Bonnie Dundee

Bonnie Dundee

Friday, 15 September 2017

An Unexpected Opportunity

I had almost forgotten the simple pleasure of laying some track and a few hours later, watching something run over it. I was reconnected to that experience today when I glued down some Peco Code 100 RTR track and then this afternoon ran a couple of diesels over it. For the last few years, tracklaying for me has been something of an annual event. By that, I mean that building track took me years. Now in case you are wondering how I have managed to go from one recent post where I had been handlaying Great North of Scotland interlaced sleeper pointwork in 7mm, to using Peco Code 100 track, let me explain.

I am, like many others, it would seem, caught in the great black hole that has been created by C&L Finescale's current delivery difficulties. Having perfectly aligned the planetary systems that are my Rosehearty layout (2nd phase) and a period of annual leave, I was anticipating considerable progress being made over my allocated 18 day period. However, the debacle that is currently occupying the new owner of C&L has given me nothing other than a great opportunity to correctly quote Burns, "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men, Gang aft agley, An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, For promis'd joy!" I would beg of you to note that the phrase uses schemes and not the often misquoted plans. Sorry but that is a pet hate and I cannot miss the opportunity to point that out.

So given that phase 2 of Rosehearty is currently  - and for the foreseeable future - stalled awaiting nothing more complex than a box of 0 gauge flex, my attention turned to my other current project. Languishing under the full array of my scenic material and used as little more than a shelf, my equally stalled HO American outline project is finally getting its time in the limelight. 

For those who have followed this meandering tale of model railway misadventure, you may be aware that it was my decision to replace my previous layout - Balbeggie Sidings - that started my problems of not knowing what to replace it with. What you may not be aware of is that Balbeggie Sidings itself replaced a reasonably substantial US outline HO layout. This problem around what to build as a replacement has been the focus of many of my previous posts, and I suspect you may be thinking, "here he goes again!" But no, I have found the combination of working in both 0 Gauge and HO provides a nice balance and much of what I was previously searching for. One thing that does spring to mind though and created a challenge was the choice of what to model in HO. Those that know me will wonder, that if I could not decide what era, location and gauge to model in for a Scottish themed layout, how the heavens will I cope with the choices available for the US modeller.

Without scenery and with unpainted backdrop building, the operating potential of the layout starts to become apparent.

This has indeed exercised my mind, but I have pulled a trick. Rather than design a single location, where one might stand and watch trains go by (this is the trainspotter type layout much preferred in the UK), I have settled on a more operator focussed layout, much more typical of how US modellers might themselves operate. I have set the layout in a major railroad city (Kansas City, KS) and will concentrate on a business district with passing traffic, mostly consisting of cuts of cars being moved between the various railroads operating in and out of the city. This gives me an excuse to operate power from a number of railroads and not require the massive length trains that an open-country layout would demand. I am also quite determined that this new layout will not have that all too typical look, that of a UK layout but with Walthers buildings and US stock. That's another pet hate of mine, (the second in one blog post!) and something that is seen at most model railway exhibitions in the UK. I have been looking for ways to get the signature look of US sidings sitting at 90 degrees to the running lines, into the project, whilst working around attic trusses and an upper deck layout. I think I have found a way and I may report on this - if it is successful - in a future post.

As well as establishing place and time, I have also determined that whilst there will be scenery, I will not be seeking the kind of fidelity to detail that I want to achieve in 7mm. I am aiming more at the operational capability of the layout, rather than making it a realistic scene. Buildings will not be detailed to any great extent beyond the basics and will instead just provide sufficient clues to its use. Where my 0 Gauge layout is effectively a film set for my models, the HO layout will be a theatre set, providing a stage for my actors to go about their work.

The desire for realism is a driving factor on my 7mm Rosehearty layout
but the need for operation interest takes precedence for HO work.
The as yet unpainted building and the unballasted track
still gives an idea of how the layout will work.

When we go to the cinema we are transported to another place or to another time. We may even end up in a galaxy far, far away. However, a trip to the theatre requires a little more effort on our part to suspend disbelief and not see the plywood scenery for what it really is. This is what I hope to achieve with my two projects. A real sense of time and place with my 7mm work and a sufficient suspension of reality in HO to allow reasonable operational enjoyment. I get the feeling, from my achievements today and the enjoyment of watching trains rolling down un-ballasted, newly laid track, past mock-up buildings, is that I am on the right course. 

