Sandy Shores @ Basingstoke Model Railway Exhibition 2023 (B&NHMRS)

I don't know where the past few months has disappeared to, but suddenly I realised that the exhibition that I had been invited to take Sandy Shores to by the Basingstoke & North Hants Model Railway Society (B&NHMRS) was to be soon upon me!

As is typical before an exhibition, there was a list of things to do. Naturally, that includes cleaning and testing that everything works, as well as fixing damage. However, plans had been mooted for an addition to the layout... know when you say you'll 'do such-and-such by this date', and then immediately regret it - well that happened to me! First though, a little bit of backstory is needed. I recently completed a beach diorama and 2 how-to articles for BRM (March and Spring 2023 issues), part of which involved building beach huts. At the end of the article I commented on how I would probably now commandeer the huts for Sandy Shores, albeit intending that to be a bit of a joke comment. You can probably see where this is heading!

Eager to update the layout, I then took the joke more seriously, and later posted on the relevant RMweb thread for the Basingstoke exhibition that there may be some changes by the time of the exhibition (at least I wrote "may", but still!). Bear in mind that this was posted only a few days before the exhibition itself! Cue a mad rush on the Friday to get the layout not only cleaned (along with the locos - thank god there's only 2 of them!), but to fix various things and also to add the beach huts to the layout...

...looking at the layout, the only place that would be suitable for the beach huts would be this small area at the front between the groyne and the rock armour. The larger area to the left of the groyne would be mostly behind the lighthouse, so, unfortunately, not entirely suitable.

Above: Two out of the three beach huts will be used here from the BRM diorama. If you'll excuse the wonkiness(!), you can see that my plan involved removing some of the rock armour to create space. Yes, it would be easier having the huts further to the left, but aside from the lighthouse placement interfering, it would also block a sight line to the water tower that I was keen to keep.

Above and below: The point of no return! A saw cut through the dune starts the destructive process, but most of it was removed with a Stanley knife, as shown below. These two photos show the first stage, but there was more destruction to be done...

Above: With a temporary scrap piece of 5mm foamboard to set the intended foundation height, and with some of the rock armour removed, I could check to see how big the foundation needed to be; both in order to provide necessary clearance to the railway, and also to ensure the doors of the huts would be able to be opened without falling off the promenade, or clouting the railings!

Above: Clearly, more of the sand dune needed to be removed, cue more destruction; this time with an old butter knife being used to lever it off (after having first cut the perimeter with the Stanley knife).

Above: Happy with the size of the area removed, a template is cut from tracing paper (well, actually, I tell a lie, it was tissue paper as that's what I had to hand from when I made the felt roofs of the beach huts). This could now be used to cut the promenade out of a piece of 5mm foamboard.

Above: Parts of the promenade are being worked on here. The walls below the level of the promenade walkway itself would be concrete in order to save time, and would also therefore contrast against the older stone quay walls on the layout. The foamboard was therefore shaped; using a rounded needle file to form a wave deflector at the top. The walls above the surface of the promenade were to be concrete blocks; as found at the base of the loco shed. These could quickly be created by drawing/indenting the mortar courses with a mechanical pencil and steel rule as shown.

Above: All the parts for the promenade can now be seen, prior to being glued together with epoxy. The 4 random triangles at the top were intended to be used for strengthening, but were not used in the end. Note how the surface of the promenade has lines marked for the joints in the concrete, plus a repair patch which will be tarmac. A step has also been cut out, and has been squashed to reduce its thickness by half! Another thing to note is that only two sides have walls to support the promenade, as the other sides will be set into the scenery. Also, the front wall (foreground) doesn't cover the entire length; the notch in the promenade marking the end point of this wall...

Above: ...which is needed due to the groyne that's in the way. I'm fairly sure that in reality the groyne would be rebuilt rather than the promenade being notched around the groyne, but there's no way I'm hacking the groyne up! The photo shows a test fit being done, with material being slowly removed around the outside until it sits perfectly in place. One thing I should admit to at this point was that I never tested the clearance between the promenade and the siding - very stupid, but this time I got lucky with my judgement. The height and clearance perfectly misses even my longest and widest piece of rolling stock (which I didn't test until the show itself!). To be fair, it did look about the same distance as the station platform, so I wasn't overly concerned (clearly!). Anyway, both walls atop the promenade have had all sides marked with mortar courses. The reason for only having two walls at the front should now be obvious.

Above: With the basic promenade completed, one thing I felt was missing was a set of railings. I still had some of the Ratio stanchions/railings kit leftover from the beach diorama for BRM, so these were used along the two front edges.

