Exhibit one




North Ballachulish is out at the Manchester show http://www.mmrs.co.uk/exhibition/  this weekend, as a current member of MMRS and one of the former exhibition managers there its a sort of homecoming in a way, although my first and foremost show will always be Rochdale.

Its all a bit heavy coming after the Warley weekend and taking Eskmuir down to the NEC., but we enjoy it and look forward to taking layouts out. Eskmuir was for sale last weekend on E Bay (Its now sold) and we got quite a few queries about it which caused me to think how little Joe Public knows about taking a layout out on the road.

That is often echoed by some of the comments which you see both Facebook and the forums where the ill informed have a tendency to fire off when they see a layout which has not a lot happening, things stuttering or anxious operators with soldering irons in their hands who are failing to engage with Mr X Spurt on the barrier (X being the unknown factor and Spurt a drip under pressure). The fact the layout has been dismantled at its last show, bounced around in a car or van to take it home for a good few miles, is probably in storage between shows, has been bounced around in the back of a van or car for a hundred miles again before being put up at the show doesn’t register with Mr Spurt.

Most layout owners are wary of the first hour operating at a show. You can test the layout the night before for all its worth, but its only when you actually start to properly operate it that the dry solder joint, the slightly misaligned track or the mysterious short circuit manifests itself and calls a premature halt, or at best a slight hiccup in operations. Even later in the show, things can move or break requiring things to halt whilst efforts are made to put right.  What is criminal is a layout getting a fault and then the owner doing bugger all about it as I witnessed at a big show a couple of years ago.

I recall taking New Hey to Nottingham and within a half hour of the show opening a short occurred which took out the whole of the down circuit.  The layout ploughed on using only the Up line, and we managed to keep things moving albeit on only half the layout. Despite having a detailed wiring diagram it took Martin Edmondson and myself well over a hour to find the problem, which turned out to be one single strand of wire which had worked out of  in a 25 pin D connector linking the fiddle yards to the front of the layout,  and had touched another wire causing the short to the whole of the down circuit.  Possibly someone had brushed against the cable getting under the layout, possibly it was the layout settling, who knows, but as all things in life, shit happens. We did sweat (and swear) a bit over it though!

As you can see from the images of last weekend layouts break down into quite small bits – its unrealistic after all the man handling and transport to expect them to work perfectly first time all the time. I just wish Mr X Spurt would actually acknowledge that before engaging keyboard warrior mode.



Backscene again…..



BS stitch

I used to be indecisive but I’m not too sure anymore……….

Having had a play around with photoshop and stitching three photographs together which I took a couple of years back when I was last in North Ballachulish, I’m rather taken with having this done as a photo backscene rather than trust it to watercolours and my brush skills.

Moves are now afoot to see if this would translate successfully as a 13 foot by 15 inch continuous sheet which would be pasted to the backscene boards. We shall see!

Pot holder!

What a good weekends exhibiting! Layout ran well plus ending up winning the best in show pot. My thanks to David and all of the Skipton group who put on a great weekend and big thanks to the North Ballachulish road crew: Martin Edmondson, Phil Taylor, Ian Worthington and Ian Bowker for the sterling operation and support.

Oh and the new aerial addition has gone down well 🙂


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And yes, the pot has been used !dav



Back on the road again

NB show 1


We are off out on the road again this weekend. Skipton show is a bit like the Charity Shield in Football, a curtain raiser for the forthcoming exhibition season. Its now a few weeks earlier than it used to be but nevertheless its always worth a visit. The Rochdale group is a bit mob handed there this weekend as well as Tony Bucknell’s “Harkness” is there as well.



The backscene of any layout can be a bit of a make or break for me. Get it right and it really brings out a layout and quite often will convey both a sense of placement and a mood. Get it wrong and its jars and distracts from even the best constructed and composed layout.

Its for that reason Ive been internalising what to do with the backscene on North Ballachulish ever since I started building the layout. There is a choice here:

1 Don’t bother with anything and have the layout open at the back.

2: Put a backscene up but leave it in neutral sky blue

3: Stitch together a few panoramic photographs of the area courtesy of Photoshop and get it printed to put at the back.

4: Paint your own.

1 to me is never really an option, the view of assembled beer bellies at the back of the layout only conveys the operating team like a drink and is a real distraction. Now on Spotland bridge I had a bit of a mix of bought backscenes (buildings) cut out and pasted onto a backscene with the sky and moorland painted by Mrs Cooper. Newhey I left plain, the prospect of painting Crompton Moor with Coral Mill looming large beyond the goods shed was far to much t even contemplate. A photograph was never an option as the mill was derelict and actually demolished before I got to the backscene stage.

Photographs as well especially over a large area can be a tad too stark as well, again the fine detail can distract and to me, the distance is quite often too sharp. For the size I need for North B, pixelation could also be a problem (as can be the expense!). So the choice comes down to numbers 2 or 4.

At Railex we went out with a plain blue backscene.

It looks OK but I’m not sure it helps with the sense of placement or mood. As Phil said at the show, what we need a sheet of opaque polythene over the front or a smoke machine, working shower heads on the lighting pelmets and a plague of midges to really convey that placement and mood. Now I’m not going to those lengths but whilst the plain backscene works, with the caveats above, its a long time since I painted any landscape. Locos, coaches, wagons, houses and churches (and aircraft) etc yes but not a landscape.

So today, having just airbrushed the underside of the Phantom, I thought I’d have a try at a bit of watercolour. I’ve a rough idea of the topography of the other side of Loch Linnie  below Corran from North Ballchulish, and as this was more of a test if I actually could paint something, I quickly sketched in some outlines of coast and mountains and set to using a very limited palette of blues greens browns and yellow without too much reference to photos, it was about could I do it rather than accuracy at this point.


Its rough and ready,  and it only took me 10 -15 minutes to do, but I think it may well work – putting it to the back of the crated layout and taking a pic through has sort of convinced me but I do suspect I will still be procrastinating about it by the time we go to Skipton show on 11/12 August.


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.

NB show 1

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.