What's the betting the courier arrives with a box of track the day I go back to work?

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Tree Making

After the "Walk in the Woods" post, I got a request to show how I made the trees for that scene. So I have tried to set out the stages below.

I generally start in one of two ways. Either I use the twisted wire with a plaster based coating or I use natural materials - mostly harvested from my garden and allowed to dry. In 4mm I had used the wire method as this gave a great deal of control over the shape of the tree, for example, here are the two birches on Claterinbrigg;

However, in 7mm, because of the number of trees I will require, the size of the trees (especially in terms of the girth of the trunk) and the depth of bark which can be represented I prefer to use natural materials. I use a lot of cuttings from this plant;

Now I think it may be some form of Weglia - but if the truth be told, I have no idea. It does, however, produce woody branches, that make excellent trunks. So other than suggesting a visit to the garden centre to look for 7mm trees, I guess someone might be able to identify the plant. This is a cutting, simply trimmed to a kind of suitable shape.

The other component is some form of fibrous material. There are commercial offerings from Woodland Scenics and Greenscenes sell the very useful postiche and a course foliage fibre. The Woodlands material seems very similar to that found in cushion stuffing, only died green. As I wouldn't want it in green, I have used stuffing to show that it can be used. This is it teased out;

And then stretched out over the tree branches;

The fibres can be pulled and pushed into the required shape, remembering that trees form in different ways. Few trees actually look like the primary school tree shape. Many form their canopy in clumps, rather than in a single homogenous lump. So bearing that in mind the fibres can be built up to cover the branches. I then use black aerosol paint to give the first covering.

Even with the white fibres, this gives a satisfying grey appearance and would also tone down the Woodland Scenics green version. Whilst the black spray paint is still wet, I sprinkle on my first coat of leaves. In the photo below I have used Woodland Scenics dark green, Course Turf, but I have a variety of leave materials from a number of manufacturers.

The shape of the tree can be changed by trimming the structural branches or by adding others. I tend to keep off-cuttings as these can be hot-glued on to other trees to form different shapes. Once the branch structure and fibres are in place the routine is;

  • Spray black paint
  • first coat of leaves
  • Tweek any areas that need changes or adjusted
  • repeat the black paint and leaves
  • overspray with the cheapest of hairsprays
  • build up the leaf density to suit with leaves and hairspray
  • Final coat of clear acrylic spray
  • place into the layout and build up the growth around the base of the trunk

I hope that is some help.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

A Walk in the Woods

Up until recently my dalliances with 7mm have been limited to a few wagon builds and a lot of hesitation over the potential cost of an O Gauge layout. Followers of this blog will have witnessed me wrestle with the selection of projects over the last couple of years. I have also on a couple of occasions considered the cost of other potential projects and recently debated the merits of a "building" project over a "buying" project, (in other words using fewer R-T-R items and spending more of my time building). The latter option is probably more in keeping with what might be considered as realistic prospects, for as much as I would like to model the ECML, the practicalities for a one-person operation without an open-ended chequebook, are only ignored at one's peril.

I have though, been doing some actual modelling. Mostly as a result of a change in my working routine, I now find myself with a little more free time. I have none the less, put it to use and have found, for the first time in a long time, my imagination being exercised by my modelling. I find myself admiring other people's work that has been presented recently, that fits what might be described as a "less is more" approach. Much of the work that I have linked to on this blog will be considered in this category and I have found myself increasingly drawn to that style of work. Given the space that I have available - and I do recognise that in this respect I am somewhat fortunate - I want to be able to create an impact. My desire is to create a space where it is possible to escape to a different time and place. 

I thought long and hard about creating a branch line where I would be able to model more than just the terminus station. I could include other features on the line, perhaps another station, some public sidings or a scenic feature, but would not require the levels of stock that a "sit and watch the trains go by" mainline would require. One of the main issues I had with my previous mainline, was I disliked seeing the same engine come past more often than might be expected. And then seeing it again the next day was just too far! So with my branch line, I could quite accurately run the same engine all day, every day and it would not trip out my weird mind. The choice then was coming down one again to that tricky issue of scale and gauge. This time, however, with my focus set on the rural, less-is-more approach I felt I would get the most impact, pound for pound, from working in 7mm. I have therefore started my first O Gauge layout. It is based on a proposed, but never built, Great North of Scotland branch line and I present the first pictures below:-

Actually not so much the layout itself, but the scenic block that covers the exit from the fiddle yard ( to the right of this scene). I want to give the impression of almost stumbling across a branch line.

