Life in the old blog yet!

I have recently added a section describing my three exhibition layouts, as background information for exhibition organisers.

Exhibiting is demanding and exhausting but it concentrates the mind (I love the sight of a deadline racing towards me, headlamps glaring and whistle blowing wildly), is tremendous fun and I quite like making a show of myself – especially in the company of like-minded friends.

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And it’s goodnight from him…

I’m really embarrassed that there have been no postings on this blog for so long. The reason is that my recent work is now on RMWeb, so, if you would like to follow what I have been doing since I was here last, please click here.

See you there, I hope!


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Workington 2010

Sentinel spots van on wagon turntable

Last weekend was the Workington show, where we exhibited Humber Dock. I was greatly assisted by Brian (Lakeland) Lewis, who set up an ingenious sound system, and David Beale and Steve Griffiths who helped me operate it. Steve also put me up on the Friday and Saturday nights. Beforehand, Steve Paulin had helped in many ways to improve the layout and had lent his excellent Bachman Craven DMU and lots of little people, who crewed all the locos and added life to the quayside.

J7 cautiously approaches the swing bridgeAlthough we did not win a prize (the only prize I’ve ever won is for “most unusual layout” – which had been won previously by a Lego train set) we got a lot of interest in Humber Dock and it has been invited to the Rawtenstall show on 29/30 Oct next year (and Scalefour North in 2012). People particularly liked the steam sounds. These were created by Brian using a Loksound v 3.5 chip, interposed between a ZTC controller and the track. This meant that all the locos were fed on 12V DC, and they all sounded the same but the effect was nevertheless very effective, with the brake screech sounds in particular being realistically coordinated with the engines’ movement. The children liked the way the engines whistled when off-stage and then appeared unpredictably from one of the three hidden tracks.  Betsy had created a loop of downloaded seagull sounds on my MacBook, which created a realistic ambience – and did not, as I had feared, drive us mad by their repetition!

The only down sides were the disgusting haggis at the local fish and chip shop (my fault for even thinking of buying an English haggis!) and the curious man who said my railway was rubbish because it was too high for children to look at. My arguments: that it was primarily aimed at an adult audence; that people liked looking at an eye level exhibit (think of pictures at art galleries); and that lots of children were enjoying it by standing on the box I had thoughtfully provided; fell on deaf ears. I would never be invited, he said, to any of the many exhibitions he organised. I would love to know who he was and what, if anything, he has achieved!

He seemed to be alone in his views, indeed one man who overheard his rant described him as “rude and ignorant”. Nevertheless I was pretty upset by the incident.

My view is that there is room for a range of different types of layout and display formats. I think Clutton, for instance, which has a deep panoramic landscape, looks superb at table top level but I happen to like building dioramas – three dimensional moving pictures – and they would lose their impact if viewed from above. I do, however feel for the wheelchair bound visitors and for a long time have intended to build a periscope to lend to them. It should be a simple exercise in black foam board with a couple of mirrors. A “must do” before Rawtenstall!

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CRAGgies’ Doings

The latest meeting of the Cumbrian Regional Area Group was at Brian Lewis’ house in Windermere, when five of us and two wives met. After fighting our way across the main  road to Ambleside (it’s surely immoral for tourists to bring cars into the Lake District?) and walking to a super pub for a good lunch we returned to Brian’s house and set up Royston Vasey, as a test for the next week’s visit to the Workington exhibition. It took just 30 minutes to have the first train running. Brian tried out his ZTC DCC controller and proved that it worked well with a standard DC loco, which was encouraging in showing that it would be possible to move to DCC in stages, without the expense of chipping all locos immediately.

Brian then tried some of his DCC stock on Royston Vasey, with less success. The Class 52 Westerns derailed on the lumpy track work and the “flying banana” was foul of gauge, the external prop shafts  on its bogies hitting the brass tongues of the cassette joiners.

Nevertheless, we had an enjoyable meeting and discussed how the group should proceed in future. The next meeting of all males present was  at the Workington show the following week, where Phil was main PR man and exhibiting Thomas the Tank Engine (a really good way of getting the children involved) and Brian helped me operate Royston Vasey on the Saturday.  Griff helped me on the Sunday and David also turned up as a visitor. It was a fun show but with little real finescale content. The visitors were mostly parents and children, rather than real enthusiasts, so I was rather sad that Brian Hetherington’s wonderful S&D locos on the adjacent S4Soc stall were not really appreciated by most of the crowds. We had a couple of nibbles by people who said they might be interested in joining the Society, but nothing definite. Still, Bob managed to get some serious modelling in: he was building some NBR end-tippler wagons for use on Burntisland at Glasgow, the following week.

