Beware ideas formulated in pubs

A few weeks before North Ballachulish went out to Railex, during the short trip down to the pub from the clubrooms, I was discussing with Ian Worthington about when the detailing of a layout should stop. Now North Ballachulish is a very small village and my view that more than 20 people on view on the layout was possibly getting on the verge of overcooking it, the same with road vehicles and scenic items.

By the time we were safely ensconced in the Flying Horse more had come into the debate and I stated one of my favourite moments walking in the Glencoe area was sat on the summit of Buchaile Etive Mor  eating my lunch watching a succession of Hawk trainers and Tornados flying below me. So much so you were actually looking down into the cockpit. Put an aircraft on then came the suggestion.

There then followed a long chat about what was flying around there in 1970 -72, with the consensus being it really should be an air sea rescue Wessex, but then what colour were they flying in then – the sea blue and red nose or yellow? By this time beer was taking over from reason, and whilst the idea of the erstwhile whirlybird appealed, it had just not got the cachet of a fast mover. Of course Leuchars was flying my all time favourite Lightnings intercepting Breshnev’s best. But then again everyone puts a Lightning on if they are going for that (Chee Tor infamously once had a duel between their Lightning and  Copenhagen Fields Zeppelin)

Salvation came though in reading that whilst they were off Ark Royal, 892 squadron RNAS’s FG1 Phantoms were based at Leuchars backing up the interceptors, so it therefore followed their training would be done in the West Highlands! So straight away to get a box of Airfix bits. Now the last time I build an aircraft kit was probably around when I was 14, coincidentally one of my last was a USAF Phantom, so when the box arrived and I opened it I was a tad gobsmacked.  47 years ago that Phanton was an A4 sheet of instructions, about 30 parts and two dozen transfers at most. This model was a complete re-tool last year and I think a Brassmasters Black 5 has less parts, and the transfer sheet – there’s hundreds on there!

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Finally having stocked up on the appropriate paints I decide to start work on it today and although its quite daunting, its turning out to be fun. Today I finished the cockpit interior, there’s around two dozen parts in that alone. But most of all its fun, like being 14 again.


Got to say though I’m really looking forward to weathering this one 🙂

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Overtures and beginners

Railex is now over and done and for the first time ever I’ve actually seen the layout “fully dressed” for exhibition.

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Its fair to say I’m more than pleased with the lighting rig, and it attracted numerous comments about how I’d managed to suspend it over the corner without recourse to putting in a support pole in the corner which would obstruct the open view. The asnwer how can be seen in the photo below. The lighting support arm is a fairly substantially engineered T girder fabricated out of 2 x 1 planed timber and a fairly hefty ply support plate either side. When we first put it up two weeks ago, we were concerned that the foot of the pylon was being pulled out by the downward force fro the lighting pelmets, even though they are pretty light. A temporary expedient was to cable tie the pylon to the support leg at the point but because its a single bracing leg and not part of the robust baseboard support legs, a permanent solution was put in place by making a strut stretching from the pylon to the very sturdy legs under that corner, which are never going to move! Result is a strong structure and an unimpeded view of the layout.


As for the show itself, what can one say, its Railex, a show which has built an enviable reputation as one, if not the best in the country. All killer no filler they say, and it’s right. So it was pretty daunting to be exhibiting here for North B’s first show, but I neednt have worried, it performed impeccably with no real gremlins. As always there’s a few fine tuning tweeks need doing which you only really find out about under exhibition conditions but thankfully nothing major, although there is I suppose what could be called a “scenic” addition to be made by the next show.


We had a great weekend, not only a good show to be at but David Laine and his team from the Risborough and District club run not just a tight ship but a really sociable and friendly one too. Needless to say we made a good fist of the exhibition social 😉

We had some great comments by the public and a burning question which I’d posed years ago was at last answered by a visitor who had worked at he British Aluminum works in Fort William – what did aluminum ingots look like in the early 70s and what size they were. That’s going to give me something to do between trains in my next signal box modelling session!

