Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rat Hole in N and HO

Just to prove the Rat hole scheme is workable here are a couple of quick shots of the track arrangement. The single track at the left would represent a sector plate
 Above: N scale 30" x 15" fits with plenty of room to spare It would likely fit in 12" depth
Above: H0 scale 60" x 15" max depth once again plenty of room

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rat Hole

The paper is dog eared and yellowing in places, it even feels old. This is an old, old scheme I entitled "Rat Hole". Quite how old this doodling is I don't know. It might even pre-date my emigration to the USA. Back then I had this notion that American railroads were all street running and sharp curves with lines appearing between houses and crossing roads and running down the middle of streets at will. Quite how I came up with the name Rat Hole I don't know as its only recently that I've discovered the SP Alameda "Rat Hole". I must have read the term in an article in an old issue of Model Railroader or Railroad Model Craftsman. Once I moved to America and experienced Modern US Railroads for real I saw things weren't necessarily like that anymore. I still think its a good idea though. 

Looking at it with another 13 or so years of Micro layout design behind me I still like it, It still makes me think. If I came up with this concept when I think I did, then the term "Micro Layout" hadn't even been popularised, perhaps even thought of. I visualised it as quite intensely scenic with all the buildings on it. It could also be described as a "concrete canyon" layout. Watching the layout, locos and cars appear and disappear between buildings forcing the viewer to continually change their viewpoint, they are even able to watch the train come towards them hiding the fact that this is quite a small layout. 
In posting this scheme I decided to see what sort of size the layout could be. I laid down some N scale track I have "acquired" and discovered that the layout will comfortably fit in a 30" x 15" space if you chose to use a sector plate in the fiddle yard area. It's even feasible to put it in an APA box.
Just a little something to get the creative juices going.

By way of a post script here's some handy dandy links to some inspiring photographs:
The Rat Hole Job
Whats the Rat Hole?
The Kingsbury Branch in N scale
Chicago Switching 
That should be enough to keep you going for a while. It's certainly started tugging on my grey matter for the moment and having recently acquired a load of N scale stuff. I could very easily build such a layout with the minimum of outlay...

The Model Railroaders new years resolution

The new year is fast approaching and that means the time is here to make public your plans to improve your life in the forthcoming year.
You know the sort of thing... "I'm going to quit smoking" or "I'm going to take more exercise"
The vast majority of these resolutions don't make it out of the first week before they are conveniently forgotten about.
So let's take time to make a model railway resolution...
"I'm going to learn something about a railway I know nothing about and build a small layout inspired by my learnings". (Sorry that's a bit long winded)
But it seems like a very good resolution to me. Especially those of you with you vast basement empires that are getting a bit bogged down because you can't see the end of the project at the moment.
I was inspired to propose this entry by a couple of seemingly unrelated things. Firstly, I am a relatively new convert to using my iPad as a magazine reader and have recently downloaded the App Zinio for it. Zinio is a vast online newsstand and there are plenty of magazines for everyones tastes there to download and read. Even for us Model Railroaders/Railway Modellers.
So, when I was browsing their website the other day and saw that an English Language version of Voie Libre was available I pretty well jumped on it straight away, remembering the advice I got from the late Carl Arendt (that I never took until now) that Voie Libre was a good read with plenty of advice and inspiration and I would enjoy it. As per usual, old friend, you were right. But I'm getting off the point a bit.
The point is that looking at different magazines from different countries can open up a whole new world of influences to you.
For example, did you know that there was a rack operated railway in the Greek islands?
Neither did I. Not until I read the latest issue of Voie Libre anyway, and in the same issue of the magazine also presents you with a very interesting way to go about modelling it.
Of course, you don't have to go and buy an issue of a magazine that you've never heard of to partake in this resolution though. If you are like me you have received countless railway books as presents over the years that have no relation to your interests and have hidden them at the back of your library. Go back to them. I'm sure you'll find more than a few pictures that fascinate you. Then go and look a bit deeper into the subject matter. It could be the start of something new and rewarding.
Perhaps you got a gift card for your local hobby shop for Christmas but you don't quite know what to get with it for that big project. So maybe the next time you're in that hobby shop take a look on some of the other shelves that you usually pass by without a second glance on your way to your chosen section. See what tickles your fancy.
For my part I was in my local hobby shop the other day and saw the H0 scale Bachmann "John Bull" and "Pegasus" train sets. Now, I know nothing about railroading in the first years of railway history, but I think it would be really rewarding to find out about those times and build a layout of some description as you go along. I think the railway modellers new years resolution is a good idea. That's why I'm posting this a couple of days early. Give you time to mull the idea over. I might just try it myself. Why don't you?
After all if you break it it's no different to any of the others you've made over the years is it?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Wishes

In keeping with the festive season I thought I'd take this chance to thank all you, both followers and those who just drop in, for taking an interest in the blog and so, courtesy of Google translate. I pass on my Holiday wishes to all of your in your native tongues*
Joyeux Noël et une Bonne Année
Frohe Weinhnachten und einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr
Glædelig jul og et Godt Nytår
God Jul och ett Gott Nytt År
Prettige kerstdagen en een gelukkig nieuw jaar
С Рождеством и Новым Годом
Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 

Of course if anyone feels that I have neglected their mother tongue like Flemish or Walloon (which aren't on Google translate) let me know .