Above: The newer version of the kit (i.e. with recyclable plastic packaging) includes much shorter wires for the handrails than the old version did; at least I think it does, as I found some wire which I believe is from the old version left over from my Fawley oil refinery layout. These longer ones are far more useful, and were thus pressed into use for the promenade. Note that the railings are first pre-bent around a cylindrical object, then threaded into the longer set of 4 stanchions (which were previously glued in place with epoxy). Then, the three posts (not glued) along the shorter side were threaded onto the handrails - only then were these glued in place. The whole lot was then sprayed with Plastikote 'Dove Grey' Chalk Effect, and left to dry for a couple of hours. In the meantime...

Above: ...we can take a brief detour. At the last exhibition (Wilton), multiple wires from a couple of lighting strips broke off. The original set-up included plastic U trunking that had LED strips inside; connected only via 2 flimsy wires. Needless to say, this is not a great set-up for an exhibition layout. The U trunking, by the way, was simply placed upside-down on top of the lighting rig supports, meaning the supports blocked some of the light. Having all the trunkings joined together permanently also made it very difficult to put them on top - on one occasion, one of them slipped off and caused damage to the delicate handrails on the headshunt trestle. Clearly a new solution was needed, and as I had explored this subject in a past BRM article, I knew more-or-less what to do, albeit opting for a slightly easier method of attachment. Aluminium mini-trunking kits can be bought specifically for LED strips, and come complete with end caps and diffuse slide-in covers. Whilst this doesn't relate to the problems mentioned earlier, it would be much better than the plastic trunking because it acts as a heatsink for the LED strips. It's also clearly stronger (the plastic ones have twisted and bent over the years), and, this particular aluminium trunking was also able to be easily bent to shape; perfect to fit directly to the curved fascia.

To attach it, I had a sudden idea - why not use self-adhesive Velcro?! I use it to attach the layout curtain, and it has proved very quick and effective. Fortunately, my mum had a fair amount left-over from a project, so I put it to use. This meant the lighting trunking can finally hang from the bottom of the lighting rig, and thus provided more even lighting. Additionally, the diffuse covers meant the layout doesn't seem to suffer from speckled rail tops, unlike the old version caused by uncovered LED strips. The 'soft' side of the Velcro is attached to the aluminium trunking, and the 'rough' side is on the lighting rig supports; this means the aluminum won't get scratched whilst the layout is in transit (the trunking travels in a bundle for ease of transportation).

Above: The aluminium trunking that I used for the BRM article was stiff V-shaped trunking. However, I found bendable examples on Amazon, meaning I could, at long last, attach one to the curved fascia of the lighting rig. With the fascia put into place (to know what shape of curve I needed), I could bend the trunking to shape. It's worth noting that the LED tape was put in first, and the diffuse cover slid in before bending it; otherwise it would be much more difficult to slide the cover in due to the curvature. Anyway, three sets of self-adhesive Velcro bits could then be added; one at each end, and one in the middle. These 1m aluminium trunking lengths are slightly shorter than the full length of the fascia, but not enough to create a dark spot, thankfully. (Note: Even though the aluminum strip acts as a heatsink, the glue from the adhesive Velcro did fail a few times during the exhibition after prolonged use of the lights, I think due to heat; so I will need to use impact adhesive to properly secure the Velcro before the next show!)

Above: I thought I'd also show how the simple connections are made between the lengths of trunking. Two very short wires are soldered to the LED tape, electrical tape is then laid underneath, and then the wires are screwed into standard 2.1mm female connectors. A single female-to-male 2.1mm splitter cable then joins all the lighting trunkings together. I went for a 5-way male version, but 3 would've surficed for this layout.

Above: These photos show the right most and centre lighting rig supports, with the self-adhesive Velcro squares in place. The wire used for the connectors is thicker than the older stuff, but I still feel a more rigid connection between aluminum trunking and connector would be much better; though how I'd achieve this in a simple manner, I'm not sure. I guess I'd have to superglue the aluminum trunking and connector to a piece of something thin but sturdy so that they form one solid object. I'll have to tackle that as well before the next show.

Above: This is the final result (apologies for the lack of backscene - you'll see why later). The light is more even than before, and the aluminum is just as lightweight as the plastic trunking; yet much sturdier. It also means there are now only 3x 1 metre strips, compared to the original 4 of various lengths. It's certainly a much tidier arrangement, with no wiring poking up around the layout except for that one end with the splitter cable.