My thanks to my operating crew this weekend, Martin Edmondson, Phil Taylor and Ian Worthington, it wouldn’t happen without you guys. Oh and the bottle of Oban malt to christen North Ballachulish went down very well too.

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Dirty work

Since Ive been building North Ballachulish, one picture of stock on the West Highland line has always been crying out for me to recreate. Its of a class 29 at Fort William on a passenger working, and just behind the loco is a “blue spot” fish van for its working down South via the passenger trains. It’s in an appalling condition externally and just had to be modeled and added to the stock. At the same time the Alumina Presflos were done which means all the present stock is now finished and ready for Railex next week.

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Measure twice, cut once

One of the perils of building a layout which you cannot really put up at home is adding things which rely on the whole thing being up.

The lighting units are a good case in point. The end stanchions are attached to the fiddle yard boards at each end, and there is one support pylon which extends across the diagonal of the public facing corner of the L. So therefore until the whole shebang is up, you can’t check the fit.


Today we borrowed the scout hut where our club meets to see if it all went up as intended. I’ve got to say I approached today with a lot of trepidation, all the component parts had been built on the workbench, and although I knew each part fitted correctly to its neigbour, I hadn’t a clue how it would actually all end up. Needless to say on the bench I had proceeded cautiously, always remembering the engineers old maxim, measure twice, cut once. The central pylon went up first. Straight away it became apparent some sort of base anchor was required to stop the arm of the pylon bending down and pushing the leg out. The upper part of the pylon is attached to the baseboards using a fishplate, which also has the LED strip control/dimmer attached to it. As a temporary expedient it was cable tied to a baseboard leg whilst a more permanent solution was built.


We knew we were on a winner when the first run of pelmet along the shorter side stayed up. Particularly impressive is how the just short of 5 foot long pylon arm suspends the free end of the pelmet, as can be seen above, a whole lighting rig hanging in space.

The second side needed a slight adjustment and it unfortunately twisted slightly whilst we were farting about with it, but it quickly came good and we now have a fully fitted lighting rig ready for Railex in two weeks time.


We also used the day to check everything fitted in two cars, and leave space for overnight gear! That sorted there’s a few remedial jobs to do on the lighting (see farting about) but by and large we are ready for the show.



Let there be light

Nothing like a pressing deadline to give you the giddy up, having completed the layout scenically attention has turned to the presentation of the layout. I have always felt there is a need to illuminate layouts at shows – hall lighting can be variable at best. Some are good and your layout needs little lighting – others can make you feel you are exhibiting in a cellar.

In the past with all my exhibition layouts – Brushford, Spotland Bridge and New Hey – Ive  used “traditional” lighting,  bulbs in the case of Brushford, and daylight tubes on Spotland and New Hey. On Brushford I alternated blue bulbs to give a richer tone to the scenics, but the  use of daylight tubes negated that for Spotty and New Hey. One of the parameters for North Ballachulish was that the lighting had to be lightweight as at the corner the gantry has to cover over 4 foot from back to front. The gantry is pretty substantial but I didn’t want to risk straining it, so the pelmets are from 3mm hardboard with 2″ by 1/2″ strip wood to strengthen the pelmets. I also went for the very lightweight LED tape solution, which has given negligible weight to the units.

The LEDs are arranged in 3 strips: the top one is on the underside of the top strip to project a warm light down onto the front of the layout. The second strip, about 1:1/2″ under the top of the pelmet is blue. This has two functions, first it projects a brighter blue to the top of the sky backscene to give a feeling of depth, and secondly to tone down the warm white LEDs a tad. The third strip is another layer of warm white.

As yet the full run of units has not been put on the layout – we will be using the local scout hut hopefully next weekend to have a test run and final fix of the backscenes, fiddleyards and lighting of the layout.


