This charming Manse

Nothing to do with that most curmudgeonly of musicians, Morrisey, although it has originated from just the other side of the Salford boundary.

Some time ago, given the scale of work to get the layout progressing to a reasonable state of completeness before Expo EM Autumn at Partington in a weeks time, Phil Taylor offered to do one of the buildings. Not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I gladly accepted the offer, and sent him some photographs of St Brides Manse.

I’d seen the progress a few weeks back and was really pleased how it was coming on, and yesterday got a message from Phil to say its ready – and during his lunch break today drove up to Rawtenstall to deliver it, where it joined the flat pack St Brides church on my modelling tray in the signal box.

Manse 5

As a break from growing grass this evening (enforced due to running out of my chosen base flock of Woodlands Scenics turf burnt grass, which goes down before the grass machine gets to work) I got to work planting the manse in position, up high above the rest of the village. I also stood the flat pack St Brides up against the temporary Airfix church just to get an idea of how it’s all going to fit.

To say I’m well chuffed with the result is an understatement, Phil’s done an exceptional job on this charming manse, I only hope I can match it with the work on the House of the Rising Son next door 😉



Another convert to the cause

Todays modelling session by the lever frame saw a move away from buildings, and to a bit of work on stock. Like the village hall, it was one of those jobs that you can leave just before you get train entering section, and go back to once the train has been dealt with.

A few weeks ago I took delivery of one of Dapol’s new 122 units, with a view to it providing a branch service for Kinlochleven. It looks a pretty fine model actually, but of course there are always those who find fault, probably only because its Dapol in this case, a much maligned manufacturer who don’t really deserve it, especially as they got rid of the root of their problems a few years back. Todays task was to convert it to EM gauge.

As I balk at buying new wheels until I’ve tried regauging the existing wheels, and all my Bachman units run very well using this simple expedient it was a no brainer to try it on the 122. Getting the unit out of the box I was at first a bit offput by the lack of a diagram / illustration of parts that you usually get with Bachman and Hornby models, but turning the model upside down and having a look underneath showed how easy it would be to remove the keeper plate/ side frames from under the bogie.

conv 1

Its kept in place by two lugs on the bogie body fitting into rectangular holes on the front and back. Now certainly with Bachman these can be a pig to get off, but in this case someone from Dapol is thinking ahead of the game, and they have put a hole in at the point the bogie stretcher meets the keeper plate which means you can get a pair of fine nosed pliers in and gently prize away the plate from the lugs. It took seconds and there was no danger of damaging anything. The only other tools needed for the job are visible in the photo, the trusty GW wheel puller, and an EM back to back gauge.

conv 2

The wheels just pull out of the frame, the brass bearings in the photo just clip in – they also provide the pick ups to the split axles via the strips down the outer side of the frame – again just visible in the photo.

conv 3

It’s then just a case of pulling the wheels out to a back to back of 16.5 milimetres and slotting the wheels back into place, remembering that because of the way the gear meshing is, there is a right and a wrong way round! Before the keeper plate goes back on though, there is a further job to do to ensure there is enough clearance between the dummy side frames and the wheels. A scalpel is required to snip out the strip of plastic which connects the brake shoes. Now another plaudit to Dapol, you need to do exactly the same with Bachman units but inevitable you lose a brake shoe or two, they are a bit flimsily attached. No such problems with the 122 though, they are robustly attached and I removed all 8 strips with no loss, and no sign of loss either.

And that was that – the job was actually completed in the period between 11:07 and 11:58 according to the train register and that included pulling lever 20  – making a brew 😉

conv 4



A Hall back at the box

No not the return of “Slack Alice” (Witherslack Hall to the uninitiated) to the East Lancs, but North Ballachulish Village Hall. The more intensive service on mid summer weekdays makes it difficult to do any major modelling work when I’m on Townsend Fold which is far more intensive to work than Rawtenstall West.

I’ve tried to find some of the smaller jobs which I can pick up and come back to between trains without having to leave things at a critical stage. The village hall window frames fitted nicely into that, each of the main window frames is built out of .20 x.20 microstrip with 9 separate pieces on each frame. Each piece of microstrip was cut to size and fixed onto the glazing material using Di Limonene The glazing had already been put on the back of the window apertures. I was able to build around 4  frames between trains and a loco failure meant I could get the full building glazed by the end of the shift. Not much remains to be done on this building now, other than paint the eaves and soffits, and fixing the doors and drainpipes in place before fixing to the baseboard. The building is based very closely on the one a hundred yards or so down the A82 from North Ballachulish at Onich.


