Saturday, April 21, 2012

APA Box model Railroading

Once again I make a foray into the blogosphere. This time I'm finally coming clean about my experiment with the APA box.
You will be able to follow that blog here I do hope that you'll stop by.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pendon - Part 2 The Vale Scene

Nothing can prepare you for The Vale Scene. 
Sounds a bit like a tag line for a movie doesn't it? Perhaps I'm overhyping it a bit.
Perhaps not.
Take a look at the picture below. This is the view that greets you at the top of the stairs from the Dartmoor scene. It's nothing much. A view across countryside in 4mm scale. A clump of trees, a railway embankment and not much else. Then you realise that the backscene is about 15 feet away. 
The "nothingness", the space is almost overpowering. In this hobby of ours we are used to dealing with selectively compressed scenes and many modellers advocate using buildings in smaller scales as you recede to the horizon to create the illusion of distance. Here there is no compression, no use of smaller scale buildings to create the illusion of distance. See that farm in the distance? It's 4mm scale too.

 Above: Then there is the structure modelling that Pendon is rightly famous for. Finely finished highly detailed structures, built from card and painted with watercolours. That's right, no embossed styrene sheets here. Each model is painstakingly built from card and the bricks and stonework are embossed and then painted by hand. The roofing tiles are either applied individually or in singles rows depending on the builder. A typical structure like this one probably has in the region of 200 hours work invested in it. I remember seeing Pendon Cottage modeller extraordinaire Chris Pilton doing a demonstration stand at a show many years ago. I was amazed that people could do such work. I remember going away inspired and building my own superdetailed buildings for a while. My guide tried to get me to contribute to Pendon by building something. I was honoured to be asked. Do my standards reach those advocated by Pendon? There is of course only one way to find out.
Above: A bus drives down a country lane. Nothing else. So incredibly natural and realistic.
Above: A slice of English country life now gone.
Above: This farm scene is beautiful.
Above: Even though the railway runs through the Vale, in the time I was there I only noticed one train running through it.
This last picture shows the full depth of the Vale scene. From here the backscene is over 70 feet away that's one scale mile.
The day I was there, thanks to inclement weather overnight, attendance was low so my wife and I were lucky enough to basically have personal guided tours of the Vale scene. So we were able to have lots of the details pointed out to us. I, as a modeller, was able to discuss some of the techniques and what it takes to model for Pendon.
I hope these pictures have whetted your appetite to visit Pendon and you make a visit in the near future. Being close to a Oxford, a major tourist centre, it should be easy for any self respecting modeller to trade a trip to Pendon against visiting some of the historical sights there. Should your significant other (and family) though it is very likely that everyone will come away having enjoyed a trip to Pendon.
So what can we small layout railway modellers learn from Pendon?
You'd probably think "nothing at all" being that Pendon is over 1,000 times larger than my latest APA box creation. But I think you'd be very wrong.
The importance of space. Yes, Pendon takes this to the extremes but I think that we small layout modellers tend to think that because we have small layouts it's important to cram as much track as we can into the area to get good operation. Not so. Absorb the details of the real landscape, see how buildings relate to each other. Only in intense urban situations are buildings slapped down one next to another, one on top of another. I feel each structure, each wagon/car needs its own "space". I know there are people feel uncomfortable when someone violates their own "personal space" in a crowded area. Shouldn't we accord that same respect for space on our model railways?
Attention to detail. This one is absolutely blindingly obvious. Detail draws viewers into the model, to look closely. To spend more than a minute looking at your display. Detail doesn't have to be a fully furnished room interior. Though if you have a structure at the front of your model with plenty of windows I certainly suggest putting a high level of detail in there. Of course I don't just mean detail on that level.

