Tuesday, 4 August 2020

The next layout will be...?


  1. The next layout will likely be set around RAF Calshot/Fawley refinery/Lepe/Southampton Waterside (although I haven't totally ruled out the IoW yet)
  2. I'd like either a combined OO and 009 layout, or one of each connected by mutual fiddle yard
  3. I can't decide whether to have: modular, double-sided, multiple self-contained layouts, or something else...
  4. I must design for what will fit in my small car - no board longer than 4ft, preferably no wider than a normal interior door frame, although I'll stretch to 3ft if necessary.
  5. Either way I'd like something both unique, and fun to operate!
I know there's a lot of text here, but if nothing else, do take a look at the photos and renders as they'll give a good overview of my ideas.

Now, onto the full version! 

I thought planning my next layout would be relatively easy, but I've been giving it a lot of thought over the past two weeks (with many hours spent doodling and playing with 3D models in an effort to squeeze real locations into a minimum space), but the designs kept getting larger and more complex, and I kept finding interesting sites nearby that are crying out to be modelled. Either way, I'm certainly no closer to something that I'm happy with!

Regardless of whatever ends up being built, I feel relatively confident in saying that it will be inspired by areas surrounding (and including) Calshot; I'm of course a sucker for coastal scenes, but there are also a lot of very interesting areas to be inspired by here. Not only are there quaint seaside locations, but they are intermingled by some pretty serious industrial sites! I guess in the real world we'd call this contrast an eyesore, but in model form it creates intrigue.

This is going to be a LONG post, but I've included plenty of (hopefully interesting!) screenshots of 3D models that I've mocked up to show my initial ideas, as well as a few prototype photos; either ones that I have taken, or ones found on Geograph.org.uk.


SECTION 1: The narrow gauge (009)

My first thoughts naturally turned to a layout based on Calshot, Ashlett Creek, and Fawley. The idea (ha!) was to keep things small, and produce 3 small boards; each capable of being a standalone layout if I didn't have room to set them all up in one go.

However, my best intentions were sidetracked even at this very early stage by the idea of a standard gauge circle of track, which in turn set each module to be 762mm wide; a little too wide, really. For some reason I kept this size going for a long time despite never adding any OO gauge in the designs! Let's take a look anyway:

Above: A lot is going on in this screenshot, but it shows a few progressions of ideas. The bottom-most doughnut would is a simple non-scenic test track featuring a 3rd radius circle of 009, plus 3rd and 4th radius circles of OO gauge track. Above that, we have a 3-part circular layout featuring two scenic, and one non-scenic boards. Next up, the middle pair of designs show the same diameter circle, but with an elongated egg-shaped section comprising of two larger scenic boards (with the rest non-scenic). Finally, the top right set shows a fully "presented" version of that idea, with one board (Ashlett Creek) mocked up as an additional scenic module. Let's take a closer look at that one board:

Above: Using rough dimensions from Google Earth, I mocked up the two main structures; the tidal mill, and the pub "The Jolly Sailor"; both of which were partially built on Old AGWI Rd. To form a continuous run, a non-prototypical spur is run behind some trees on the edge of the mill pond (at the rear). I've always said Ashlett Creek would make a very attractive scene with very few modifications, and indeed it would easily stand by itself as an exhibitable layout (although with only two sidings, perhaps three if you count the rear spur; not exactly a thrilling layout to operate!).

Above: The tidal mill at Ashlett Creek is a very dominant building. Looks like I've modelled it a little too small (height wise), but the general atmosphere is there. Note the quay, which once had a standard gauge steam crane to offload barges brought from Eling Wharf. These materials were things like sheet metal, and concrete piles; all used in the construction of the oil refinery a mile or so away. Two narrow gauge tracks also terminated here from the refinery for the same purpose.

Above: Just to the left of the mill is The Jolly Sailor. I already started a model of this when I was building Old AGWI Rd. The old narrow gauge railway ran to the right of the pub. As you can see, it's a very modellable location, and needs little in the form of compression. I'll likely leave off a few of the later extensions to the pub though!

Above: Another look at the Ashlett Creek module, but this time with a slight modification shown on the right hand version; the backscene height (and thus also the pelmet height) has been dropped to see how low I can get away with it being. I'd say this is the absolute minimum, coming in at 200mm from baseboard edge (at pub height) to the bottom of the pelmet; that's 150mm less than the left hand version. The overall effect is interesting, whilst it might make it look somewhat cramped with the lower headroom, the layout certainly appears a lot wider. As noted, I think I misjudged the height of the mill, so this may actually turn out to be too low...

Either way, I usually prefer a tall backscene as it makes you feel more involved in the scene, by completely removing everything outside of the scene itself. In reality, a pelmet this low will be an issue unless the layout is shown at eye-level, which of course is unfair at exhibitions as it stops children or people in wheelchairs seeing the layout. Typically, a lot of exhibition layouts have relatively short backscenes with a gap until the lighting pelmet (i.e. the pelmet is located higher above); particularly layouts operated from the rear. Unfortunately this isn't good when it comes to photography for obvious reasons! Fortunately, I prefer to operate layouts from the front or side so that I can also engage with the audience; so a tall backscene presents few problems. This does make the layouts considerably bulkier though, which is why I don't permanently attach my backscenes and lighting rigs/pelmets. 