Above: So, about the backscene. One aspect of Sandy Shores that I have always hated (if that doesn't sound too extreme), is that the backscene is an absolute chore to assemble. Because I like to make sure it doesn't get damaged (although there is one annoying scratch in the sky, but I digress!), the paper backscene always lives, unless at a show, rolled up in a cardboard tube for safety. I've tried a few methods of attaching it to the hardboard (such as self-adhesive double-sided foam blocks and Blu Tack), but none were fast or convenient; and often left residues. I thus realised with my new lighting set-up that I could probably use the Velcro pads. With four on each end, plus a couple around the hole in the sky (where trains leave the scenic/non-scenic sections), suddenly the backscene can be put on in a couple of minutes compared to the 5-10 minutes beforehand. It's also clean, and because I'm using the soft part of the Velcro on the backscene, won't damage it. I was concerned about whether the paper backscene would stand up to the pulling apart of the Velcro, but it seems to be thick enough paper where that isn't an issue; especially if you pull it off slowly/carefully!

Above: So, now those jobs are done and the 'Chalk Effect' paint has had time to dry on the promenade, we can finish off the painting of the latter. This is real simple; just a mix of Vallejo 'Buff', 'White', and 'Black Grey' to produce a suitable concrete colour. Adding slight amounts of the latter two between concrete slabs means there is a bit of variation. The same applies to the concrete block dwarf walls; which had a couple blocks picked out with a lighter colour. The only other steps were to pick out the tarmac repair patch with a mix of 'Black Grey' and 'White', and to give a wash of 'Pale Sand' all over to tone everything down and create a simple weathered effect.

Above and below: So when all is said and done, within a day, the above bare scar of polystyrene was transformed into a completely different scene...

Above and below: ...which means that all that was left to do was to fill in any gaps with a mix of household plaster, sand, and paint. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to weather it to match the rest of the layout as the plaster obviously needed time to harden, but I can live with that considering how last-minute the changes were!

By 2am, I finally called it a day! Of course, that however left little time for sleep as I woke up at 6am ready for the drive to Basingstoke. Thankfully, the plaster/sand combo used to bed the promenade in dried sufficiently in those 4 hours, and survived the trip unscathed! Probably being the last layout to arrive, I set the layout up in record time; the new Velcro arrangement with the LED strips and backscene saved valuable time faffing about. The layout was therefore ready for the paying public:

Above: The new beach huts at Sandy Shores bring bright pops of colour to an already summery scene; as do the Scale Model Scenery deckchairs...

Above: ...which are also featured in an alternate view showing how the lighthouse would've blocked the huts had I positioned them further to the left. The deckchairs are one of the few things on the layout not scratchbuilt, but there's no way I'd be able to build something that fine; so best leave it to the laser cut experts! They really finish off this new scene nicely; together with the rolled up windbreak that leans against the rear wall of the promenade. I could do with some figures, though!

Above: A final view of the modified area shows that the clearance is quite tight between the left hand curved siding and the beach huts. There's only about 2 millimetres space between the widest wagon and the blue hut. Thankfully, the huts aren't glued down (just like most of the structures on the layout), so this clearance can be adjusted. It does however mean that they also have a propensity to move should you knock them whilst dealing with uncoupling wagons!

Overall, the Basingstoke exhibition went really well. The main niggles were old problems that I haven't yet rectified; most notably the fiddle yard turntable alignment (or rather, the lack of indexing) and uncoupling magnet issues. There are also a few minor things I'd like to address, but on the whole the layout performed superbly, and was incredibly well received - for which I am most grateful for. One chap even came specifically to see the layout, I think getting the train from Luton (though my memory is terrible, so apologies for being unsure, and also for forgetting the gentlemen's name!). As a way of saying thanks for coming and sticking around almost all day (and also taking on the gauntlet of operating the layout for a spell), I drove him to the station on the way back from the exhibition on one of the days. It's such a great feeling when someone takes time and effort out of their weekend to not only see the layout, but stay for so long watching it, and having a good chat about all things modelling related. So thank you (and it was also great to chat, albeit briefly, at Ally Pally last weekend)!

To finish off this entry, I'd also like to thank Stuart Taylor. He very kindly volunteered to cover for me for quite a while whilst I scouted around the exhibition for layouts to photograph for BRM. Operating Sandy Shores can be quite challenging due to its operational quirks, but he rose to the challenge admirably, despite the layouts' best efforts to trick him! He had brought his phenomenal cameo layout, Melin Dolrhyd to the show - a really lovely effort in small space modelling of a real location. A simple, yet beautiful little layout; it seems like sharing a few photos is the perfect way to sign off. You can see his blog here - it's well worth a look and a follow!


P.s. Watch out for a future 009 News article of Sandy Shores - once I get around to writing something, that is!