There you go two things you can take away from Pendon and employ on your layouts that will make your layouts better. My, this was a long post I hope you weren't too bored by it.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Pendon - An inspirational interlude - part one

I have just returned from a 10 day holiday back home in England. OK, so January/February is a strange time of year to go but happy family circumstance dictated the time of year, so we were more than happy to be there. We, (the wife and I) also got time to do some touristy sight seeing in Lincoln, London and Oxford. Of particular importance to this blog was our trip to Pendon, the world famous "Museum of miniature landscape and Transport modelling" to give it its proper title. It is an absolute treat for model makers of all disciplines but particularly railway modellers. 
There are three models to see there, all famous, if not legendary in the railway modelling world. First to see is John Aherns' "Madder Valley Railway". Its attention to detail and realistic approach to the presentation of the models is nothing unusual by todays standards but when this layout was built in the 1930's it was unheard of. The Railway is totally fictitious with narrow gauge locomotives stretched to Standard gauge proportions and structures (some freelanced) and locations from all over England. But the whole thing comes together to make a perfectly believable whole.
The layout is still operable but due to its great age is only operated a few times a year.
Above: The railway station at the town of Gammon Magna
Above: The approaches to Madderport.
The Next layout you see as you tour the building is the Dartmoor scene. Inspired by the railways of South Devon, a single track branch line struggles across Dartmoor to reach a junction station where trains meet the main line. The model itself must be about 30 feet long with the centrepiece being the 13 foot long model of a typical Great Western Railway Timber viaduct. The model has a definite operating sequence of trains that would typically be found on such a branch line. These trains are described in detail by one of the many Pendon volunteers on hand.
These two pictures show (below) the famous timber viaduct and above the small run down farmhouse that sits at the foot of it, and can just be seen in the picture beneath.
These models themselves would be enough for most modellers. But nothing can prepare you for the Vale scene that comes next. So in the best television "cliff hanger" tradition I'm going to let you wait a while before I share that with you.
Then I'll ramble on a bit about what we modellers of small layouts can learn from such huge models.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Moving with the times

It's the twenty-first century. The times, as Bob Dylan sang, they are a changin'. Railway modellers are using computer software to design their layouts and artists are using iPads to produce masterpieces. There's been a lot of talk in the English press about the great artist David Hockney and the works of art he is currently churning out on an iPad . Hockney has always intrigued me. I can't say I've always liked his stuff but he has the knack of inspiring me to look at things differently. 
So, you are saying. "What the devil does this have to do with small model railway layout design?" 
Well, the sketch below was produced on an iPad. 

It looks a bit different to my usual sketches.
It's most definitely a layout scheme that would most probably fit in an APA box. It's heavily inspired by Purfleet Quay in Kings Lynn. A wonderful location that really screams out to be modelled with railway tracks in it. The Customs House is a stunningly beautiful building that I have harboured* dreams of modelling since I discovered it quite by accident attending the Kings Lynn model railway exhibition one year.  The layout would certainly work in 00 scale in an APA box perhaps even Scalefour. In fact I just offered my A5 turnout and P4 flex track up to an APA box and it looks like it would work. The stock would be short wheelbase diesels or steam shunters and short wheelbase four-wheeled wagons. The warehouses at the rear would have working cranes on the top floor to capture the attention of the viewers. I have made working cranes before and I know that they do get the attention of the viewer.
The sketch itself was produced using the Adobe Ideas App on my iPad 1. I've been messing with the App for a while off and on and I'm just getting to be happy with what I'm producing. So I feel ready to share my sketches with you. It's still early days yet I'll see how the technique develops.

*pun intended

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Review - "How to operate a Small Modern Era Switching Layout" by Lance Mindheim

It's interesting to note that many model railway books have long, large titles in an effort to describe the content accurately so the hobbyist knows exactly what they are getting.
This one is no exception. It gives you exactly what you need to know to operate a small modern image switching layout. It is a fascinating book. I'm learning a lot about modern operations. I certainly have a whole new appreciation for what goes on in the rail yard across the car park from my workplace.
The book is about 100 pages long and goes into great detail about switching operations and how they relate to safety and logistics and how you can incorporate some of these things into your operating sessions to increase the realism of them. Had you considered putting a locking cover over a turnout operating switch to simulate the locking and unlocking of a turnout on the prototype. I hadn't until now. The same goes for gates to yards, a locking cover on the operating switches for them. That simple revelation really did get me thinking about things I could do on my layouts. I don't know what I could do to incorporate that onto an APA box layout. But fleeting thoughts did pass though my head to build a shelf layout in my hobby room to exploit realistic switching operation practices.
Yes there is a lot of very interesting stuff in this book. But there is no hiding from the fact that it is a very badly designed book. Single column pages, text that feels too big (this is not a large text book for the short of sight), overly long photograph captions that seem to duplicate exactly what is written in the main text, annoying highlighting of "key points" in the text. These are just a few of the things I had a problem with. It is just plain uncomfortable to read.
To check that it wasn't the new pair of glasses that I had just got making things difficult for my eyes I reviewed some other comparable books in my collection:
"Model Railway Planning and Design Handbook" (Santona pubs)
"Small, Smart & Practical Track Plans" (Iain C Rice - Kalmbach pubs)
"An Approach to Model Railway Layout Design, Finescale in small spaces" (Iain C Rice - Wild Swan pubs)
All are very nicely designed books that are easy to read and breathe a passion for the hobby. To a certain extent Lances' book feels like a heavy college textbook.
Still, there's no doubting the usefulness of the information in the book. I just wish the information was nicer to look at.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Holyhead Breakwater Railway