Above: Using the exact same 762mm x 762mm board size, I've also shown how I can condense Calshot to form a second module. I've just noticed the hangar is too far left and covers the track, but you get the point; it fits in nicely. Whilst the small spit was covered in hangars and workshops, there were also plenty of places to "park" seaplanes, so I've tried to keep it feeling relatively open, and only model the hangar in low relief (as on the original two Calshot layouts). I usually avoid half-relief structures unless they can be well camouflaged, but with structures this big, you'd be looking at a large baseboard otherwise; and this is the smallest hangar! Note the two small structures either side of the hangar that will be used to try and hide the exits; both are prototypical.

Above: The hangar and small rightmost building on the render can be seen here in a photo I took back in 2009. The little cottage was built in I think 1900 as a coastguard building, and was eventually incorporated into the seaplane base here as a store and medical building. The hangar dates from 1913, and is of a "Belfast Lattice Truss" type (a barrel ceiling supported by a wooden lattice truss). To the left were a myriad of warehouses, a powerhouse, and more ancillary structures. Note the name given to the hangar; all the main buildings here had names assigned to them to celebrate prominent figures, and their involvement in RAF Calshot.

Above: I visited the spit again in 2010. On this trip I even took a look inside the old castle. At one stage the castle accrued several ugly additions to its roof; not least a coastguard room and weather tower. These have long since been removed and the new coastguard tower seen in the background is the modern replacement. The view from the top of the castle is rather nice, but I bet the view from the coastguard tower is even more impressive! I'd love to keep my model of the castle and incorporate it, but it's such a huge structure that it would take up an entire layout by itself; especially with the moat as well!

Above: Something I haven't modelled before is "Top Camp" - the accommodation camp at Eaglehurst, which the narrow gauge railway at Calshot ran from. I knew that I didn't want a large scene for this as practically all the buildings are the same style, but one photo inspired me in particular; this showed a store and the 3-road engine shed. Outside the shed were two wagon turntables which were used to shunt rations over to the cookhouse adjoining the various mess halls. This 45 degree (instead of 90 degree) module is much smaller at around 300mm x 500mm; including large curves that cut off most of the corners. The track curves do look a little on the harsh side though, so will need checking if a module like this is built! Another thing to bear in mind is that any continuous loop would have to go behind, as this is a dead-end module.

Above: Most of "Top Camp" was demolished, but there are a few buildings to have survived. Here's St George's Church; a stones throw away from the original loco shed; and shows the typical construction style of these buildings. The surrounding land has now been turned into a cemetery. The old officers mess (off-shot to the left) was turned into a pub after the RAF base closed (which was later known as The Flying Boat Inn). Unfortunately, it closed due to low demand in the mid 90s, and burned down in 2001.

Above: Eventually I realised that 762mm would be too wide to fit through most doorways, so I came up with some reduced size "standardised" modules; one of 500mm x 500mm, and one of 600mm x 600mm. Again, these have 90 degree curves on the front edge, and are curved halfway along the other two sides to form a sweeping backdrop. Here you can see my attempt to fit Ashlett Creek in. It's a little tight on the 500mm module, but perfectly achievable on the 600mm one!

However... then I realised a problem

(a.k.a the problems with circular/double/multi-sided layouts)

...is a circular layout/double-sided layout really "fit" for exhibitions? Unless you've got a very small layout that can sit on a table (ala Ted Polet's Nixnie - an excellent example of how to do a double-sided layout), or you're on the very end of an aisle/have space all around the exhibit (which is extremely unlikely at shows unless you're put into a small room on your own); probably not! These layouts are a lot of fun (especially for children who like to follow the trains around), but sadly there's a reason most layouts are rectangular, and typically have one viewing side. Double-sided layouts in particular are really interesting, but I find harder to pull off effectively in an exhibition scene.

Above: Eventually I realised a problem with these 90 and 45 degree corner sections, regardless of size. Can you see what it is? Look towards the left side and you'll see that the jetty is halfway in front of the backscene, and therefore half off it; that's a photographers' nightmare! Our eyes may be good at filtering out backgrounds, but cameras most certainly won't be. This is a big no-no in my books (and is exactly what Old AGWI Rd suffered from).

The problem with "missing" backscenes around curved layouts is not something I often see mentioned in the railway modelling "circle" (pun not intended!); and it results in it being incredibly hard to photograph more than a small section of the scene in one go without there being a missing backscene somewhere in the shot. I've seen many an exhibition layout "ruined" by either the lack of a backscene entirely, or the inability to frame a photo in the way I'd like due to the curvature.
A double sided layout where the two sides have full-wrap around backscenes, and the curve is hidden off-stage (and thus are more akin to two separate layouts) would solve this problem, but then you lose the nice "flow". Ted's first solution for Nixnie was to purposefully create one significant feature (a wooden trestle) on the curved end piece to force the viewer to look mostly from this one angle on the curved section. The other way Ted reduced the problem was by planting a large amount of trees in strategic places; mostly behind the trestle to hide the backscene edge, but also on the corners of the board so that you can still get some oblique angles with a background of trees rather than people! You'll never get it perfect, but Ted's methods are both really effective and also subtle ways of doing it if you are determined to have a curved section.

Despite having just moaned about layouts with curved edges, the "problem" is that I don't like square/rectangular boards! Yes, you can call me a hypocrite now!  I typically find it more natural to let the scenery more or less dictate the shape of the board; or failing that, to curve the edges substantially as seen above to give more flow. The problem is not only is it more difficult to build and store the boards, but you end up making those unintentionally unflattering angles for photography as already mentioned. Even my layout Sandy Shores suffers from that to some degree, but I've tried to set the important features towards the middle or rear of the layout to help offset this.

