York Show

North B oil (2)


I’ve said it before but always worth repeating, York show has always been one of my favourite shows to attend as an exhibitor. https://yorkshow.org.uk/

I’m taking North Ballachulish this year and really looking forward to it, not only is it one of the friendliest of the big shows to do, its also a good chance to catch up with old friends, exchange some banter and have a few beers with them in what has to be the real ale capital – well at least of Yorkshire 😉

Its a bit extra special this year as the Rochdale Group has two other layouts on show – Tony Bucknell’s “Harkness”  and Karl Crowther’s “Hebble Vale Goods”. Three EM gauge layouts all from the same group, got to be a first!



Where next?

As North Ballchulish is now finished (barring a decision after Preston to put another 2 or 3 small trees at the back to break up the long open stretch), thoughts have now turned to what next, or more pertinently where.

Whatever it was it was going to be a lot smaller, 1 car and two operators small to be precise, and for the last year or so have been toying with the idea of a Spotland Bridge Mk2, ie a branch with an industrial line, having a growing collection of industrial locos both steam and diesel.  last year I picked up a superb book of Bill Hudson Transport Books https://www.billhudsontransportbooks.co.uk/ Industrial Locomotives and Railways in The North West by Gordon Edgar.


The front cover picture is of Yates Duxbury Paper Mills at Heap Bridge, (or Ape Bridge if you are a local) about 3 miles away from home and contained some quite inspirational pictures of said complex that Id not seen before. The line was reached via a branch off the Bury Knowsley St – Castleton line (Now part of the ELR, and the trackbed is still visible as you come across the motorway bridge) Now I didn’t want a straight copy, Ive had my fill of prototype modelling with New Hey, but I did like some of the track layout.

Around the same time our local free advertising magazine  had an article in it about a proposal to build a line off the Bacup branch up to Norden where I live, so it wasn’t hard to put 2 and 2 together and come up with the idea of Greenbooth, the next village up the line which had among other things a textile works as well as a quarrying industry at Ding. The village doesn’t exist any longer, it was all demolished in the 60s to make way for Greenbooth Reservoir, the site is now under a hundred feet of water!

The basic idea therefore is a small branch line termini with a line leading off into the industrial site. Fiddleyard at one end only although there will be a single line run through at the other end ostensibly to another part of the works and Ding Quarries. Station building will be that at Stacksteads to continue the East Lancs theme and the various industrial building will be taken from those at Yates Duxbury as well as some based on the very few photographs of Greenbooth itself. A few point templates have been printed off Templot and put in situ on 2 x 4 by 2 foot 9mm ply boards to see how it all fits before getting it all down on Templot.  Watch this space 😉

All quiet on the Preston front.

Skip4The first show of 2019 beckons for North Ballachulish this weekend at Preston.


It also marks the great unveiling – the plain sky blue backscene has now gone. Whilst the layout has been stored in the garage at home since Manchester show, the back boards took a little trip to South Manchester, where the superb artistic work of Mike Raithby took place. To say I’m pleased with the result is the understatement of the year, they really have caught the atmosphere of the West Highlands brilliantly.  It was tempting to display the finished result  on here first but I really want to see it actually on the layout before I do any photographs of it. In the meantime here they are in their protective “Stiffy Bags” ready to load onto the van tomorrow.

Backscene covers

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!

phant 2.jpg

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 🙂

phant 4