One of the most unusual railway lines in The United Kingdom was the Holyhead breakwater line in North Wales. Entirely cut off from the rest of the railway system two class 01 shunters worked the maintenance trains that helped to keep the three miles of harbour breakwater in good repair. The line was originally built to 7' gauge in the late 1840's to help with the construction of the breakwater to bring stone down from the quarry on Holyhead mountain to the site of the breakwater. The line was converted to standard gauge in 1911 when further construction was needed. This was also when the line became cut off from the rest of the railway system. Even after construction was completed the line was still needed to assist in the upkeep and maintenance of the breakwater as large boulders could be bought straight down from the quarry onto the breakwater by rail. Eventually though it became more practical to bring the material in and on to the breakwater by road and the last train ran in July of 1980. Two years later and the locomotives had been cut up for scrap on site. The breakwater and the surrounding area are now part of a country park where trains may one day, run again.

The model as seen here depicts the locomotive shed and the line out along the breakwater to the lighthouse. I tried to model the soldiers point buildings (the castellated structure at the rear) in some way as that helps to tie the model to t he real location. Though its relationship to the locomotive shed has changed from the actual location. 
One thing that I have not depicted on the sketch is the mobile crane that was used to unload the wagons of their stone from the quarry and dumped on the seaward face of the breakwater wall. I left that out to keep the sketch nice and simple. But it can be seen in several of the photographs linked to in the inspiration box. Operation though somewhat limited would be quite interesting to watch. A locomotive with a couple of wagons behind loaded down with some large rocks appears from offstage from behind the loco shed and heads out onto the breakwater where it stops by the mobile crane, which (being a fully operational feature) picks the stones off the wagons and dumps them over the seawall. Exactly as the real thing would do. Doesn't sound that much but at an exhibition an operating feature like that would wow the audience. 
Articles on the breakwater do refer to sidings and even a passing loop along the 3 mile length of the breakwater. It might be possible to fit a siding in at the lighthouse end and as a change to normal operations supplies might be able to be delivered to the lighthouse in a box van.
Once again on a model like this stock requirements would be limited. One loco and 3 or 4 wagons could see you through. It would be a great project to test out your scratchbuilding skills with the operational mobile crane as well. You can be pretty certain that no-one else will have a layout like it.

Monday, January 2, 2012

An unhealthy interest

As you well know by now I can get interested in many different aspect of railway operation and want to design layouts for them. One of the most unusual things I got interested in was the transportation of Nuclear waste by the special flask trains. I forget how I got interested in them. It may well have been a series of postings on RMWeb (it's always fairly safe to blame anonymous RMWeb contributors) on Nuclear Waste transport. There are several nuclear power stations in the UK so Nuclear waste trains are not an uncommon site on Britain's railways. I even knew one of the railway lines quite well. Trains to the Trawsfynydd Nuclear power station ran along the Conwy valley line to Blaenau Ffestiniog and thence on to Trawsfynydd though the Snowdonia mountains of North Wales. Spectacular stuff. Just look at the pictures of the branch here at 2D53 to get a flavour. 
That is what inspired the above scheme. It was envisioned as a P4 or EM scale layout set in the late 70's when I remember British Rail in North Wales the best. The unusual shape of the baseboard was driven by my desire to be able to watch trains coming towards you rather than crossing the field of view.  I was very interested in being able to get the crane to work so that you could transfer the nuclear flasks from a lowloader to the nuclear flask wagon and vice versa. This would have made for an interesting feature. Several suitable cranes are available commercially as is a Nuclear Flask wagon from Bachmann So really this seemingly unusual subject matter would be rather easy to recreate.