). Out of shot, the other table has a tray of bottles and an ash tray.

There's a bottle on the bar of the ice cream stall too, an upturned crate serves as a step. I've added a bin too. 

A solitary figure waits thoughtfully at the end of the platform with his dog. 

Another trackworker waits by the ground-frame. His pose seemed just right, once I'd cut away the "rock" his foot was resting on.

At the edge of the woods a pair of pheasants lurk in the undergrowth. 

The other side of the tracks a badger explores the field.

Dobby lurks near the playground. The discarded pallet used as a step/duckboard for the caravan is an experiment, I've not stuck it in place yet. It may be a bit large but I quite like the effect. Let me know what you think!

It's a lot of fun adding detail though it does take a lot of work, it feels like I've been painting figures and details for months! I reckon there's 35 figures on the layout, and that's without carriage passengers or loco crews. Hopefully viewers will enjoy finding them.

Tuesday 12 March 2024

Hexworthy last-minute show prep

I had promised an update on the last-minute jobs ahead of Sunday's show, these weren't critical but make life easier when exhibiting. I had discovered during testing that the arc of the "gates" at the end of the fiddle yard as they fold down meant that the last 20mm or so of each end of the tracks couldn't be used for risk of catching the stock. The L&B Manning Wardle and its 3 coaches had to be positioned accurately to fit, while the double Fairlie couldn't fit with the same coaches. 

The solution was relatively easy, a new hole was drilled to move the gate pivot by 10mm meaning it swings further out when folded down, just resting on the ends of the rails. The "stop" screw had to be moved too but the tail of the gate arm was still long enough to securely lock the turning deck to the sliding deck. 

Now the gates clear even the double Fairlie with the three longest coaches, just stop with buffer beams within the copper clad. A small extra cut-out was needed in the back panel to clear the longer overall length. 

I also fitted handles to make sliding the traverser easier with one hand, without knocking stock off the near track. These are on the sides of the upper, rotating deck to give finger clearance above the edge of the frame, so there's one each side - they were cheap off Amazon so why not. Of course, although they came with two lengths of bolts, even the shortest were too long - but the Dremel sorted that easily enough. 

The forecast for Sunday suggested rain was likely, which isn't ideal when loading/unloading a layout. So, I decided to make a cover from foam-core board, similar to that on Loctern Quay. It simply spans the gap between the lighting pelmet and the top of the backscene, the triangular fillets at either end have a Velcro strip underneath that attach to the tops of the ends which holds everything in place. 

I've had the dimmer for a while, it was dirt cheap from China, and fitted neatly on the end of the light pelmet with more Velcro. With the layout covered restricting ambient light, turning down the layout lighting gives an effective dusk/dark effect that makes the building and lamp lights stand out. Plus, it means the power lead doesn't have to be threaded in through the small hole! 

A view of the layout set up and ready for the show to open. Note the shelf on the trestle - useful for mugs, tools, and the controller. 

Monday 11 March 2024

Wealden Railway Group Show 2024

Of course this was the first time I'd loaded Hexworthy into the car, and indeed I'd changed cars since I started building it back in 2017, so I was glad it fitted - it was a bit tight! The exhibition was relatively local so getting there was easy, and unloading and set-up was stress free even though I was on my own at that point. It all went together well and everything worked too. There were a few minor snags - dodgy couplings despite the testing (and one that fell off), a loco that didn't want to run then did, and a short that couldn't be traced then went away as mysteriously as it came!

The layout got a lot of complimentary comments, the playground attracted a lot of attention, and people seemed to like the details and the smooth, slow running. A big thanks to fellow Sussex Downs group member Edward Mallory for helping out, he did a good job of operating and with practice we both got better at finding the uncoupling magnet first time. With his help we got packed up in 20 minutes. 

It was nice to see this new German HO layout by Simon Hargraves, compact and simple it is nicely finished and with some unusual (to British eyes) stock. 

Svanda, the Norwegian HO layout by Nigel Hill and Chris Ford doesn't seem to get out as often as it should. An unusual subject, attractive scene, and nice smooth running. 

Ferness (1:32, 16.5mm gauge) is another Scottish estate-railway style layout by Ian Roberts, compact despite the large scale which allows lots of detail. 

Shellsea Harbour (OO) by Giles Barnabe is one of those layouts I think I'd like to build. Attractively set with scratch-built buildings, an interesting track plan despite being compact and without loop, and some quirky light-railway style trains. 

More photos of the layouts can be found here. 

Saturday 9 March 2024

Readying ready to run - part 3

It was time to bite the bullet, take a brave pill, and weather a whole batch of not exactly cheap Bachmann ready to run locos. The techniques are the same as described in the last post - water soluble oils and a faint misting of black from above and brown from below using the airbrush - the aim being for a clean but working preserved loco finish. 

I must confess this was done a couple of weeks ago and the locos have sat around, doing test runs on the layout to check couplings etc., and now I see these photos seem to show a little dust picked up by the camera which I'd not noticed! 

Dorothea has been kept largely clean but the motion is oily and the smokebox dulled. The crew are by Model-U and were rather tricky to get stuck in place in the cab! All these Bachmann locos come with etched name and works plates which have been stuck in place with matt Modge Podge. 

I've just noticed the mould line on the cylinder, must be less visible to the eye, but it's not easy to deal with without needing to match paint colour so I'll have to ignore it. 

The black wash toned down the brass dome and copper pipes nicely, as well as the prominent motion. The Model-U crew must be posed for the FR Ladies as the chap this side is in a driving pose, fortunately it's not too obvious and his hand rests on the bunker rather than the cab-side. The bunker had a sliver of sponge foam inserted topped with crushed coal. 