*That is, according to the stats of the blog my viewers are in France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands,Russia, England, Wales, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

12/22 first edit to add Dutch...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Holmes Hall Light Railway

There is, in my basement, a triangular shaped baseboard. How I ended up with a triangular baseboard is neither here nor there. But the circumstances that prompted its construction changed and I moved on to other projects but kept the baseboard. I still keep looking at it and coming up with different schemes to use it. I'm sure that one day I'll come up with an idea I really like and proceed to build. But I thought I'd share this one with you to get you out of the idea of thinking that your model railway baseboards have to be rectangular.
The Holmes Hall Light Railway, (and just what is wrong with naming a scheme after yourself?). Is envisioned as a narrow gauge layout using 9mm gauge track for the permanent way. Typical combinations would be OO9 in the UK or HOn30 elsewhere. Perhaps even O9 would be workable. The 9mm gauge would allow the use of 6" radius curves and tighter without looking too silly. I've measured this up and sketched the track plan on the baseboard I have so I know this scheme is workable on a triangular board that is 4' long on the long side.
The scheme was influence by a combination of the English country estate railways of the early 20th century (like those pioneered by Sir Arthur Heywood) and the farm railways like the potato railways of my native Lincolnshire in England.
The feature of this layout that excites me the most is that part of the model on the right where you actually get to watch the train come towards you, rather than the usual view of a layout where the trains cross your field of view. The train enters the scene at the apex of the triangle and runs towards the viewer along the side of a road, it then rounds a tight curve and moves into the yard where it could shunt the wagons into the goods shed or the coal shed at the back of the hall. The line that runs behind the goods shed runs through a hole in the backscene into a fiddle yard that I have envisioned as being a fold up one for ease of storage and transportation, where it can then complete a loop to run into the scene once more.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dark Satanic Mills (part 2)

A few years ago I was on a roll with Dark Satanic Mill layouts, producing several ideas for schemes. Here's another one I just found. I know for a fact there are other sketches concerning this concept and if I discover them I'll post them too.
This particular scheme was inspired by a set of pictures posted on RMWeb of some remains of an old railway line in the Bradford/Halifax area of Yorkshire. The whole site was very compact, hemmed in on all sides by a road, a footbridge, a roadbridge and cutting wall. The obligatory DSM was on the other side of the road to the yard, and forms the backdrop to the layout. Once again my scheme was to depict the rundown years of the 1970's and early 80's. There is a single track suburban commuter line in the foreground that a single car or two-car DMU regularly calls at. The rear has a couple of sidings that serve a scrapyard, imagined to be the other side of the footbridge at the left hand side.
Operation would be thus: A short freight train leaves a couple of empty wagons in one of the sidings and departs. After the train has gone a grotty little 4 wheeled shunter (switcher) appears from offstage collects the wagons and takes them offstage to the scrapyard. After a while it reappears with wagons loaded with scrap that it leaves to be collected by another short freight train that passes through the station later in the operating sequence. Some might say that it doesn't sound much for operation but those who know me and my other layouts will know that this is not a dissimilar sequence to that one used for operating Wingetts Recycling my 7 day model railroad exercise. So I know from experience that it works and isn't dull and boring.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dark Satanic Mills

Dark Satanic Mills (or in Model railway parlance DSMs) is a term lifted from William Blakes famous poem "Jerusalem" written in 1804 (only later turned into an emotionally charged highly patriotic hymn by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916). 
Dark Satanic Mills are a symbol of the Industrial revolution in England, huge factories built of Brick or stone filled with what was then the latest hi-tech machinery manufacturing the goods that turned England into the then greatest industrial power in the world. Later the empty shells of these structures came to symbolise the industrial malaise that inflicted England in later years. But I digress.
The model represents a rundown SLT (single line terminus) in an industrial area of a city in the North of England.  The station has clearly seen better days. It was once a intermediate station with lower level goods yard on a busy commuter line but following the cutbacks and rationalisation of British Railways in the late 60's and early 70's it's now the terminus of a rundown branchline, with the lower level goods yard now turned into a permanent way store.
The influence of the model is unashamedly from the Model Railway Journal scenic O scale masterwork Inkerman Street (about halfway down this page) A layout that left an indelible mark on me and many other modellers who saw it, including those who queued up for hours to see this layout at the first Model Railway Journal exhibition at Central Hall, Westminster.
I got so into the concept of the layout that I didn't produce just one sketch visualising the model. I produced four. Viewing the layout from all angles focussing on different areas.
 Above: General overhead view
 Above: A view down the layout from platform height, to get a feel for the factory towering over what remains of the station.
 Above: The station entrance under the road bridge is a distinctive and unusual prototype feature.
Above: Another overall aerial view.
To be honest, this idea still fires me up. In fact a 4' x 2' baseboard with embankment built on it exists in my basement. The only thing that stops me finishing the layout up is acquiring the stock to use on the layout from England. I've been working on that detail off and on for three years or so. Things get pretty expensive in that regard. Could any of my American readers suggest a location in the states for such a scene. Chicago or Detroit perhaps? I'd be interested to hear.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Something different