As with all railway modelling, compromises are therefore the name of the game, and whilst I'd love to have all manner of whacky board shapes, it's probably best if I compromise on board shape if I am to get some decent photos by the end of it! Here's a slightly more subtle curve that may work a bit better (although obviously still leaves potential for some angles to have a partially missing backdrop):

Above: This is where the designs got bigger again, but this time not in width, but in length. 900mm (3ft) x 400mm (1.3ft) is still perfectly manageable though, and would easily fit in my car. (It's about a foot less than Sandy Shores in length). This means that we now lose the nicely flowing circular layout, and end up with what is essentially a rectangular box, presumably with a hinged or removable fiddle yard behind. The end of the jetty is perhaps a little close to the board edge for my liking (taking photos of it would be hard), but other than that it's a lot better.

It goes to show that there's a lot to take into account with layout design, likely more than you would initially think (and I include myself in that category, as I totally forgot the amount involved, too!). 

SECTION 2: The standard gauge

Even though every layout except Sandy Shores has had some OO, none of it has been operational since 2011 or thereabouts. That means that none of my standard gauge locomotives have even turned a wheel for 9 years! I started off thinking about a layout (preferably with a circle of track) that I could finally give them a good run on...

...however, realising that even a third radius of OO track was not only unrealistic (i.e. too sharp), but also very large, I'm leaning towards a 4 board stack-able "roundy-roundy" test track for this purpose. To satisfy my cravings to shunt goods stock, I'd have another layout either on its own, or as part of the narrow gauge layout. With regards to the round test track, I haven't thought about many specifics, other than it likely having an inner circle of 009, and one circle of 3rd (+ maybe also a 4th) radius OO track. This really needs to be as slim as possible, hence the idea of splitting it into four, and stacking the boards for storage. In reality, the depth of the boards needn't be more than some 35mm PSE and 9mm plywood; much less than my default 100mm as shown in the earlier renders.

Of course, a circle of track is not exactly fun to operate; hence the idea for a separate shunting layout. This train of thought (if you'll excuse the pun) wasn't helped by suggestions of a standard gauge terminus in a sort of Isle of Wight guise. I must say, the idea of an O2 along with some nice old coaching stock still being used on a BR branch line very much appeals to me! Of course, that is a possibility, but in actual fact the tipping point was re-reading a few books on the various railway systems along the Waterside*...

* The Waterside, Southampton. Not marked on any maps, but is a local name given to the west side of Southampton Water; so the section of coastline from Eling to Calshot.

First, A Brief History Lesson

To cut a very long story short, the original plans for a standard gauge railway along the Waterside proposed a line from Totton to Lepe/Stone Point - a farmhouse on the coast in the absolute middle of nowhere! The reason? Well, the original somewhat optimistic idea was to tunnel a railway underneath the Solent to Cowes, on the Isle of Wight (only 2.5 miles away, compared to 11.5 miles from Southampton). This idea fell by the wayside, eventually, but not before more plans were drawn up for a 470 yard pier at Stone Point for Steamer services to the IoW and Channel Islands. After many, many years, a plethora of plans, land purchases, test drilling, and a bitter rivalry between the LSWR and the SM&AR/M&SWJ; it was the LSWR who ended up getting a line, but not to Lepe/Stone Point, but to Fawley oil refinery, which was, at the time, under construction. This was said to be the terminus... "for now", as there was consideration being given to extend to Calshot; which is partly why both of my versions of Calshot had standard gauge track. Clearly, the LSWR never got over the threat of the M&SWJ building a line to the IoW, and potentially taking their lucrative custom... which is strange considering by this point:
  1.  The tunnel idea had long been branded unworkable
  2.  A pier at Stone Point would've been relatively un-sheltered and thus not really suitable for steamers
  3.  The LSWRs' own steamer and IoW rail services were in full swing
  4.  Any line would feasibly have to join up with the LSWRs' own line at Totton, and thus would be subject to their terms and charges
  5.  The M&SWJ had already filed for bankruptcy!
Anyway, the point is, that gives me a lot of scope for some "realistic" alternative history for the Waterside area, and further west to Lepe.

Above: With the idea in my head sown, I set about making a few variations on the Lepe/Stone Point theme, albeit without a 470 yard pier because that would equate to a 5.6m long baseboard, minimum! The design shown is large, but still narrower than Sandy Shores. Note the Artitec HOe ferry (with the track removed as it's purely used for cars), and the station canopies which are a representation of those once found at Lymington Pier. Yes, that's a small lighthouse on the hill, as well as 4 coastguard houses, and in the foreground, the "watch house". The latter was used to look out for smugglers trying to navigate the Beaulieu river! The coastguard houses are very pretty, their walls being covered in multi-toned slates; something you don't often see in this part of the UK:

Above: As mentioned, Lepe is a pretty beautiful hamlet. There's not much room between the houses and watch house, so any plan would need to be single track; and even then I think it's a little optimistic! In reality, the railway would be much further to the right, and definitely wouldn't go behind the watch house; but I can't not have these beautiful buildings on scene!

There's just one slight problem with this plan, and is one that all my OO gauge layouts have faced; there simply isn't enough length before the station to make passenger services entertaining to run! In fact, that also applies to Sandy Shores; the platform is immediately after the scenic entrance. Assuming I did build such a scene, goods would definitely account for most of the traffic on the line. I'd likely treat the layout as an inglenook (perhaps including the platform line, which I suppose could double up as a freight loading platform) to make things more interesting.
Rolling stock would be a variety of 4-wheeled wagons, and whilst 4 wheel coaches would be nice, perhaps the Hornby Push/Pull Maunsell set would be more useful given the later period I intend to model (40s-60s) That said, there's not a lot of length to accommodate a passenger train, so maybe a single coach is all that is required (I've got my eye on this Maunsell ex LSWR 58ft comp). Motive power wise, The B4 tank and USA tank are particularly strong contenders, and maybe the O2 and a Southern Terrier as well. Thankfully, there are also a few in my existing collection that would suit; notably the Q1 (albeit a bit on the long side), the BR standard class 2, and BR class 03/04 diesel. Everything else I really ought to sell!