The other crew member leans both hands nicely on the cab side, which is slightly worrying if he's meant to be driving! The prominent injector pipework looks much better for the black wash. 

Linda shows a little dirt on her buffer beam as well as a dulled smokebox and oily motion, but the paintwork still shines. 

The Model-U "open cab" crew fit nicely, the driver the correct side this time and does appear to be in control, and I've posed the fireman in the tender because it looks interesting and allows the best view of the cab detail (and firebox glow). I couldn't see if the moulded coal load could be removed (and didn't fancy taking it apart to find out), so it's coaled up like it's about to haul the Flying Scotsman up the East Coast Main Line. 

The Double Fairlie got a little grime around the frame below the cab, the bank of whistles and the area behind the dome got the oily wash treatment, and the top of the boiler shows slight evidence of soot (black spray). A Model-U crew was the only way to go with this tight cab and even they don't seem keen to be inside it! The driver is reaching for the regulator, sadly his arm is about a scale 6" too short to reach but no-one can see that!

The fireman is looking a bit confused, perhaps he lost his shovel. In this case I found the coal loads could be popped out of the bunkers, which are of course only as deep as the tank tops, but at least the coal didn't have to be piled quite so high. The real coal makes a big difference here as it does with Linda, plastic coal just doesn't pass. 

These locos don't show obvious signs of weathering, and probably at a glance they don't look weathered just as a preserved loco looks clean. However, the subtle changes make a difference and they seem more natural and at home on the layout. 

All locos ready, all stock tested, hopefully all ready for Hexworthy's first exhibition tomorrow. There were a few last minute jobs, I'll update on those next week...

Tuesday 5 March 2024

Readying ready to run - Part 2

I've collected several ready-to-run locos since they have started to become available in 009 and Hexworthy is an ideal place to run them. However, as with the Peco coaches, there is something about a pristine RTR loco that jars in a layout setting. They are just too clean. Now I don't want to model heavily weathered almost derelict locos, I'm modelling a preserved railway setting so locos would be kept clean, but even so a working loco will not be box-fresh pristine as soot settles from above, paint dulls due to heat, oil builds up on and near moving parts, and brake and track dirt is thrown up from below.

So here's my attempt at making Exe look used but clean. If you can't tell much difference from a fresh model, that's kind of the point, but subtle differences are there.

Having had issues with enamel-based washes starting to lift the lining on Nesta (fortunately recovered) and not having good results with dilute acrylics I was looking for a new solution. I've a couple of Vallejo ready-to-use washes which work well, but having seen the results of someone using water-soluble oil paints I thought I'd try them. The paints are found in art shops. A little paint is dissolved in water and used as a wash, the concentration can be varied as can how much is applied, but it can also be removed with a damp brush, cotton bud or kitchen towel while damp meaning it is very controllable. I've used a dirty brown mix on underframes and buffer beams, and black in spots where soot/oil might accumulate (like between boiler and side tanks), over brass and copper (it tones them down nicely) and on the motion too. 

With my recent increase in confidence with the airbrush I took the brave decision to use it for weathering locos. As with the coaches I've used a mid brown misted very lightly over frames and buffer beams, and black misted very lightly over the cab roof, smokebox, footplate, and a little over the boiler and tank tops. This is done by winding in the "end stop" at the tail of the airbrush (it probably has a proper name) until the needle stops opening with just a faint mist emerging, this means I can spray without risking a wobbly finger causing an unexpected splurge of paint. Better to spend time building up a level of weathering than accidentally overdoing it. The down-side is such a small nozzle opening can block up so every so often the stop is unwound, the needle opened fully and paint sprayed until it is flowing easily again, before winding the stop back in. 

I've also painted another batch of people, including crew figures from Faller, Dapol, and Model-U. There are also some "civilians" at the back which I will come back to later. 

So here's Exe from another angle. I may have overdone the track dirt up the rear, but the sides remain clean. The motion and pipework are toned down and look oily, while the cab roof, tank top and footplate are a more matt, sooty finish. The boiler top is a little sooty too. Hopefully a superficially clean but used look. A Dapol figure stands in the cab, getting him in was like getting a ship in a bottle! I figured one was enough, and still allows some of the interior detail to be seen. Finally, the bunkers have been filled with crushed coal. 

The Kato Prince comes with "brass" knobs to fit to the sand pots and tender, these are on a sprue "tool" which is cut off the main sprue and used to place the knob in the hole before being twisted off. Spares are provided which is useful as I broke one in the wrong place, but it is the work of a few minutes to fit them. I also glued a strip of microstrip to the vertical support for the slide bars, as the flat metal looked a bit too flat.

The can is tiny. Fortunately, it is easy to unclip (removing the blower pipe first helps), but even using Faller HO figures they needed their feet and heads filing down until they fitted under the (overscale thickness) roof. Of course, once in there they can hardly be seen, but nor can the basic interior. I installed a figure in the tender too, as often seen on the prototype! The plastic addition to the slide bar support was painted with gunmetal metalcote, as were some details under the cab. 

Again, the weathering aim is clean but used. A hint of the dark wash around the whistles, dome, and tank filler plus a misting of airbrushed "soot" makes the top of the tank look like it betrays a hard day's work, but not neglect. Real coal was added over the moulded plastic load. I've also fitted staples to the Peco coupling droppers for magnetic uncoupling. 

Next time, the rest of the RTR loco fleet...