I thought long and hard about which of my "visions" to post to mark a return to posting sketches after this extended hiatus. I could have posted something fairly conventional, a slice of modern railroading perhaps. But no.
I decided to make you think. I want you to see that there's so much inspirational stuff out there and when you find it, well who knows what can happen.
This is a sketch of Victoria Station on the Great Orme Tramway in Llandudno in North Wales. The Great Orme Tramway is a 3' 6" gauge funicular (cable operated) railway, built in 1903 for the purpose of taking people to the top of Llandudnos scenic feature, The Great Orme. Some more images can be found on this google image search page. I've travelled on the line several times while holidaying in North Wales. It's a trip I'd recommend anyone to take. It only costs a few quid and takes about half an hour to get to the top. The views from the train as it climbs up the steep hill are quite something.
At first glance it doesn't look much, just a single line terminus (or SLT in micro layout parlance). The distinctive cars appear from between the two buildings, arrive at the station, pause to let passengers on and off before returning offstage between the houses.
But what would separate this from the normal is the fact that this model of a funicular railway would run in the same way as a real cable railway. The line runs at a steep 40 degree slope pulled by a cable. You could wind the train down on the cable by hand or you could operate it by a motor. Really clever people could set it up to operate automatically.
The site is incredibly compact, only about 150 feet from buffer stop to the gap between the buildings, which in OO/HO scale is about two feet. The whole location could be easily modelled in a space the size of an APA box.
Of course, the Great Orme Railway is not the only cable operated railway in the world. San Francisco immediately pops to mind if you're more in mind to be inspired by American prototypes.
It might not look much as a layout, but I bet you that as soon as someone sees a train running up that 40 degree slope they'll stop and look and then take a closer look at all the other details that you've put in the model.
Do it.
Think different.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Micro Model Railroad Cartel

There's a saying that goes something like "You can never have too much of a good thing". This is very true thanks to the internet. Particularly when it comes to blogs. There's lots of good stuff out there about everything. Something pretty much pops up everyday and today is no different. For today sees the beginning of a new blog out there about Micro Model Railroads. It's called The Micro Model Railroad Cartel and I have been asked to add my name to it as a contributor.
Why should you go over there and sign up to read the musings of 4 guys pontificating about a niche in model railroad design?
Well the way I look at it is this. It doesn't matter how many forums I'm a member of, (too many I can tell you) I can always find something different and interesting on them. The websites I know and take for granted you might not know even about. The railroading books that I read are not the same as the books you read.
Perhaps the 4 amigos in the Cartel will between us, manage to impart some new interesting inspirational information to you. If we do then that's fine it will be worth while.
Give us a while to find our feet and we'll see what happens. I can't promise that you won't read the same stuff here as over there but I'll do my best to hide that.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

My favourite Model Railway Exhibition layout

This weekend, being Thanksgiving weekend has been the model train show of my local club, The Rum River Model Railroaders in Princeton, MN. This year due to other commitments I was unable to exhibit but it didn't stop me dropping in to pay a visit. A favourite layout of mine was on show.
An all time favourite.
I've been to many shows over my years in the hobby and have seen some stunning scenic layouts but this display is way up at the top of my list. It's a display of tinplate Lionel Standard gauge from the 1920' and 30's. It's great to see stock like this running instead of being in a glass case in a museum.
Above: A view of the entire layout. Size? Smaller than 8' x 4'. What is it I find so fascinating about this layout?
Just about everything is period perfect. Everything is in mint condition. Looking at this layout, it's easy to imagine being a child (admittedly probably the child of a wealthy family), keeping the baseboard under your bed. Pulling the board out from under your bed to play with your trains. To me this layout evokes the spirit and magic of being a childhood model railroader like no other.
Above: Mint tinplate station building. Lit inside and out.
Above: A view across the layout of one of the immaculate locomotives
Above: Imagine the excitement of being a child and receiving a loco like this for Christmas. Interestingly this locomotive is a full on restoration job culminating in a repaint.
I do hope you've enjoyed looking at these pictures. It might be the last thing some of you would expect to see here but I think this is well worth devoting some attention to.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Here today in the USA its National take a model train to work day. The organisers bill it as a great chance to spread to word about this great hobby. A great idea. When you consider that computer gaming is all the rage. A down to earth low tech hands on presentation of the hobby seems like a great idea.
Until you get ridiculed at work.
Like me.
I though people were better than that. I could take it when I was a kid at school. You know kids don't care what they do or say. But in this world of mature responsible adults, especially here in the USA where political correctness and respect for all is preached from all angles of society. To be greeted with derisive laughter is kind of upsetting. Deflating to say the least. It definitely bothers me otherwise I wouldn't be posting this.
I was really on a good high with the hobby after the success last weekends Granite City Train show so this idiots reaction is doubly painful.
I might just take a break for a while...
Still it is only one idiot.
But still...
I don't know...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Micro/Small layouts for model Railroads

It's worth noting that the website once run by the late Carl Arendt has returned.
As of yet I don't know who is running it. But its good to have it back.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Modelling inspiration, A crisis of confidence?