SECTION 3: Where to now?

Well, it always helps to start off with a list of constraints; perhaps that's what I should've done first instead of leaping into condensing real life locations into random board shapes and sizes!

 I've not been at home for the past 2 weeks, so haven't had access to the track that I'd rescued from Old AGWI Rd, but that, along with some cardboard mock ups, will be a good way to go about planning in earnest from here on out.

I'm currently leaning towards the idea of two self contained but join-able (via a central traverser fiddle yard) layouts; one depicting an alternate history of Lepe, and the other a mild alt-history of Calshot. Time will tell if that's what I end up building though! Ideally, I'd have more room for the standard gauge layout, but I'm trying to downsize here; plus, all boards would have to fit in my tiny car in one go...

Well done if you made it to the end!
Any comments or suggestions are wilfully received, as always.

Sunday, 19 July 2020

End of the Line (for two layouts!)

I mentioned recently how I've been having a big clear-out. Well... ...things have somewhat escalated!
Remember how I said that Calshot would require a lot of work to bring back from its dusty state (remember that it's been without a cover in a dusty garage for 10 years!), and that Old AGWI Rd. also needed a fair amount of work...?

...well...they've both been completely dismantled. Yup. Crazy, I know. But I feel a lot better now that I know I can start from scratch using lessons learnt from building Sandy Shores. I knew deep down that Calshot would likely need to be scrapped, but I even I'm surprised by Old AGWI Rd meeting the same fate!

Calshot (MkII)

Like I said, refurbishing Calshot would've been extremely unlikely, but it's always sad to see a once much-loved layout get broken up; especially your first "proper" exhibition layout. Still, 10 years in a garage doesn't do much good for a layout, and there's no point hanging onto something I haven't touched in as many years.

Above: Even after a de-dusting, the 10 years that Calshot was suspended from the garage ceiling had clearly taken its toll. The track was in remarkably good condition, but the woodwork had started to warp; especially the rear lattice frame. The backscene was long gone (it suffered mould damage at some point), and even assuming the electrics all worked, it would require a new fiddle yard, fascias, new infill between the tracks, and a major scenic revamp!

Above: Some of the buildings from Calshot will need a lot of work if they are to be reused on the next layout!

Old AGWI Rd.

I fully intended to continue work on Old AGWI Rd now that the commissions have been finished, but the more I looked at the state of it after 5 years of storage untouched, the more problems I saw that would need fixing. Some relatively minor (cracking clay everywhere, and some wonky walls and lifted track), but as I looked underneath, I encountered more serious issues; particularly that the entire ply trackbed is only supported by polystyrene! What was I thinking?!

Above: The OO gauge section was woefully unsupported, and had bowed considerably even though nothing had even been on it!

Above: At the time, my dad and I thought we were being clever by making custom mounts for the point motors. However, the sticky foam pads gave too much leeway, and as you can see, this caused things to go out of alignment after a while!

Above: This dodgy kink in the track was one of many problems I found; you have to be so careful laying track, especially where you have to use insulated fishplates. Lesson learnt!

Above: These tracks (plus another one elsewhere) spanned a drainage channel. Unfortunately, because of the rush to have the track laid and working for its first show, I never got around to making the bridges or brickwork underneath. Retro-fitting these would not be impossible, but it would be very difficult!

All these problems were compounded by my inability to set up the whole layout at once without clearing an entire room of its furniture! This effectively sealed its fate, but there were a myriad of other reasons; such as not knowing what to do for a backscene, having a tiny fiddle yard, and remembering how difficult it is to set up on my own. Simply put, the more I thought about it, the less it made sense to keep it; so I'm glad I've made the bold decision to dismantle all 4 boards!

Above: The tools required for dismantling the layouts; the most used tool was actually the butter knife, although the hammer came a close second.

: Having unscrewed and levered the PSE battens off of the polystyrene, more tedium awaited me as I used an old track saw to remove all the polystyrene. PU adhesive is pretty strong; had I used PVA it would probably have been a lot easier to salvage the polystyrene!

: All but the ply trackbed and a few damaged bits of fascia were kept; having been carefully removed.

It has taken me three days to dismantle both layouts due to how careful I've tried to be; I've even sorted and kept every single screw! I've also tried to reduce waste as much as possible. Only nails, broken screws, and a few bits of damaged ply will be thrown away.  Sadly, most of the polystyrene ended up in two bin bags as it did not come off easily (it ended up breaking into tiny chunks). Other than that, only a couple of tiny bits of straight track were unrecoverable, and I even managed to get a short length of inlaid track off in decent condition, which I was pretty surprised at!

: Removal of the partially infilled track was a test of patience, but my solution was to score just past the ends of the sleepers, and lift the clay up with the knife. Seemed to work pretty well, although you had to be careful not to bend sleepers. I also had to be wary of hidden track pins.
Most of the wiring (from Calshot, specifically; as only a few droppers were installed onto Old AGWI Rd.) was bundled up so that I can reuse it, including keeping the wires for the point motors in separate coils to save time when it comes to re-wiring them later.

Here's one salvaged pile of bits (if you'll excuse the tablecloth!):

Above: This is my total haul with regards to track, wiring, point motors, screws, bolts, hinges, and other electrical components. There are also a few small scenic items in one of the tubs, although I've also kept the castle and its gate house from Calshot for now; though I don't think I'll have much room for it on the new layout!