I think it will important for this project to capture the imagination, especially when there is no movement. I want to build that anticipation that we may just be lucky enough to see the branch train.
This view block is the very end of the layout. To the right is the fiddle yard and to the left are the sidings from the wayside station.

The layout setting is the north Buchan coast in the early nationalisation years and will - I hope - encompass a small wayside station (Rosehearty), a scenic break and a rural terminus, (New Aberdour). The quiet pace will allow me to build in the sense of time and place and hopefully develop a scene which has an impact even without movement, then when it is operated, provide the opportunity for the stock I build to operate realistically. That's the plan at least and the adventure is under way.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Building V Running

I have always thought of our hobby as being a constructive pastime. Even at its most basic level, it is still possible to apply basic skills to some constituent parts and create a better overall impression, be that with fettling some stock or in building a whole layout. As well as being constructive, it also allows a great variety of different approaches to co-exist, normally harmoniously, without an element of competition creeping in. I personally don't have the urge to put my work forward in a competitive environment. I don't necessarily 'disapprove' of such competitions at exhibitions and can understand marking perhaps an overall 'best in show,' but I'm not at all convinced.  I rather prefer the option of marking what the judges might consider being work to a high standard, but I cannot see how competitions as such add any value to the hobby.

I like the diverse nature of our group of souls. I like how amongst us we have those who will operate, for example, with little or no scenery but will have fully functioning signalling, or operate to an intricate timetable. They can derive as much satisfaction from their efforts as someone who has produced a photo-realistic scene the size of a sheet of paper. This personal satisfaction meter is vital in setting our own goals and aspirations and it may be that for some of us, no one project will provide all of the required elements. I am currently getting a great deal of satisfaction from building a few items of stock. However, I can still apply power to rail when I feel like operating and shunt (or should I say switch) a few freight cars about on my HO layout. So problem solved.

This split between building and operating is artificial. We have created it. It must be something to do with our propensity to consider everything as binary. Either right or wrong. I have, as I have gotten older, found that in almost every circumstance (in life, not just toy trains) considering the options as being either right or wrong limits the possible solutions and inevitably leads to a sub-optimal outcome. We should though consider where we derive our personal satisfaction from and perhaps lean to that when we consider all of the possible options. This might help inform our choices as to the scale (I mean the overall size not the track gauge type scale) of any project and prevent us heading down too many dark alleys. This should probably one of the key elements in any planning process, along with such things as available space, time and budget.

I don't know if I could build something, an item of stock for example if it were never to run. I find the operational elements of railway work of interest and would like to try and replicate that in model form. The model, therefore, is not just the physical but also the functional. I like to know not only what something is meant to be, but also why it does what it does, be that shunting a certain way, or running in a certain order. The study, research and understanding of historical methods of working are all - to me - fascinating parts of our wider hobby. It is possible in model form, to have more 'function' by having more 'physical,' but would that then tip the balance away from the satisfaction of building? It would certainly tip the scale over when it came to budget. It seems to me that the available space, the available time and the available budget are intrinsically linked to the personal satisfaction meter.

I give you a recent example. I am currently building a Caley Coaches 57' Semi-Corridor Brake Composite. The kit retails at £40. I spent a recent S4 Group workshop day working on the kit and have followed that up with a few hours here and there. Progress is such that I now have a rather nice coach body in an attractive brass livery. I will over the coming days (more likely weeks) progress the build to the point where I have a finished vehicle. I absolutely need it to run however, it will be earning its keep. It will be a key part of a passenger set, that will operate to a timetable. But I also have the satisfaction of knowing that I made it. If of course, I had selected a different subject to model, I could easily have speeded the process up. Instead of spending hours cutting out, filing, soldering, painting and detailing, I could simply have ordered some coaches from Hattons and had them in service probably within 48hrs. I actually looked at their website (for research only) and was stunned by the cost of coaches. My £40 kit was surpassed by many of the R-T-R offerings, with forthcoming SE&CR coaches available to pre-order for £50.96.

Caley Coaches D115a making progress.

So this balancing act between operating and building is something that will ultimately be determined by each person as an individual, but in considering where their fulcrum lies, they are well advised to take into account the triumvirate of space, time and budget.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Ever Decreasing Circles

have recently been gently reminded that it is now over a year and a half since I last updated my blog and that it is high time that I dusted it off. I think it needs more than dusted, to be honestit is more likely needing CPR. I have during the time of stagnating words, actually managed to do a little bit of modelling though and there are some signs of progress on the layout front – albeit, not much. It is not as though I have been doing nothing, it’s just that what I have done seems barely worthy of writing about.