I'm sure by now most of you are familiar with the UK's biggest model railway forum RMWeb if any of you reading this haven't ever checked it out I urge you to. Perhaps even sign up and join in. Don't be put off by the at the end of the web address, modellers from all over the world modelling prototypes from all over the world in all scales contribute there. No matter how remote your interests are it's very likely you'll find someone there who shares them.
"Modelling Inspiration" is the sites' tag line and also the name of a free download pdf magazine they have just started putting out. It distills some of the incredible content on the site into an easy to read magazine format. You can print it off or view it on your laptop or tablet type thingy.
Very inspiring and therein lies the problem. I am noted as a designer and builder of small layouts but as I read this magazine for the first time I was filled with a feeling of regret that I have never set out to build a larger layout that would take me several years to work on.
I felt like I wanted to stop what I was working on and come up with a new larger idea.
The feeling passed and I'm back to normal now. Ready to get working on the layouts ready for the Granite City Train show in November. That's less than a month away now I'd better get cracking!
Modelling inspiration at RMWeb check it out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Look what I found

I'd like to share with you a new website I've just recently discovered It is the brainchild of one Fabrice Fayolle. Fabrice was a very frequent contributor to the late Carl Arendts website and his site has been on line in different forms since 1997. There is a great variety of articles about model railways and their construction. It's a bi-lingual website, English and French so you may need to use Google translate at times. There is a super selection of well presented trackplans that you don't need to translate. A great site that you should take a look at.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fiddlesticks! - part two

Below: At the other end of the fiddle stick Jack has installed a pivot point from another jack plug with a plastic stop so that your valuable loco does not plunge off the end of the casette to the floor.
Below: End on view showing the adapted locolift plugged into the end of the layout
To finish a view of the layout, a scant 29" long.
The fiddlestick, it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. But either way you look at it, it's a very effective idea.

Fiddlesticks! - part one

Is normally the sort of phrase on would utter when construction on your layout is not proceeding as planned. Me. I favour a loud "Blast and blither!" that comes out as "Blaast and blithaah". Others will paint the room purple with more colourful language. But in this instant, I'm talking about a new development in fiddle yards or off-stage storage for exhibition layouts. That is what the fiddlestick is.
Basically a stick that plugs into the end of the layout that is long enough to support a train cassette such as a converted PECO Locolift.
The theory being that if you have a small exhibition layout that only operates one loco at a time you don't really need to waste valuable transporation and layout space with a three road fiddle yard. Just take along a few train cassettes that you just plug into the end of the layout when you need them. Simple really.
Here's a few pictures from the small layout design and construction expert from Scotland Jack Trollope from his latest mini-masterpiece the "Fiddlestick Switch job"
Above: The business end of the layout where the train cassettes meet the layout.
Above: the end of the layout. The stick just goes through the hole as in the picture below You'll notice a small jack plug on the end that mates with the socket underneath to make the electrical continuity

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I thought you should see this

Once in a while you stumble across something that really grabs your attention.
Such a thing is this Little people project by a chap going by the name of Slinkachu.
I like to call myself an artist and I think that this use of Preiser figures is fascinating.
I wish I'd thought of it.
Of course as with most "Art" you're welcome to hate it...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Module Schmodule