Above: The controls panels from Calshot (top), and Old AGWI Rd. Note how much neater John's wiring is on Calshot! I have much to improve upon for the next one. The only difficulty now will be desoldering all the switches and such. After a bit of research, I see that there are desoldering pumps and such that you can get, so that'll likely be a worthwhile investment for me. 

So, where to now?!

Well, I've already had some interest in building a third version of Calshot, believe it or not! Similarly, I think the oil refinery will be something completely unique, so I'd love to feature a little bit of Fawley if there's room for it. Luckily, the two places are relatively close in real life, so with a fair amount of selective compression, my current vague plan is to build a smaller layout, or perhaps small modules, featuring a little bit of both layouts. How that will work, or what it will look like I've no idea... yet... but I do have ideas starting to form! I must however remember to design for the space I have available, not the space I wish I had! A small layout is the only thing I should build in my current circumstances, so I'll have to be strict on myself...

...watch this space!

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

My Model Railways: Pt. 2 - The first "serious" layouts

Following on from the last blog entry, let's continue the tour of my old layouts! Having demolished all previous layouts, I was still very eager to have something. Looking for inspiration, that's when I found RMweb (in 2008). The holy grail! I was 15 at the time of joining, and very much an impressionable indecisive child. I've said it elsewhere, but I vividly remember a comment in one of my first topics describing me as "flapping around looking for ideas". It was probably at that point that I knew I had to grow up a bit! Sadly I don't have any photos of my SLT (single line terminus), but they were photos taken on an old phone, and the old RMweb no longer exists to be able to retrieve them (and yes, I tried the Wayback Machine!).

So. October 2008 (according to the aforementioned Wayback Machine), and after having immaturely clogged up Stu's (lapford34102) St. Jude thread (a lovely SLT layout) for well over a week, I thought it was about time I started my own adventure. This is where the idea behind Calshot was born; my first proper layout. Thankfully, despite my immaturity and constant asking of questions, there were a lot of people to help me with this layout online; for which I remain very grateful to this day. Perhaps the main person was JohnDMJ, who even took a trip down from Sussex to teach me how to wire the layout and lay track on the MkII version; now that's a very generous thing to do for a clueless teen! But first, the MkI version:

The MkI Calshot was originally a relatively simple affair, with a large seaplane hangar forming the centrepiece. The Wills Platform Shelter has been turned into a Cafe; as Neil Rushby did with his on Shell Island; a hugely inspirational layout to me.

It certainly looked very smart, especially considering my age at the time, and I really was trying hard to elevate my modelling to the next level. It's a huge shame that I have no photos of the fiddle yard, as it was a really interesting system. A combined locomotive AND train turntable! Anyway, it didn't even last long in this guise, and was extended in two directions:

As you can see, the extensions resulted in a really weird wavy board shape! Thankfully the backscene was just long enough, too.

Looking back, the original aesthetically looked much nicer, but the lifeboat launch ramp, castle, and loco shed did add some interest. I soon realised that as the real place had a complete narrow gauge railway, I really ought to add some to the layout. This meant basically ripping up most of the trackwork, and installing a dual gauge section; allowing both standard and narrow gauge to cross in front of the hangar.

I don't recall exactly what made me scrap this version of the layout, but I vaguely recall running issues due to badly laid track being part of it. Regardless, you can already see how I'm starting to think about interesting sight lines, and a newly found desire to scratchbuild structures!

At some point in 2009 (before the extension to MkI Calshot), I had a brief flirt with the idea of an MoD line (with mainline connection). How it came into being I've no idea, but I had hung onto the last board (frame only) from my bedroom layout for some years after the rest got dismantled. Despite adding an additional filler piece onto the board, this never got past the mock-up you see below:

I had already part-built a loco shed for the MoD layout, as well as constructing one of the Peco Goods Depots (bottom right) and Ratio fencing. 

Anyway, onwards to the MkII Calshot! After months of sketching, I came up with a plan I liked that would fit on a sort of egg shaped 3ft x 4ft board. Construction began in July 2010, but like the MkI version, this one was also extended. Its extension also meant I no longer had a backscene; so the entire layout looked very tatty as a result. Instead, here's the near-finished original version:

As you can see, the hangar was reused, but painted (and with new doors added), and the castle was rebuilt with a new gatehouse. This is the layout as it appeared at the Brockenhurst Open Day (2010).

One of my favourite photos of the original MkII Calshot! If only it still looked like this and had a backscene (sadly the backscene suffered badly from damp, and was thrown out).

And for the sake of completeness, Calshot MkII's extension on the day it was demolished.

Thankfully, the entire construction of Calshot MkII is still available to view on my old blog!
As for where it is now, well I demolished the extension a few months back, and the original is now in a very sad state of disrepair; suspended from the garage ceiling. It's not only covered in a thick layer of dust, but has practically begun to self-destruct. I'm still uncertain whether I'll ever refurbish it. I really ought to dismantle it completely, especially as it's hung there for almost 10 years; although it would also break my heart to do so!

Perhaps we'll see a Calshot MkIII one day...

Next time, I'll finish off by looking at the final two layouts; Old AGWI Rd. and Sandy Shores!

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

My Model Railways: Pt.1 - Childhood "modelling"!

Now that I find myself with some spare time, I took the opportunity to tidy my bedroom (which doubles up as my work "area"); especially after the mess that building diorama commissions entailed! It's usually filled with modelmaking tools, materials, two desks, my bed... the list goes on, but it's mostly modelmaking related stuff in some manner. Unfortunately, most of this has to stay in my tiny room, but, as a result of the clear-out, I was able to fit all 3 BRM dioramas on top of my (ex-kitchen) wall cupboards. All they need now is a dust sheet, I suppose.