Partly as a challenge to myself I had taken Royston Vasey by public transport, kindly sponsored by Northern Rail, who gave me a free pass for the duration. This worked pretty well, except that I became very anxious when the layout was out of my sight in the luggage area of a very busy train, full of noisy teenagers. But it came to no harm. Realising that such a tiny layout needed something to make it special, I had made Royston Vasey a snowy scene and had placed some scale blackbirds, rabbits and a carrot (the snowman’s nose!) for the children to find, which encouraged them to take more than a cursory glance.

One notable trend was the number of usually small layouts which had very nice diesels chuntering about yards making very realistic sounds courtesy of DCC. This is not my type of modelling but one can see why it’s so popular, when these can be bought, plonked on the track and played with (sorry, operated) in a very realistic manner, straight out of the box.

We decided that thereafter, rather than meet ad hoc, we should have a regular pattern of meetings and we chose the first Saturday of each month. Moreover, since we are so scattered and few in number, we would also make a real effort to contact all EM Gauge Society members in the area. So the meetings for this year will as follows:

Mar 6, Apr 3, May 1, June 5, July 3, Aug 7, Sep 4, Oct 2, Nov 6, Dec 4.

So far the only venue definitely settled is the March 6th meeting, which will be at my house. Hosts for the remainder will be press-ganged nearer the dates.

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So that’s Royston Vasey

Here are a couple more pictures of Royston Vasey, my entry into Workington MRC’s five square feet challenge, which I will be exhibiting at Workington this weekend. Many thanks to Stephen Pauling of the Cumbrian Region Area Group of the Scalefour Society for painting the signals and level crossing gates. And yes, the bases of the signals will be hidden by the weekend!

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Just like the real thing

On a Saturday in October the CRAGgies (members of the Scalefour Society Cumbrian Region Area Group) operated Preston station for three hours. By the end of the shift, even though trains were running half an hour late there were no complaints from passengers, for this was Mike Norris’ accurate scale model of Preston, 1:76 full size, built to P4 standards; a remarkable and, to me at least, daunting achievement. Filling a large room, the statistics tell their own story: six running lines, nine platforms and five signal boxes: one with 162 levers, all fully interlocked, including the facing point locks, using DCC logic. As novices it was no surprise that we were so much slower than the real signalmen, who would have been able to pull the right levers without thinking and set up several non-conflicting moves simultaneously. In contrast we had to scrutinise the track diagrams to identify the levers for every move and had to do things step by step, one train at a time.

But in one respect, at least, we did find the virtual world of the railway modeller coinciding uncannily with that of the real operators: the antipathy between drivers and signalmen, who seemed always to delay their trains by failing to set their routes in time, was tetchily replicated, as drivers complained repeatedly that their trains had been forgotten and were sitting too long at a red signal. Only rarely were the signallers able to counter by surreptitiously setting up a route when the drivers were not looking, then gloating at their embarrassment.We left considering whether this might be the most remarkable P4 layout in the country. It is an immense achievement, largely the work of one man who keeps his light hidden under a bushel, a classic example of ‘show don’t tell’: Mike’s works speak for themselves, and he never courts  publicity. He has concentrated on getting the layout working before turning his mind to the scenery, and it performed just about perfectly on our visit: the only two derailments were due to signalmen’s errors. For the moment the wonderful array of ex-LNWR lower quadrant signals for which Preston was famed have been represented by colour lights – much quicker to set up – but Mike’s plan is eventually to replace them with proper mechanical signalling. Similarly, the station buildings are currently card mock ups but there’s no doubt Mike’s insistence on the highest standards will be reflected in the appearance of the layout when the buildings and signals are replaced. Again, for speed, trains are currently re-wheeled RTR electrics and diesels. Many do not even have any compensation, the wheels simply being fitted into the existing bogies, but they run – beautifully. Eventually all this will be replaced by 1930s steam, the LMS at its very best before the depradations of WW2.

The session was followed by a pie and pea supper in good northern fashion, and I left not just marvelling at what Mike has achieved but greatly encouraged to continue with my own plans in P4 – large P4 layouts can be made to work well – and determined to improve my wiring. Mike’s wiring is immaculate and looks like the inside of a 1970s main frame computer – not surprising since he has just retired from a senior post with Hewlett Packard – not the snakes’ honeymoon that graces my own, less ambitious, layout. The photographs below, by my cousin Stuart de Boer, give some idea of Mike’s work. No way will I let him photograph my wiring for comparison!


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What would we do without them? No layout of mine would be completed without the deadline of an exhibition and the Workington exhibition on November 21 is coming up quickly – just 25 days away. So, I’m busy working on my latest, smallest layout, Royston Vasey, which is a response to the Workington Club’s challenge to build a layout with a footprint of just five square feet.