Yes indeed, this post has been a long time coming for a couple of reasons:
1 Research. I wanted to make sure I've got my facts straight.
2 I didn't want to unduly offend any of my readers who are modular model railroaders. Believe me, some earlier incarnations of this post were quite offensive...
So here we go.
I wouldn't say I hate modular layouts but there are certain things that every time I see a layout really annoy me. So in no particular order they are:
a) Size and shape of modules. Now I know this is a big selling point of Free-mo modules. That they can be any size and shape the builder so desires so to creating a "free form" layout when joined to other modellers sections. So what happens when you join a 2' deep module to a 15" deep module? You either get a step back in the front fascia or the rear edge. Or both. That to my mind looks really bad, shoddy in fact. Standardize on your module sizes so that front and rear edges are flush. It looks much better, more professional.
b) No backscenes. Really? Come on here. In the free-mo standards guide it says that modules should emphasize "realistic plausible scenery" there is nothing realistic or plausible about looking across a 2' deep section of scenery watching a train to have your view destroyed by the fat "beer belly" of an operator just over the horizon watching his train go around the layout.
"But modules have to be viewable from both sides" I hear proponents say. Fine, then have a backdrop that can be moved from one side to the other depending on its location in the grand scheme. The purpose of a backscene is to keep distractions like beer bellies or cheeto-munching operators out of the view so heightening the reality of the scene.
c) Overall layout size. At one show I saw a layout that proudly claimed to be over 100 feet long on all sides. It was the most boring layout I had ever seen in my life. I walked all along the entire length of a side before I saw a train. I suppose this is a very realistic experience for some rail lines. But not good for a show. The Free-mo standards mention realistic operation. Then put together a operating sequence that you can run properly and realistically.
d) The content of the modules. Many modules that I see are a stretch of countryside with no features. How boring is that? Stick half a dozen 4' modules like that together at a show and you're well on the way to killing any good work you did with an interesting operations sequence. Pick a subject that has operating potential. Something that can be operated after a train has passed through the scene. How about a Scrapyard for example? Or a power station to run big long coal trains to and from.Linke) This is my absolute favourite pet hate. Baseboard joins. You can create the most exquisite module, perfect in every detail, yet one inch of railroad at each end has to have the track lifted for "joining sections" (bridge rails) of track to link to track on the next module. This looks shoddy beyond belief. Absolutely no consideration is given to joining baseboard in the free-mo standards apart from a clear area on the end board to facilitate clamping to the next section at a show.
Clamping? What in the blistering blue blazes is that about? I know. If the modules are all different sizes then clamps are the obvious choice for joining baseboards together. But once again it's another shoddy approach. The clamping zone is directly in the middle of the end panel of the baseboard side. A rudimentary knowledge of physics and things like turning moments tells you that that is not too great an idea. Any clamping zone should be set nearer the edges of the baseboard.
Here a leaf can be taken out of the books of British railway modellers who have been building layouts for exhibitions for decades and have a whole range of systems and schemes to ensure perfect alignment of track and continuity of electrical contact through countless baseboard joins. A google search will yeild loads of ideas. It can be done.
So there you go a handful of reasons as to why I don't like modular model railroading. All personal and you can disagree all you like. Especially modular model railroaders...
I welcome your comments.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Smallest Model Railroads

Call me crazy if you will but I recently discovered what I am terming "Nano Model railroading"
It will test my skills to the limit. But I also have a feeling it coud turn out to be quite fun.
What is Nano model railroading?
Go here to find out.
See you there.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Can we learn from the flat pack boys?

I've made three APA boxes/baseboards over the past week or so and it got me to thinking.
These boxes are so easy to put together and so rigid. So light and above all easy to construct. I feel that there must be something railway modellers can glean from the techniques that can be transferred to baseboard construction. Model railway baseboard construction has almost become some sort of science lately, with plywood girders and talk about aircraft construction. Modern materials like the pink insulation foam also have their place and indeed have helped me construct baseboards for layouts many a time. But if you're going to take a layout to a show you have to protect that foam and that is where you need some wood involved in the construction. So perhaps with the speed and simplicity of these boxes and more importantly their rigidity we can learn something.
With that in mind, for those who live 200 miles from an IKEA here's a look at APA baseboard construction.
Above: This is all you use to put the baseboard/boxes together and interesting looking screw (Thanks to Gordon on the Gnatterbox forum I now know that these are called Socket Cap Head screws)
Above: Construction in progress
Above: A close up of the corner fixed with one of those screws. I built my first baseboard without gluing the joints. The next two I glued the joints. It does not appear to have made things any more (or even less) rigid.
Above: Bingo! Done. Ten minutes to build the baseboard. A few more minutes to cut and fit the white polystyrene foam to bring the level of the track up to the framework. It will need a layer of cork to bring it up a bit further. But to all intents and purposes that is it.
I'll need to find a method of joining the baseboards together. Likely a coachbolt in the top framing and a couple of hinges with removeable pins at the bottom.
I'll keep you all posted on how that goes.
As you know. I'm no woodworking expert so I don't know how the construction methods used here could translate to a larger sized unit. Perhaps other more skilled people coud take the idea and run with it. If you do, let me know.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