Okso what has been going on? Well, first of all, the last blog discussed the splitting of boards and concluded that I didn’t really need to do that. And in the time honoured tradition of my misadventures, I then decided that actually, it would be handy after all. The main boards have indeed been split and are down from the attic. Primarily though to allow work to be done without the need to be in the attic. A particular advantage at this time of year. I am not sure at this stage if this will be a permanent arrangement, or just through this construction phase. I suspect it will probably be the latter as I don’t see this as being an exhibition layout for all the reasons spelt out in the previous posting, but converselyit is not the sort of layout that gives the operational potential of a large home-based project.

There is a bit of discussion online at the moment about the ‘fun’ of exhibiting and how much it can feel like hard work, with others making the point that they prefer building things to running things. Operating at an exhibition can be a hard day, but chatting to visitors can also be nice. I’m just not sure the effort of moving the layout about is actually worth it. Come to think of it, I’m not sure exactly where I stand on thoperating V building spectrum even for a home based layout, as I get a great deal of satisfaction out of completing a piece of stock, or whatever, but do still quite enjoy the operation. More than anything I like to look over a layout and to see a nice scene. Having something looking pretty is, in a way, as appealing as it being interesting to run. I think the element of movement that is part of our work, sets it aside from the military or aero modellers (the plastic kit type rather than the radio control guys), but the layout must look right even without the movement.

There is almost a tension between the desire to operate and the desire to build. My story normally goes something like this. 
I am working on a piece of stock, for a layout. Let’s say the layout is a small intermediate branch station with not much operational potential. The stock is in P4 and is added to the fleet. If I want to operate and create a reasonable scene I need some motive power, which means that I need to build a steam engine. In the meantime, I have a diesel that has been re-wheeled and operates extremely well. So far, so good. If of course, I were to operate this diesel time period, I could have more motive power available quickly and in fact, the stock would be easier to come by as coaches could be obtained ready to run and rewheeled. But what about the steam era? That is going to require some motive power, especially some B1’s or BR standards. I really like the B1’s in LNER green as well, so if I had multiple time periods, I could run a variety of stock. Ah, wait a minute. I now have the need for multiple sets of motive power, all of which requires time and money to buy, wheel and modify. Realistically this is unlikely to happen in P4. I could make a really nice 00 layout and that would be more operationally interesting and allow this stock to be used without conversion. There is some really nice work getting done at present in 00, by a few excellent modellers. If I were to work in 00, I could have a bigger layout, with more stock, bigger engines, more operational potential etc. So my design planning is now once again spinning out of control.

Given the current limits on my time, I cannot seriously contemplate any major build. Whatever I do will be a long term project and if it involves any serious time commitment, it really requires to be re-appraised. This is not a complaint, my free time is very well spent. I have one son playing football for a successful local youth team and another playing under 11’s pro-youth with an SPFL club. One or other is training or playing each day of the week and I generally take them and stay to watch. Most nights I get in at a point in the evening where the thought of starting anything is unattractive. I am however getting to watch my boys growing up and thriving, which I would not trade for the world. I have simply reorganised my priorities.

As part of the reorganisation, I am deliberately excluding certain known triggers. These are things that make me go off on tangents and are usually unhelpful. I have a group of friends who are encouraging and with whom I get a chance to do some modelling during monthly workshops. Sometimes it is the only work I get to do from one month to the next, but the disciple helps. It can also encourage me to get a little piece done in time for the next gathering, often just so I have something to say has been achieved. 

A selection of pre-group stock gathers at the station in Claterinbrigg

I have recently found myself very deliberately focussing away from modelling time periods where R-T-R items are available. I have, up to the present time, mostly modelled the BR eras of mid-fifties steam or BR blue diesel. I have collections from both, that often tease from their storage boxes. I worked backwards to the 1948-51 period, which seemed the least popular until the main manufactures started to produce more for that time period. My desire to avoid the available is focussing me increasingly on the pre-grouping era, where the chances of R-T-R production is less likelyIt is a balance, however, as the lack of availability of kits and bits can sometimes be an issue. There is though, I think, enough to allow me to produce my small country station, without my focus drifting. I am deliberately setting my goals to be smaller, finer, better quality and more unusual. From my planning continually spiralling out of control, I am now - very deliberately - concentrating on ever decreasing circles. 