Anyway, the clear-up also brought up a couple of old photos, and given that James Hilton has been sharing layouts from his childhood, I thought I'd do the same (although mine aren't a patch on his!) The first four I'm about to show you were at a time before I found out about railway forums, so I was relying on myself and my (mostly uninterested but supportive) parents to be able to build something!

My first attempt at a layout didn't last long; with no scenic materials, I made do with what I found in the garden!

Aside from my first Hornby Trakmat layout (which I have no photos of, sadly, but I reckon is the large board standing at the back of the photo above), my railway modelling began at a young age. Here's my very first "layout". I'll use the word layout loosely considering the unballasted track, garden stones, bits of evergreen shrubs masquerading as... something, cardboard "telegraph poles", and the card-made "roads" and "tunnels"; one of which is paper mache. It's hilariously bad looking back, but I suppose I was very young at the time. Oh, I've just noticed the gravel bits (presumably ballast glued onto card). To be fair, I remember this layout really clearly, not least the station nameboard which was constructed from card and split pins. At least I had a Wills Platform Shelter!

Anyway, it certainly left a LOT to be desired, and didn't last long in that form. Eventually, the board was cut up, and I presume was turned into this (although I can't remember for sure):

A far cry from my efforts now, but as you can see; a step up from the original Hornby Trakmat!

As you can see, at some stage it was put up in our (probably near-new at the time) conservatory. The board on the left rear was a station, and survived for a long time. Looks like the rearmost hill was finished (I believe my dad did most, if not all of the construction work!). I actually still have that grassmat, too! It's stood up in my room between the chimney and my clothes cupboard. No idea why I kept it, as I can't imagine ever using it again, but that's by-the-by...

...The station was a Metcalfe kit, and as you can tell only featured one siding/bay platform and a run-around loop. The buffer stop was a homemade one from old sleepers, and the platform I remember specifically being N gauge (I don't know what we were thinking, either!). Bushes were brightly covered lichen, and a signal box from Hornby "finished" it off. That was the only area to be ballasted, too.

The next two boards never got past the state you see them in, and featured a Hornby dual loco shed (you can just about see the Flying Scotsman), a Dapol church, a row of houses (bottom right), and factory (middle). The latter two I've no clue what brand they were, but they were definitely card. Apart from the gated factory siding (although I can't see the gate in the photo, so maybe that came later), I really don't remember this part very vividly. One thing I will point out is the row of lollipop sticks, middle right; I'm still using the exact same box of them to this day!

The last board on the top right I have no recollection of at all. Looks like there's a level crossing at the very end; presumably used as a headshunt for the factory. Either way, it didn't last long in this set-up, and the whole lot got put up in my room when I had my new bed with extended legs (which I amazingly still use to this day!). This took the form of an L shape; the station went under my bed, the centre corner board had a ton of sidings, and the end board had a short platform and a few more sidings. Sadly, I don't remember the trackplan, and don't have many photos, either!

The bedroom layout saw a motley collection of hand-me-down rolling stock...

...In the photo above, we can see an SDJR 4-4-0, an LMS carriage, an Intercity carriage, a tender (Flying Scotsman?), and three Hornby 4-wheeled freelance carriages; one being either "Annie" or "Clarabel". At least I had the right height platforms and the track was fully ballasted!

Here's the station board again on its last day, in 2009. I guess it must've been stored in my shed for a while, too, before that also got taken down. Oh. Right. The shed! Yes, I did have a layout in there all the way around. There was also a lifting section that crossed the doorway. It was, surprisingly for me, N gauge, and was based on the Dawlish Sea Wall. I still remember many lunchtimes at school using the printers to sneakily print photos of the sea wall section and Dawlish station; having found them online!

The only evidence (aside from some of those images that I printed off, and for some reason, a few bits of rolling stock that I've kept...) is an incredibly short (6 second) clip of it (screenshots above). Unfortunately, whilst all the trackwork and the cliffs were "completed", water ingress into the cheap shed ruined it, and I only remember running trains for three days! I don't remember there being any pointwork, and as you can see, (apart from a Castle class and 2 or three GWR carriages) the rolling stock was... eclectic; an NB gunpowder van (which I still have), 2 Saxa salt wagons, and 2 NCB wagons as you can see above! Something tells me even if it hadn't got ruined by water, I would not have enjoyed running it for long without any ability to shunt wagons. Oh, plus the lack of any insulation in the shed making it either too hot or too cold in there!

And then I found RMweb... next time, I'll show you my first somewhat-serious attempts at railway modelling.

I hope you enjoyed this brief window into my past - comments and questions welcome as always; or you can share your own first layouts!

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Reflecting on the World of Railways virtual exhibition

"Proper" exhibitions may be gone for a while yet, but we can have the next best thing; as witnessed during both the fantastic virtual RMweb SWAG "do" back in April, and the equally superb World of Railways Virtual Exhibition from the weekend just gone. 
We all know the far-reaching effects that lockdown has had for us in 2020, and not being able to attend model railway shows may seem like an utterly trivial matter in comparison; but the truth is, these are the only times I really get outside of the house (notwithstanding the odd shopping trip). I'm really not a social person (that much is probably obvious!), but despite that, being at shows filled with likeminded people and examples of superb modelling are probably the highlights of every year for me.

OK, so virtual exhibitions don't really give us an opportunity for face-to-face socialisation, but when you have such fantastic layouts, videos, photos, and interviews... well, it's really easy to get completely absorbed by the content and completely forget that you're missing out on socialisation.