APA'n there's an idea blooming

For those of you who are not Gnatterboxers I've been messing around with the APA box just to see what fits in there. The items featured here are from my Gnine stockpile. Many will say "Gnine? What the devil is Gnine?" I think I coined the term so you'd better visit here to find out more. Lots of G scale bits and pieces and 9mm gauge track for a bit of fun.
Above: overall view
Above and below: the two ends of the "layout" close up. The LNER concrete platelayers hut is really too big for the cabinet. I don't like the brick wall in the background too much either. Even though in its day it was quite famed in the Gn15 world. I have collected a considerable amount of coffee stirring stick and would like to knock up a wooden fence somewhere on the model.
Quite what the subject of the layout would be is unknown to me. Real 9" gauge railways have been used in the most unusual places. A Lavender farm springs quickly to mind. My first Gnine layout was a mushroom farm I know of at least one apple orchard that has a miniature railway running through it. Some kind of agricultural subject then. We'll see. It certainly gives me food for thought.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Those of you who know me will know that I am totally and utterly useless at baseboard construction. My woodworking abilities know no beginning. Indeed, I was once beaten into last place in a school woodworking exam by two girls. That was a good 30 years ago now...
So, I look for any excuse to hide from baseboard woodworking. Pink insulation foam, White expanded polystyrene sheet, Cork faced notice boards even foamcore display board has been subject to my baseboard building experiments. All have been reasonably successful to a degree. Layouts have been built on all these substrates.
In the previous post on this blog you heard me mention the new APA storage cabinet from IKEA and my desire to experiment with it. Well, yesterday I popped into IKEA and purchased one said APA box.
As with most IKEA stuff it comes flat packed in a quiet unassuming box. With all the fixings equipment and instructions to enable you to assemble it.
The package contains 10 parts:
The two ends come ready assembled as does the lid. There are 4 pine rails that are screwed between the ends and then a base and two end pieces that go into place as you assemble the rails. It all goes together very easily and in a matter of 10 minutes I had a storage box.
The box would indeed serve admirably as a stock box. It is remarkably rigid despite how light it is. You'd get quite a bit of stock in most any scale in there. But I was not interested in its rolling stock carrying abilities. Not yet anyway.
The next stage was to remove a front panel and see how it would look as a cabinet for a small diorama style layout.
Ooooo... Look at that. I can feel the schemes building up inside my head right now. The interior dimensions are officially 27.5 " long x 14" deep x 11" tall. The proportions really are very nice with regards to a cabinet style layout. The box did not loose any of its rigidity in having a front removed. I might just pop a bit of woodworking glue in the screwed joins but to be honest I don't feel it needs it.
One thing you can notice is that the base sits a good half inch below the tops of the rails, where you'd expect to run the tracks on top of. So some infill in there would be needed to bring the track up to that height.
Now here's a look at the lid. This too, is an excellent fit into the box and it got me thinking about the possibilities of fitting lighting into the lid to illuminate your scene. Hinging the lid would allow for easy access to change a blown bulb or get access to an awkward spot in the display.
All in all then, this is a superb little box with lots of potential for the woodworking challenged modeller. I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do with it.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ian's Alive!...

For some strange reason this site has been picking up a lot of visitors lately. Even though I haven't posted anything constructive since the passing of my/our good friend Carl Arendt. It's not for want of trying but in that time I put together a fun Z scale layout for a local train show and then went into training for a marathon which eats up all your spare time You can't begin to know how much time it takes up until you do it).
Now the marathon is done and I have a few weeks of recovery before training starts for the next one. So I'll try and put some ideas up for you all.
This concept, called Sheffield Peake Street after my old friend Colin Peake, has been down on paper since 2007 (5 years! I don't believe it). It was designed as a layout to fit in a couple of IKEA "SNACK" boxes. It was to be a model in P4 (English 4mm finescale using 18.83mm gauge track). For some reason it never got built even though I had locos, rolling stock and trackwork. I think there was a concern with the snack boxes only being about 16" long that there would have been too many track joins in a small area for the typically short 4 wheeled British Railways stock. Though you will notice I did make an effort to circumvent that by removing any pointwork (switches) from the design. All the switching around of stock would be done offstage on traversers.
This was how I described the original vision on an earlier incarnation of RMWeb:
"At the right we have a road overbridge with the very end of a platform ramp poking out from underneath (Probably an island platform) the 2 lines of the island platform head to the left before disappearing behind something, retaining walls maybe. Perhaps a signal box that straddles the line, homage to days when the line was much busier. Now it's just a rundown twig of a branch. Kept open because of rush hour commuters and the factory/warehouse sited just across from the platform end that sees several wagons delivered every day..."
So the idea lay dormant for 5 years until recently, when it jumped to the forefront of my mind having joined the Micro layouts design group over at RMWeb and been fired up by some of the links posted therein.
So I looked up on the IKEA website to check the availability of the Snack box, and lo and behold, it seems to have gone!
But not to worry, I found a newer, seemingly better box. The APA, this baby is almost 28" long x 14" deep and 11" wide. A really tempting size for a small layout. At 28" long it's almost twice the length of a Snack box so less baseboard joins for the stock to navigate. The depth of 14" is more than adequate and gives you plenty of scenic opportunities. The 11" width would make a very attractive picture frame/proscenium arch to show off the model when finished.
Though the idea is presented here as UK outline there no reason why the basic themes of the concept couldn't be translated to any other country with an intensive suburban passenger service to counter act the quiet leisurely shunting at the factory. For US outline modellers a Budd RDC always provides good passenger service and the freight duties could be covered by an SW-1200 or an MP15, switching whatever kind of car is deemed necessary by the industry.
These boxes are only $14.99 each, so even if the idea doesn't work it could still make a very good sized stock box don't you think?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


I'd just like to take a time out here to thank all of you who checked out my tribute to the late Carl Arendt and took the time to post your thoughts in reply. It was very much appreciated and just shows the effect that he had on the hobby and how much he will be missed.

Thanks again.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Change of tack

I've been mulling over a new project for quite some time and I think you'll be quite surprised when you nip over here and find out whats going on....
Plans and thoughts to appear here as well

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Carl Arendt R.I.P.

