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.

Pulling the points

Its getting a bit frenetic in the back room as I try to get as much done on the layout as possible before it goes out to Rochdale show this next weekend.

I’ve had to leave the two down platform pieces unfixed as I need the room to ballast in between the platform faces. It suddenly occurred as well that it would be easier to fix the point rodding in place at this stage so after a run over to Skipton this morning and a pleasant lunch out, I set to threading the rodding stools on the rod. I approached this with my usual alacrity, but sat at the dining room table that alacrity swiftly disappeared as it became obvious that this was akin to threading 56 needles at one sitting. However strong coffee and perseverance paid off and 6 foot of rodding was threaded in about a half hour. To be honest it was far easier than attempting to solder up the old Colin Waite etches.

I’m using the Modelu rodding stools –  http://www.modelu3d.co.uk/ – which is 3D printed and far, far superior to anything else on the market, and in truth despite mind numbing threading the rod, easier to use than anything else. The rodding is 0.4mm square nickel silver rod from Model Signal Engineering. The compensator (and when it gets to the lead-away, the cranks and signal wire pulleys) are the rather nice Brassmaster etches. As the bottom picture shows, it looks really fine when installed.

Tonight the rest of the rodding under the platform faces needs fixing in place and painting, then the platforms can be glued permanently in place.

The work in progress can be seen this weekend at the Rochdale Show:




rodding stoolsRodding stools 2

Getting plastered

Well it is the weekend of the Oldham Beer Festival, and like the devoted CAMRA member I am, I will be working behind the bar on Friday and Saturday evenings in return for sampling some of the excellent goodies on offer.

But meanwhile I’ve an exhibition deadline for the weekend after so on return from erecting beer stillages and moving 62 firkins, I started plastering over the scenic formers. So what’s in a mix then? Well a good quality finishing plaster for a start. Then some PVA glue which acts as a strengthener and binder, and also a little (well a lot) of brown liquid watercolour paint – the purpose of which is a colourant, so if there are any plaster chips in the layouts life, the resultant scar is not as bright and obvious.

Its all laid over the scrim previously glued down and laid on using a pallete knife to get a reasonable (ish) smooth finish.

plaster 1plaster 2plaster 3

Danger: Slartibartfast at work

Anyone familiar with Douglas Adams’ Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy will spot the reference straight away, but over the last few days (apart from a trip down South on a little missionary work bringing a small bit of West Yorkshire to the population of Southampton) I have mainly been creating the earth.

Now I’m not claiming any omnipotence here, nor am I going to do it in 6 days, as there’s only so much surforming of expanded polyurethane you can do in one day before the blue crust of bobbles which you get covered in needs cleaning off. That and waiting for the glue on layers to set, which is a bit like waiting for DJM to produce a model.

Because this bit of the West Highlands is situated on one of Glen Coe’s terminal moraines, the land is “lumpy” rather than hilly or even mountainous and the railway and road runs through a series of shallow cuttings. I’m using a combination of some scrap 25mm expanded polystyrene to fill in the big bits,kindly donated bt Tony Bucknell, and some 10mm polyurethane (the blue stuff) to contour the gentle slopes. For the cuttings I’m using foam board to get a nice straight and even face off the man-made slope. The foam board (if you look closely) is ex Jobcentre Plus poster boards which were being thrown in a bin at my former office. It was a bit bent in places so it is easy to sculpt into place I think a better use than their original purpose 😉

The brown ribbon is the road surface of the A82, this is cork sheet which will have a small groove let into it to receive the steel guide wire for the Faller car system. Oh and like Slartibartfast I’m finding it frustrating – no Fiords to create  😉

The Hoff

I’ve just finished installing the Hoffman motor for the down home on baseboard”A”. As usual in my procrastinating world, it was accompanied by some musing how to transfer the operating arm from the motor (Which slides over a cam to introduce the up down movement) to the operating rod of the signal. The instructions make no suggestions on how to achieve this, which I found a bit bemusing but hey ho, I’ve done some Bill Bedford bits in the past so I’m used to making things up as you go along.

In the end I’ve gone for the simple solution – bend the motor operating wire up at 90 degrees and fix the motor so it mates the the signal operating wire. The two will be joined simply by using a 3 amp chocblock connector, which will enable me to remove the signals from the baseboards whilst any track cleaning takes place to ensure that they dont get knocked and damaged by any careless action ;-) . The bolt seen in the underside baseboard picture is fixed into the signal baseplate and just sinply tightens up to fix in the signal in place for operation.

The front fascia panel has now been fixed to the viewing side as well.


By way of an update (14 Feb) this is what the attached chocbloks look like when fitted – to give extra clearance on this signal’s operating wires which are pretty close together  (The up starter/ branch starter bracket) Ive taken the plastic sheathing off the chocblocks which in as an added bonus in actual fact makes it easier to connect the signal operating wires to and take them out again. Result!



Spring cleaning

Been on a bit of a tidy up today prior to taking the boards down to

1: Paint the other side of the trackwork

2: Install the Hoffman motors to drive the signals

3: Fix in place the front scenic fascia panels (already cut to shape, varnished and ready to screw on)

4: Fix in place an electromagnet which will act as a turnout for the Faller car system which will pull the bus across into the station bus stop!


Its also provided a bit of a visualisation exercise as some buildings / mock ups start to get put in place – the crofters cottage is a typical West highland building and is based on the one in the photo actually at North Ballachulish – but in this case its been transported across the A82 and about 500 yards further down from where it really is!

Santa Claus is coming to Town(send Fold)

By way of some light relief – I’m currently training as a volunteer signalman on the East Lancashire Railway and had an eight hour training turn at Townsend Fold Signal Box today. Heres the Crab and the Peak top and tailing the 09:30 ex Bolton Street this morning.


Today’s leaning experience. The gate wheel is disconnected and the gates working in degraded mode as the far gate lock does not work at the moment. So once the annunciator goes you have about 3 minutes to nip out the box close and padlock the far gate, close the near gate, nip back up the stairs, push back the locking lever (the brown one for the non railway folk) and pull off the home signal (fixed distant). I’m bloody knackered after 9 down and 9 up trains, but what a briliant day, loved it.

Signals progress

Over the last week or so I’ve had a bit of spare time (its been a tad in short supply of late) to attempt to get the signals finished for the layout. The post have been soldered to a brass base plate which has had an 8BA countersunk bolt soldered at the back of the plate plus brass tube to take the operating wire through the base board. The surface of the baseboard has been hollowed out with a fine chisel so the plate fits flush with the baseboard top.

The operating of the bracket has had a liberty taken with it, as on the prototype these were operated by a wire through pulleys. Obviously this wasnt going to work in 4mm so I have resorted to crank operation – the cranks taken from one of Danny Pinnock’s D and S models etches, which has been lurking in my bits drawer for longer than I care to remember. The only thing left to put in place is the ladders, and there I have a dilemma. Ive been trying the MSE fold up and solder the rungs in etches but despite using an 18W iron and low melt solder I’m not happy with the results, the sides have distorted. MSE’s etched ladder is too two dimensional for my liking. Im currently playing with some ladders from the plastruct range. They are a bit thick so I have been shaving material of the sides to thin them down, as well as off the rungs, but they are still too chunky for my liking.

Has anyone come across any decent laddering other than the MSE stuff?