As followers of “The League of Gentlemen” will know, Royston Vasey is a small village somewhere in the remote Pennines, notorious for its unfortunate attitude to non-locals. I find it ironic that I should be writing this after the noxious Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time but the writers of the TV series were lampooning our tendency to demonize or dislike people “not like us”, not endorse it.

Anyway, I’ve made my bed and for better or worse, my Royston Vasey will have local trains only…

It is depicted on a cold January morning in 1959 and the railway is struggling to provide a service after the overnight snowfall.

The “history” of the line is that it started as a mineral tramway to a canal basin. A mainline railway was built by the LNWR to replace the canal, which has fallen into decay but the tramway still exists, with a connection to the main line, which gives me an excuse to use the smallest locos in my stud, the Pug, Y7 or Sentinel, to shunt wagons left by the pick up goods.  It also gives me an excuse eventually to build a nice little industrial tank engine from a High Level kit and to use the Genesis kit to convert a 4F into Rowsley’s snow plough.

Any resemblance to the Parsley Hay area is not an accident.

The main layout is on two 2′ X 1′ boards, which sit on a table top. I will transport them by clipping them and the stock box together to form a sort of case, making something neat and small which can be carried to exhibitions on public transport. This is important because for the moment a medical condition prevents me driving. At one end, cassettes resting on a table top perform the fiddle yard function. At the other a swinging sector plate transfers trains from the visible line at the front of the layout to the return line which is hidden at a lower level underneath the scenery, and which takes trains back to the fiddle yard thus:Schematic Plan of Royston Vasey

AJ couplings and carefully located electromagnets will allow hands-free shunting, so the railway can be operated from one end by one operator.


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As I was saying before…

Well, what a summer it’s been! Betsy has recorded the changes in our lives which were enabled by the development of the chapel but from my point of view the major benefit has been the creation of a fine model railway room, 10’6″ X 22′, plus a small workshop area. Taking advantage particularly of the advice of Bob Ellis, who has recently gone through the same process, it is comfortable, easy to keep clean and well serviced with lighting, power and Radio 3.

I also bought Belle View, Newport MRS’s GWR layout, which just happened to have the same track plan as I was proposing for Bradford North Western. This is now set up and working well, and will cut the time needed for the realisation of my dream of having a large ex LNWR system by years. OK, so some say I am cheating by using other people’s work but I wonder what my effective working life expectancy is? 15 years? A no-brainer for me!

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Monday Club

Really it was a spin off from CAG, CFM, CRAG or whatever we call ourselves today. Phil and Sheila Tuer and David Beale, who could not make the previous meeting, came across for an afternoon to discuss our latest projects  and help me work on Clecklewyke.

Phil, Sheila and David and the "kit of parts" for Clecklewyke

Phil, Sheila and David and the "kit of parts" for Clecklewyke. All this fits into an estate car or Kangoo van.

David brought two excellent partly-completed P4 wagons, an MR cattle wagon and MR brake van. They had Exactocale and Bill Bedford running gear and were lovely examples of the kit-bulder’s art. Having already seen David’s model of an MR station building, we really look forward to seeing the development of his layout, which will be based on the Worth Valley branch.

Phil brought two remarkably nice resin kits by Dean Sidings for Furness Railways 0-6-2ts. Although intended as a step up from RTR, and firmly designed around suitable proprietary chassis, in this case Hornby’s 0-6-0, they have real potential. There is a big hole in the bottom of the boiler but the kits look accurate, are cleanly cast, and come with a nice set of white metal and brass fittings. So I think they could equally be a good starting point for a finescale model. They are a far cry from the crude resin casting for an LMS 4F, which I finally threw out last year.

I also shamelessly recruited them to help me set up Clecklewyke for some photographs for a book on small layout design. Including all the time taken for photography, the whole process took less than 20 minutes. Below is a set of photos of the erection sequence.

First step

First step

Fiddle yard base attached

Fiddle yard support attached

Stock box lid opens to become fiddle yard base

Stock box lid opens to become fiddle yard base

Block bells and skirt complete the job

Block bells and skirt complete the job

Ready for an exhibition

Ready for an exhibition

At home both operators operate from the front but either fiddle yard can be reversed to allow shy operators to hide from the public at exhibitions. Phil is not shy!

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Lane End Chapel

Lane End Chapel

Kevin Benstead comments on Lane End Chapel, which features in JB Priestley’s play, “When we are married”, which his Am Dram company is performing in Windlesham, Surrey on 14th to 16th May. This play is located in the fictional Clecklewyke , so here is a picture of it in the “real” Clecklewyke. (I think I need a psychologist to work out my logic there?) Next door, Nora Batty is scrubbing her steps.

On the other side is Jack Priestley’s workshop where he trades as a joiner and  undertaker, “Funerals Completely Furnished”. This is based on a sign that once graced  Halifax Notth Bridge.

I must repair the roofs of the cottages, which are showing sign of age!

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