Thinking inside the box

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Weird as it may seem as winter only just seems to have ended, the summer season has started which means the mid week train service has resumed on the East Lancashire Railway.

The advantage for me of doing a midweek turn in the top end boxes is that there’s only 3 trains, with a hour and a half gap in between having to actually work the box. A lot of the signalmen bring in books or magazines, but as evidenced in previous posts, I take the modelling tray in.

The only remaining weathering I has to do on stock was the coaching rakes – there are 2 three coach passenger rakes plus the 5 coach sleeper formation. For me the weathering on coaches has to be subtle, considering that they do go through the carriage washer from time to time. Its dead easy to pick up the airbrush and give the sides a coat of grime, but this calls for more delicate work. Using photographs as a reference, plus the mark 1s passing by the box all day, Ive opted for a dilute mix of my usual grime – matt black, light rust thinned, Ive introduced it to the sides on a brush, then wiped it off. It leaves a very very thin dirty wash, which has been built up a little round the door hinges and edges, and again wiped. The result is a very thin patina of dirt the body sides. The underframes were given a straight dilute coat which was left untouched. I will later touch the underframes up using the airbrush, the roofs will be straight airbrushed. Powders will then be used to highlight various bits, always using photographs as a reference.

I suspect taking the airbrush and compressor into the box is a bit of a no -no and frowned upon by those on high, so that will be done at home. In the meantime I’m on Townsend Fold on Friday – must get myself another in the box project going.


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Lights, Camera, Action.

Yesterday I had a visit from Chris Nevard to photograph the layout for an article in Model Rail, hopefully to appear later this year to support the Manchester Show. As always these photo sessions although hard work are very enjoyable, especially so as besides being one of, if not the best model railway photographers, Chris is a very affable and friendly bloke with many mutual interests other than trains. There was as much guitar/uke and beer talk as about the layout itself 🙂

Many thanks to fellow RMRG members Dai Davies for coming to help me re-arrange the furniture, get the layout downstairs and put it up, and to Phil Taylor for dashing in on a mercy mission to bring the Macbrayne’s bus and the lorry, both of which seem to have subsequently ended up in many shots. Also big thanks to my wife Viv for putting up with the disruption and house re-arrange less than 12 hours after we got back home from a 5 day babysitting mission with our Granddaughter Lucy in Oslo.

Of course once the shoot was finished it was put the layout back to bed (thanks for helping Chris) something to eat, a quick shower and off to the  – Rochdale, Oldham and Bury CAMRA branch pub of the year with Chris and other RMRG members for a few beers and a listen to the house band. A good day was had by all.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished pictures now, Cheers Chris.

Dirty little bu**er

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5356 awaits the Oban road with a train of grain hoppers for the distilleries

There is always a little bit of trepidation about taking pristine stock and applying dirt to it to give it that realistic look of having a hard life, or about to have one. There’s a perennial debate on most Facebook groups and forums of to weather or not. its interesting to see some very entrenched views on the subject, particularly from those who think that stock should be run in out of the box pristine condition. Even when its pointed out to them if you looks at photos no loco coach or wagon actually is in that state once it has left the works and run. Ah but then, goes the argument, railwaymen had pride in the job and cleaned their locos. Yes some did, but the application of the infamous oily rag didn’t remove all the grime and especially around the frames or bogies which were never touched.

It doesn’t matter how good your argument for weathering is, because eventually they all fall back on the hoary old statement “Its my railway and I’ll run what I want”, in my view that’s the equivalent of raising the white flag.

Now I weather stock, always have done. That’s because I look at photographs of the real railway at the time I’m modelling, and those photographs always confirm that a lot of stock was – well dirty. Inevitable given the environment it runs in. That doesn’t mean I apply factor 50 layer of shit to all my stock, far from it. it varies from the almost workshop condition to about to go in workshop! That’s about observation how things were in reality.