The World of Railways Virtual Exhibition

    Where to begin? Well, the start, obviously, and what a start it was. 20 layouts of perhaps the highest calibre. In fact, they're all so good that I genuinely struggled to choose even the top 5 among them. I obviously have a soft spot for southern region layouts, but holy cow, when modelling is this good, any natural pre-judgement flies completely out of the window! The only downside is that because it's a virtual exhibition; I don't have any photos to show...

The Layouts

    I could write a very long list of things I love about all 20 layouts, but you'd never read it all, so I'll tentatively pick my personal favourites, with the disclaimer that any not mentioned need not feel any less worthy of my admiration. What's surprising is that only one I've seen in any capacity before: The Clydach Railway.
The first layout you were greeted by was Worlds End (by Pete Goss). The sheer architectural craftmanship of the buildings is pretty incredible; I do love architecture, but I don't think I'd be much less impressed if I didn't care for the subject at all. The windows alone are so well modelled, but add the colouring and complexity of the stonework on the viaduct to the mix, and it makes me wonder...just... how?! How on earth is it so near-perfect? The attention to detail is nuts; I can see why it took 18 months alone to build the viaduct.

Then there's obviously a slice of southern joy for me; Sidmouth (by Richard Harper). If the setting wasn't enough for me, like Worlds End, there's a lot of exceptional architectural work and attention to detail. The weathering is also spot on; subtle, but look from a low angle, and you'd have a hard job to tell that it was a model! The roads and groundwork are also particularly nicely observed, and the trackwork is... well, quite remarkable.

We now move on to the quite frankly jaw-droppingly complex Penmaenpool (by Geoff Taylor); a rabbit warren it may be, but I've never seen a layout so huge look this harmoniously well-modelled in my life (and that's not an exaggeration!); it's stunningly picturesque, too. I'd love to see this particular layout "in the flesh", so to speak. And as for the cab ride? Well, I was utterly spellbound the whole way through. What's more surprising is that the scenic side(s) of the layout feel so spacious, and aren't crammed with track, yet they are interlinked by an immensely complex series of non-scenic loops, storage sidings, junctions... you name it!

Being a man with 3 layouts featuring 009 (OK, so 2 are little more than baseboards, track, and basic scenery, but that's by-the-by...), I can't help but be overjoyed at the sight of the Clydach Railway (by Richard Holder). What originally drew me to the layout was the photographic backscene, and I can only imagine what a headache it must've been to get it to match the scenery so perfectly. Shots where you look dead-on at the background are especially convincing. It's the sort of layout I wish I had room to build, and I would imagine it must be a joy to be able to watch two trains traverse the various gradients, the viaduct, and then pass each other at the stations. I'm very jealous!

Finally, another "Holy cow!" goes to Bournemouth West (by Roger Sunderland). Yes, again, it's southern so of course I'm going to be slightly biased; but just look at it! The trackwork is impressive for starters. The smooth-running, smoke-emitting, nicely-weathered stock is another huge plus. The buildings are again fantastic, but it's the operation that astounds me the most; you don't see many layouts that have a station pilot, as well as a timetable so hectic that it requires absolute precision and teamwork from the operators. Oh, and then there's the beautifully bouncy signals; what a nice touch!

The Rest

You will (probably joyously) realise that this segment is short; truth be told as I was editing the whole time whilst the show was on, I didn't actually get around to watching much past the layouts; certainly none of the trade videos, and only a handful of the interviews...but...
For me, especially now that I've made 3 dioramas for BRM and know just how much time, effort, and complexity that building, filming, editing, and presenting such a project takes; the feature (or should that be 11 or 12 features!) I enjoyed most was of course Phil Parker's layout build, Ferness Quay. I genuinely doubt the vast of majority know just how much effort that project took; I can tell you, it's way more than you'd expect! Here's the thing though, not only has he made a really informative set of videos, he's ended up with a really well-modelled layout, whilst also providing plenty of humour (for starters, I hope you spotted the two Loch Ness Monsters!).

That said, the interviews that I watched were also really interesting, and there are several more that I should probably be watching now instead of writing here! The "Highley Detailed" video was also very entertaining and filmed really well; and I think it's a really good idea to get people to take a closer at the real world around them, and give them ideas as to how they can model it.

Oh, and of course the puzzles and spot the difference images were also fun, even if I never found that missing downpipe on Worlds End! For this spot the difference, "Worlds End" may be a bit of an over-the-top name, but "Wits End" might be more suitable!

Attending as an "exhibitor"

Producing a video (or 5; OK, so only 3 got shown, but...)

Having produced a couple of videos for the SWAG virtual show in April, and three dioramas for BRM in the past year, I was asked if I could contribute a video for the show. Usually, I produce a video to go alongside each diorama build solely for BRM readers, but I hadn't quite finished the last (a farm) diorama, so it was a mad rush not only to finish the diorama, but also to film and edit the video! This actually took the best part of a week to film, despite being only 12 mins or so long; due to noisy neighbours, unexpected visitors, horrendously hot weather, and also continually cocking up lines! (Whilst I do write scripts, I never read directly from them as it will just sound unnatural; and my memory is not particularly good at the best of times!)

In any case, I decided to produce a much-extended video for the show; mostly because viewers would have absolutely no context as they won't have read the article (which will appear in the September BRM, by the way!). What I didn't realise at the time is that the video I made for the construction site diorama (appearing in the August BRM) would also be shown, but to be honest I think the farm diorama needs far more explanation due to the variety of features it has; so it worked out well in the end.