On the other hand the sight of a Black 5 double heading with City of Wells was a bonus as well 😉  (the pics show the return up working where I’d more time to wield the camera and shows the Black 5 as train engine with the poorly West Country on the back!

Its going vertical

One of the sure signs of progress on the layout is when you actually stop working in the horizontal plane, ie baseboards, track and basic ground, and start to work vertically. The first vestige of this was the signals, but now with the buildings starting to be “planted” its really beginning to grow tall.

I’d been asked to do some photographs of the layout for the forthcoming Expo Autumn show – I must admit I was a bit reluctant  to do photos when I’d not got the groundcover down but the completion of the station buildings – barring putting on the notice boards which should arrive from Sankey Scenics (where the signage came from) tomorrow. I’m quite pleased with the buildings considering they were all flat white styrene sheet a months ago!



Signal box modelling part two

I was working Rawtenstall West box again on Wednesday, the green timetable enabled a bit of modelling to be done between trains!


This time its a “semi-detached” cottage group which is situated just below the church. Since the 70’s this building has been much modified and turned into a single dwelling so whilst I have the basic shell dimensions, the rest has had to be taken from a very distant picture I found in an old book about the Glencoe area. I’ve moved on to doing this building as the waiting shelter which was cut out on the train register desk last week is now complete (apart from having to glue in the screens), along with the station building.




The cottages are now taking shape and the shell built, the rendering has been fixed on and the guttering, now just glazing, doors and slates before final painting. The village group is now really starting to take shape, and it seems to be hanging together very well.



Quite productive this signal box modelling – and I’m working Townsend Fold on Saturday as well – but its a blue timetable with two extra workings and probably not enough time between trains to do anything other than a few small items 😉

The new modelling bench

modelling on the register table

As some may know, I work as a volunteer signalman on the East Lancashire Railway at the top end boxes of Rawtenstall West and Townsend Fold. Weekday turns at Rawtenstall can be a bit lacking on action on the Green timetable, as today was, as there’s usually at least an hour and three-quarters between the last train leaving and the next down train entering section.

A lot of the signalmen read in this down time, but I decamped my modelling bench from home to Rawtenstall this morning to start work on cutting out the shell for North Ballachulish’s down side waiting shelter. That’s all very well until you realise other than the train register table, the only other table in the box has all the telecoms equipment on it, and using solvent glue on top of that lot would not be approved by the S and T engineers!!

So the train register was pushed to the back of the table, and the modelling board just fits nicely. The only hassle being the comfy armchairs are too low for the table so you model stood up. It made for a very pleasant day and significant progress was made on the shelter – more of which later.

I’m not the first to build models in a signal box, and I suspect I wont be the last, but it does feel a most appropriate venue to model in and a good use of down time. It was certainly much better than the reading  the material the last signalman had left on the table, the Great Western Journal!!

A case of mistaken identity

Members of the EM gauge society might have been a tad puzzled when they opened their latest newsletter which plopped through the letterbox last Saturday. Theres a full-page advert in there for Expo EM Autumn (The old Expo North) at Partington on 9 and 10 September to which North Ballachulish is going.

I was however somewhat pissed off to see that the layout has changed ownership without my knowledge:


If it’s going to appear under Mark’s ownership he’s either going to have to rebuild the track to P4, or change all of the wheels on his stock to EM 😉  They have not even spelt the name of the layout correctly or got the period I’m modelling correct.

Of course cock ups like this do happen, and the exhibition manager immediately held his hand up and apologised which is fair enough, but at the end of the day it leaves a sour taste in the mouth, particularly when the text had been sent for proof reading. Mind you having learned the identity of the proof reader, I’m not surprised, as he does have form in the cock-up department, having already fallen victim to his ineptitude at a previous show, and misspelling the name of another of our layouts in the guide at the last Expo in Bracknell.

Over the weekend I pondered if I wanted to put myself through all of this shit again but after some very wise counsel from fellow RMRG members have decided that I will take the layout. In the meantime I’ve a very pointed e-mail to write to the EMGS board!!