It is with a very heavy heart that I write these words for I have just found out that Carl Arendt, keeper of the site Micro/Small Layouts for Model Railroads passed away on Friday at his home in Seattle.
Carl was a modern day champion of the small model railway layout. In the days when model railroad magazines in the US were featuring nothing but basement filling empires, he was proclaiming smaller is better. Not just smaller, but much, much smaller. Micro layouts. Layouts that he defined as "A small model railroad, usually less than three or square feet in area that nonethless has a clear purpose and excellent operating capability"
His extreme example was the Squarefoot Estate Railway G scale in 1 square foot (hence the name).
That was how I came to know him. I don't quite remember how I found the layout. Googling something like small model railways, I expect. But I was captivated by it and dropped him a line to compliment him. That was the beginning of a friendship that lasted some 10 years. It was like finding a kindred spirit we shared so many ideas and interests.
Carl was instrumental in starting me in Gn15 and it was then I quickly got a dose of his incredible enthusiasm for model railroads. Once I received an email from him simply titled "Wanna Race?"
Steve Bennett at Sidelines model had produced a railcar kit in O9 and Carl suggested that we had a race to build a railcar in Gn15. We were exchanging emails hourly encouraging each other on. The projects only took a couple of days and was great fun. It was something that we repeated again a few years later modelling another unusual prototype in Gn15. He was even planning to take on guest operator duties on Whinny Lane at a show in Saint Paul one year. But alas, we couldn't make that work out.
Carl's big thing though was planning small and micro model railroads, and to that end he produced the Micro Layout design gallery. A showcase of small model railroads from designers all around the world. I was an early and frequent contributor to it. The success of the site led to no less than three books containing the best plans from the site and I was pretty honoured when he asked if he could feature some of my plans in the first two books.
We corresponded regularly about track planning even going so far as to challenge each other on some layout designing projects akin to the Gn15 model making ventures (Search for "Lambertville" on the Micro Layouts gallery for our differing approaches to the same challenge.)
After a while I planned less and our correspondences became fewer but whenever I had and idea I'd jot it down and zap it off to Carl and a cheery reply would come back like you were his best mate. He had a knack of that. He made you feel as if you were a really good friend. My wife and I always looked forward to Christmas for it was then that we would get the handmade Carl Arendt Christmas card. It was nearly always some kind of wintry scene he had photographed (photography was another of his interests) and turned into a card.
A couple of years ago, quite out of the blue, I received an email from him. He and his wife, Sheila were moving from Pittsburgh to Seattle. He was clearing stuff out and had come across some back issues of Narrow Gauge and Industrial railway modelling review that he had duplicates of and would I like them.
"Sure". I said, thinking that it would only be a few issues. A week or so later two boxes arrived full of the first 70 issues! I wasn't expecting that.
Carls' cheery good nature even worked its way though to my wife. When I showed her what Carl had written about her operating Wingett's Recycling she blushed and said "Oh my Gosh..." Carl was a bit of a charmer.
When I wrote to Carl about featuring Wingetts Recycling on his site and I told him about being approached by a member of the staff of Model Railroader to feature it in their magazine. He was, to put it mildly, rather excited. He saw it as some kind of vindication of the micro layout ideal I think.
Sadly he won't get to see that article.
He was a good friend and I will miss him.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Excuses, excuses

Just in case you are wondering. The lack of activity on this blog is principally caused by my trying to learn sketchbook express to do the illustrations for the next installment of the blog. Its not as easy as I thought. Perhaps I should use a pen tablet instead of the lap top's touch pad...

Monday, January 31, 2011

Mentioned in dispatches

A quick shout out to fellow model Railroader D Tom Conboy and his OTRR Model Railroad Blog.
Tom gave this site a mention in his latest Terminal Talk Podcast. So if you've dropped in from listening to that "Hello" to you. I hope that you'll find something to interest you and perhaps you'll sign up and follow and learn something about my obsession with small Model Railway Layouts

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Just a quick posting to keep you informed on the lack of activity hereabouts.
I have found myself drawn to the delights of T scale again and am working on a few projects to ready my layout Gonou for its outing at the Granite City Train show on April 30th.
The GCTS is a great show and I would encourage any Minnesotans reading this to pay the show a visit.
Rest assured I have not forgotten this blog and am working on a couple of articles for it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Model Railroad Planning 2011

Whilst in a Hobby shop yesterday picking up some bits for some T scale scratchbuilding projects I saw MRP 2011 on the shelves. As I have, in the past, contributed to this publication I pretty well always buy it.
When I got it home and out of its baggie (it came with a free track planning booklet) I have to say I was not disappointed. Yes there was an inordinate amount of large basement filling empire plans. The issue opened with 4 articles featuring smaller shelf layout plans and schemes including one in British OO scale!
This was all a huge surprise and made for a very interesting read. Quite worth buying.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Duluth Steam - Track plan