Most of the stock has now been through the shops, there’s some fine detail to be done yet. My techniques are not radical – I use a variety of mediums and techniques well chronicled elsewhere but a pattern usually emerges of airbrush a base layer around the frames and roof, the washes of well diluted enamels followed by application of weathering powders, and last of all a spay of varnish with the airbrush.


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North Ballachulish: Population 19 (plus 4 highland cows and two Border Collies)

I suppose its true the saying that your layouts never finished – the last of the population was fixed in place today – a Modelu 3d print of myself, strategically placed on the signal box steps ready to receive the token from the next train – but Ive already decided another couple of figures would be good and a further 4 highland cattle.

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Effectively though, that’s that, Ive started painting the backscene boards which were made the week before last, a Mk1 Ford Transit received a cut and shut Faller Car system chassis last night at the RMRG club meeting, and the modelling tray is now being turned over to some stock weathering over the next few weeks. As I’ve got 3 signalling turns next week, I suspect Townsend Fold and Rawtenstall West signal boxes are going to have a faint whiff of paint around them.

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Once all that lots done, and the photo session with Chris Nevard is completed mid March, the last major work starts, construction of the lighting units. I’ll be using LED strips and doing a theater style presentation, using blue LED strips to bring out the summer hazy cast on the backscene.


Before I set any hares running, this blog post is about the City of York, not any person real or imaginary. Well maybe.

I like York. A lot. I’ve had so many good times there over many years, and the city always has something new to offer. Why do I like it so much? Well for a starter its home to my all time favourite model railway exhibition every Easter, and that’s both as a visitor and exhibitor- I first exhibited there in 1987 so that goes back a few years now. Its also home to my favourite museum, the NRM, as well as some of the best station architecture in the country. And whilst on that subject there’s the awe inspiring minster and a lot of other lovely old buildings worthy of looking at. And that’s all before we get to the pubs, the place is truly the home to some of my all time top boozers and there’s loads of them, in fact with the York Tap I struggle to get out of the station these days, but then again The Maltings is nobbut a cockstride away :-). And York Brewery!

One of the lesser known attractions though is York Modelmaking.    I first came across this company when Tony Bucknell commissioned some laser cut platform canopy valances from them for Eskmuir,  I was very impressed, so when it came to building North Ballachulish, I beat a path to their door for various components for the buildings. Some of these were very intentional purchases – the platform canopy valance and the church windows and stained glass inserts were on a written shopping list, but browsing their website – and visiting their stand and chatting to them at York show, the hand was inserted into pocket to purchase some other products which are quite frankly, bloody good.

First up is their laser cut slates and ridge tiles. On buildings in the past Ive tended to use the old tried and tested 10 thou plasticard, suitably scribed and cut into strips. Its good and effective, but not as neat as the York product, and being self adhesive it is much easier to lay on the roof.


I went for the plain church windows, as that’s what is in the actual St Brides at North Ballachulish, but there is a really comprehensive selection of ecclesiastical light emitting devices on offer from them. The next church model might well get a tad more ambitious.


I’ve also been procrastinating about the need for a footbridge for some time. The station on which the building is based on, Kentallen on the Ballachulish branch, originally had a footbridge, but somewhere in the mists of time it was demolished or taken away, and folk had to use the barrow crossing to get on to the down platform. Then I discovered that the York Modelmaking footbridge is right for the one that was there, so after that, a no brainer, especially when Viv asked me what I wanted for Christmas.

I do like kit bashing and this was a dream, another classic case of shake the box and it falls together, no fettling was required other than filing back the sprue connections. Like all their models it’s laser cut out of Rowmark which is a lot sturdier than other styrene sheet, although it does take a very strong solvent to ensure a good solid joint (I used plastic weld as they suggest). I finished painting and weathering it today, so that’s the last major structure done and dusted.


The platform seats are also by York Modelmaking.



So there you go – I’ve no connection with the company other than being a very, very satisfied customer. The products are good, the service and dispatch of orders are really top notch. And best of all they are from York !