As for the 3rd video, well that was a blooper reel, which you can find here:

(You can tell that at some points I was getting pretty tired of making mistakes!)

(...the other 2 videos should be useful, and will be debuted soon!)

A couple of days before the virtual show, I realised that I could probably make a couple of videos on layout photography; I must've been crazy to attempt to in such short notice; and in the end I got 7 hours sleep in 2 nights and worked on the edits from 9am - 3am both days! Needless to say, I missed out on uploading in time for the show by a few hours, but they will be shown hopefully soon by BRM. If nothing else, I'll upload them via this blog, and/or my RMweb blog in due course.


 Anyway, whilst no expert on photography, I think a lot of people would find at least some of the tips useful to some degree. One video focuses on the steps from start to finish of taking photos (including useful equipment and how to get the best out of it, composition, and talking/demonstrating lighting techniques), whilst the second shows how to take these photos and perform a few very basic edits with free software. Oh, as well as how to stack these photos to form maximum depth of field; again, with free software!

So, there we have it, yet another thoroughly enjoyable virtual exhibition; especially as we get to see layouts that would never make it to any exhibitions given their size/location. The interviews and practicals were also something totally different, and very interesting indeed.
Finally, I really hope people enjoyed my videos, and if you want to find out more about those two dioramas, they will be making their appearances as "How-to" features in BRM very soon:

Construction Site Diorama - August BRM
Farm Diorama - September BRM

Got any questions/comments? - Feel free to leave them either below, or over on RMweb!

Monday, 25 May 2020

Designing a Diesel (& Why I've Never Built a Locomotive!)

Designing a narrow gauge diesel

Regular followers of my modelmaking will know that I'm not one for collecting rolling stock; especially not locomotives. Buying good quality locomotives costs a lot of money (thus I only have two!), and the thought of making my own makes me shiver with dread!

The story of my desire for a new diesel loco began as early as 2008 as I needed a loco for the second version of my first proper layout; Calshot. With some trepidation, I decided to purchase a Knightwing kit (You know; the industrial diesel shunter that seemingly everyone kit-bashed at the time). I also had a donor chassis in the form of an N gauge M7. Long story short, the kit was hacked about, never finished, and the chassis was not a good runner, so it remains abandoned to this day. Around the same time, a friend of mine kindly made not one, but two locomotives for me; a Tin Turtle on a tiny Japanese chassis, and a Decauville locomotive that ran on an N gauge Castle chassis that I also had to hand from my brief fling with N gauge. The Tin Turtle still runs well (albeit at the speed of light), but sadly, the steam loco never got fitted with couplings (see a common theme?!) and also didn't run from day one (as far as I remember, anyway). Presumably as it no longer had a tender to help with pick-ups, but I've never really given it a second look!

By now you're probably getting the picture that I avoid anything to do with locomotive building/fiddling!

The story doesn't stop there though. Back in May 2015, as per usual, we held our annual model railway and steam show in our village. I took along Old AGWI Rd, which was in very early stages (just a baseboard and track, with paper mock-ups; so actually the same as today!). The show went well, until my prized Lilliput HOe diesel shunter suddenly stopped working; never to work again. Surprise, surprise, it still sits to this day; abandoned in the same box as the steam loco.

Fast forward to December of last year, and I found my Kato chassis that I had stashed away, and found myself dreaming of a diesel loco. I doubt it will even run as nicely as the Lilliput one did, but something is better than nothing! Anyway, I guessed dimensions, and after a pleasant evening of 3D modelling I came up with a Mk1 version:


Inspiration was garnered from multiple places, although I suspect mostly from the broken bits of the Knightwing kit that I still had lying around. That gave me some basic dimensions to work from at least, although obviously it would need to be narrower compared to the standard kit. I suppose it's almost a little Ruston-esque, too.


The MkII version soon followed, with multiple changes apparent. The most obvious one is the extra "wings" on the front, which I had seen on a locomotive somewhere and really liked the look of it. Alas I cannot remember what it was on or where I found it as that was 5 months ago now! In any case, other changes are the reduction of height of the main windows to keep it in better proportion, and the replacement of the engine doors with louvred panels.


The MkIII version was due to be the final design, but as with all "final designs"... it wasn't final! Changes from the MkII version are that the window surrounds are now painted in a dark grey to match the running plate, and the cabside porthole windows replaced with more utilitarian square windows. And as for why it was not to be the final version, take a look at the image above again; see the black line on the right hand side? That's how long the Kato chassis is; I can only assume that I never thought to measure it before for some reason!


Which brings us onto the MkIV version, designed today. Note how upon realising I had seriously misjudged the length of the chassis, I opted for an off-centre cab design to accomodate an extra rear bonnet. This actually isn't far from the original diesel that I had tried to kitbash from the Knightwing kit!

Aside from being that bit longer, the engine bay doors have also been redesigned. I went through about four versions before settling on these really simple ones. I initially used the same louvres as on MkIII; but even if I could physically produce such louvres, the thought of making 12 panels really put me off! Having searched the internet, I found a nice and simple design based on a diesel that once worked Java's Sugar Mills (see the penultimate photo on that page); simply 6 holes on the covers. Assuming I can find some fine enough, I'll be adding mesh behind them as I would for the radiator covers.

The question now is; Will it ever get built?!
I can't possibly answer that, but I have at least got the running plate cut and fitted...

...but before I go, here's a final image of the four versions:

Strictly speaking, there have been more than these 4 variations shown, but it gives a good overview of the design process I think. I'd love to know your thoughts on the design, and what you would change, add, or otherwise improve upon. I'm very much new to this!