Arts and Crafts

I picked the buildings at Kentallen on the Ballachulish branch to model as they have that quirky Scottish character and definitely a very “Arts and Crafts” turn of the 20th century look to them. Plus the fact they were also local and if this line had been built its likely they would have followed this design.

Its only when I started to plan the build I realised that they were going to be an absolute pig to build as its more than just a box structure. The angles on the roofline in themselves are baffling, despite me having a copy of the original architects drawings to follow.

Kentallen platform side

The cutting of the sides has taken some time, as has the construction of the two platform side bay windows, but today the basic structure got assembled (the joys of retirement !) The basic structure is two laminates of 30 thou plasticard, with a further top laminate of SE Finecast English Bond (I dont use Slaters brick sheets as the courses are not at right angles to the upright join) and above that a layer of 20 thou for where the rendering will be. It’s the components have been then glued to foamboard with Copydex (just as smelly as I remember) to add strength and stop warping and finally glued together using Butanone.

I put the shell in place on the platforms to see how it all hangs together and I’m rather pleased – I’ve already found a favourite viewpoint down between the Village Hall and the Church!

Oh well so much for the musing. Further procrastination awaits in constructing those rooflines next before the detailing goes on.

I can see your house from here.

I’ve spent the weekend down in Aylesbury, operating Graham and Tony Bucknell’s layout Kirkmellington at Railex.

Its been a bloody good weekend – I’ll make no secret of the fact I find Railex the best show in the UK, and IMHO has been for many years, purely on the outsanding quality of every layout in the show. Now there are many other good shows too – York, Manchester, Southampton, Shipley, Wigan, Newcastle and north of the border, Perth, but inevitably at shows there will be something I consider below par there, whereas David Laine has an incredible knack of booking only top drawer stuff.

My opinion of course, and its always entertaining to read the diverse opinion of others on t’interweb. This year is no exception and the nations favourite toy train forum has not let me down in its scraping the bottom of the barrel of thought of some visitors. No “N ” gauge? Its a crime. its the second most popular scale don’t you know. (despite the fact there were three top class 2mm finescale layouts). No “modern image”. Its the same old story at every show – miss a scale/ era/ prototype out of the mix and you get the approbation of every devotee of that particular genre, despite the fact that a good model is a good model, whatever it may be a model of. It rather all reminds me of being a 14 year old in the early 70’s when if band didn’t have a colour such as Black, Purple, Pink or Crimson, or a base metal such as Led in its name, then it was shite. (I had grown out of that by age 16 😉 )

The one thats made my red mist descend this time though is the hoary old chestnut of layout height. The complaint was chiefly from someone who was accompanied by their partner in a wheelchair. Now don’t get me wrong, I have every sympathy for those who are confined to a wheelchair, but the person writing on the forum clearly goes to a lot of shows, and judging by his text, well knows the score with layout heights. Its the conceit though that we should all build our layouts at eye level to someone in a wheelchair which gets me going. I’m 6 foot 3. I’ve built all my layouts at a minimum 4 foot eye level which is a comfortable height for me to work on the layout, and ensure my already fragile back doesn’t get any worse, and I don’t end up in a wheelchair myself. Its also perfect eye level for the vast majority of exhibition visitors, and which is how I want it to be viewed. To my mind there’s nothing worse than looking down at the roofs of buildings and vehicles. its totally false. The best views of a model railway layout come from a natural eye level, not from that of a helicopter, and I believe layouts should be built to facilitate that view for the average person. Harsh? maybe.  A lot of shows loan periscopes to those of a shorter nature to help overcome the issue, and I noticed a few out at Railex. Like a wheelchair itself, its an aid to help the disadvantaged and reduce the inequality, so whats the problem?

Taking stock

A successful exhibition at the Rochdale show all told – A fraught first hour unsticking point tie bars after only finishing the ballasting on the Thursday night is not the most encouraging start but after that the layout settled and a full train service was run all weekend, even using the goods yard for the odd waggon or two – which is how it would have been in the real world.

Its provided an opportunity to devise a modus operandi for the layout and how the traffic flows will work. Quite an amount of interest was generated and two exhibition invites received as a result, but one of the real winners of the weekend was the Faller car system in operation and the Macbraynes’ bus.

It’s now a race to get finished before September when North Ballachulish will be making its proper debut at Expo EM Autumn, at Partington, Manchester.