After the sketch I decided the next step was to mess around with some track and draw up a trackplan to see just how it would really work out.
Five feet by 18 inches and it all fits perfectly.
When I tell you that the curve into the power station is 10" inches you will all hold your hands up in shock and horror. But I will just laugh. You know why? Because I tested it. Just now. A Walthers Hopper and Factory direct trains Trackmobile will navigate a 10" radius curve. Quite comfortably.
This is one of the keys to making more of a simple trackplan. I'll write about that more at a later date when I get less distracted by good ideas.
Looking at the trackplan I can now outline the operation of the layout for you.
A short train appears from the right hand fiddle yard and leaves a couple of hopper cars in the siding in front of the steam plant, before disappearing off into the left hand fiddle yard. These could be seen as hoppers carrying coal into the power stations or bringing "fly ash" (the waste by-product) out to be dispatched to cement plants where it is used in the manufacture of cement.
Loaded coal hoppers in, empty ones out. Empty ash hopers in, full ones out. Perhaps periodic delivery of boxcars to the front siding too. The power station can be quite the busy place. In addition in Duluth, the plant is alongside the North Shore Scenic Railroad, so if you wanted you could run preserved railroad passenger trains as well.
So, all in all there is an awful lot going on on this small layout.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


You will have noticed in my sketches I pay little attention to the method of storing the trains off stage. I do that because basically everyone has their own perferences.
There are several choices on how to do this.
The simplest and probably the one that takes up the most room, is the simple fan of sidings fed by a series of points/switches. I think 3 sidings is a good minimum. So in order to store three 4' long trains off stage you'd need one three way point (about 8" long) plus a curved section to take the sidings out to standard track centres (so the trains don't foul each other on sidings) another 6-8" minimum. So to store a 4' train you need approaching 5 1/2" foot of space. Perhaps not a problem if your layout stays home all the time but if you like to go to train shows and you only have 4' 6" space in the back of your car then you might have a problem.
Aonther solution that takes up less space is the traverser or transfer table. Here a section of baseboard with the three tracks lined up on it slides on drawer runners or a similar mechanism to line up with the tracks on the main baseboard. This arrangement need only be as long (or perhaps in inc h or two longer than the longest train you plan to operate on the layout. You want a 4' train? the traverser could be as little as 4'2" long.
A variation on this is the sector plate/train turntable. Where instead of sliding across the baseboard. Your transfer table rotates around a fixed point. Handy if you want to turn your entire train offstage so that the loco leads without getting your grubby greasy fingers all over your pride and joy. Of course if your sector plate is 4' long and pivots around a central point you need 2' clear space fron and back when you rotate the traintable around through 180 degrees. If you don't need to rotate the turntable through 180 degrees. You can always move the pivot point off centre so when the table swings it doesn't protrude as much.
A fourth option is the train cassette. A cassette is a length of track with protective sides and carrying handles thay you can store a train on that are kept out of the way when not required and plugged into the layout when the train is needed. Cassettes can be kept stored on a rack out of the way taking up very little room. My only concern with this method is how unwieldly a cassette of three feet plus in length might be. Short cassettes to carry a railcar are certainly very viable and I'd certainly consider the cassette option for a railcar on the Duluth Steam layout. The PECO Locolift is a good simple cassette for such a purpose.
There is also room for experiment too.
On a small Gn15 layout I built called The Apple Valley Light railway. I developed a hybrid system called the "traintable" I used a kitchen lazy susan as a turntable and constructed interchangeable train cassettes to plug into it. You can see it in the background of some of the pictures. It worked quite well on the small narrow gauge trains.
So there you go, as they say.
"You pays yer money, you takes your choice" I've built sector plates with no problem but have had a few issues building traversers. So I prefer sector plates. But will use cassettes when the need arises. Like I say it's all up to you.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Duluth Steam

I think I have mentioned before my desire to build a model railroad layout based on scenes in Duluth, MN and here is a scene I keep coming back to again and again.
The Steam heating plant.
I clearly remember seeing the steam plant for the first time back in 1998 on my honeymoon. I was immediately captivated by it. The whole scene just fitted together perfectly. A scene break at one end in the form of the road overbridge, the grand architecture of the plant building and the magnificent harbour bridge in the background. I do love the location. I think I came up with my first idea in 2003 and here's my latest sketch of the idea.
The size of the layout would be about 5' x 18". Its a pretty close representation of the real thing. Most of the elements of the location are there. The overbridge, the main building with the corrugated siding annex, the road under the road overbridge (which is approximately mile 26 of the famous Grandmas Marathon which I've run twice and will be doing so again in June this year). You could even get the harbour bridge and the William A Irvin on the backscene.
I just showed the sketch to the wife who said.
"I wondered when you'd get around to building a model based on Duluth"
I guess I have approval...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

I'm writing this post from Caribou Coffee in Canal Park in Duluth, MN. It is about 10 degrees and a wind is whipping up last nights snow. It is, no to put too fine a point on it a chilly start to the year. So I send all my followers and folks who check out this blog my very best wishes for the new year and I hope that your layout designing and building adventures are rewarding and successful and if this blog helps you on your way then I'll be very happy.