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Movement and Progress

It has been some considerable time since I updated this blog, partly due to not being able to make progress on the layout - given the low temperatures in the attic - and partly because I actually haven't done much. The last couple of weeks however have seen some progress and some key decisions being taken. I had managed to fit the point motors and the power wiring before the worst if the winter weather and so a quick clean up of the track was really all that was required to get some movement.

What an effect some movement has. It is quite encouraging to see even some basic running and be able to picture what it might look like when finished. Before the winter break I had cut the baseboard joints and wiring to separate the boards, at which point I had one of those moments. The question I found myself asking was "why am I doing this?" The splitting of boards seemed to be an almost automatic action and one that I now questioned at some length. The reason for making the layout sectional was in part to re-use some existing baseboard frames which had a new top surface added and in part to be able to exhibit the layout. It was this latter assumption that I had never really questioned.

The idea of having a layout that could be exhibited has a certain appeal but when the reality was considered and analysed, the expectation didn't actually seem to make as much sense as I had supposed. If an individual or a group is setting out to build an exhibition layout, then of course that is the determining factor, but I had set out to build a layout for me. One that I would build and use, to satisfy my requirements for accuracy and entertainment, one that would allow me to build and operate to such standards as I set myself.  I also very much believe that a layout should tell a story, usually in a historical sense, but at the very least it should reflect the reality that we see (or that was seen at some time in the past) and therefore should at a minimum "make sense." With care, fictitious locations are perfectly capable of reflecting the time, place and atmosphere of the chosen setting. The buildings, landscape, stock, signals and the services we run can all set the scene. Even our current chaotic network doesn't run random trains, so I need mine to be "from" somewhere and "going" somewhere. The layout is simply the stage on which the play is acted out.

Exhibiting my work and telling the story I wish to reprise has an attraction, but in Scotland we have very few exhibitions of any quality. Almost all of our exhibitions are aimed at the general public rather than modellers so a layout where the  track is hand-made to gauge may as well have been built with cheese for all it means to most of the guests. There are no specialist shows and the prospect of driving a van to Scalefour North or an EM show, or even one of the better general exhibitions was not a particularly attractive proposition. In conclusion I felt I was compromising on how I wanted my scenery to look for the sake  of a couple of model railway shows where very few people would even know what they were looking at. Decision - the layout would remain home based.

That decision was actually made a lot easier by the fact that it is now possible to share your work with friends and fellow enthusiasts through the web. I have developed a circle of friends (some I've met in person, other I've not) who share the trials and tribulations of building a scale model. I have had my previous layout published in two magazines, not through exhibition exposure, but through online forum. I have had positive feedback, constructive criticism, help and advice, all without the need to drag baseboards through a 4 x 3 hole in the ceiling. I am now started on some of my scenery and am not bound by fence lines every 4 feet or obvious disguises to try and hide joints. The layout can be moved, but as I'm not planning on re-locating any time soon, I consider this little more than an insurance policy. Am I against exhibitions? Absolutely not; but for me as a lone worker, with a layout of this size - its not especially large but with 6 baseboards, two fiddle yards and stock - it is a lot of work and is simply not the priority I once considered it to be. 

The basic structure of surrounding land is being added

I am therefore currently up to my elbows in bits of polystyrene, hot glue, PVA and a gunky goo of landform mix that will hopefully form the basic structure of the landscape. I find that when doing such scenic work, the measure of progress is directly proportional to the mess one gets into. That being the case it looks like this has been a good day.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

50 Shades of Gray

I am taking a complete diversion for this post, to illustrate how we can tie ourselves in knots. Now this post is not about that kind of tying up, but I have recently gotten into a bit of a problem over a shade of grey. (Or given the context that should be gray). I have for some time had a couple of unfinished US outline projects that have needed some attention in order to get them completed. The main stumbling block was getting LED's small enough to use as ditch-lights - a mandatory requirement for modern diesels. I have now sourced suitable products and found a whole range of other possible uses for them - more on this later. I got to the point of spraying the shells and thats when I hit trouble.

The last time I did engines like these I had used a spray can of primer, oversprayed with a gloss varnish to produce a colour close to the Kansas City Southern gray livery. Between that time and now the formula of the primer has changed significantly and it now produces a shade that is far too dark and no-where near close to desired colour. So my search begins.

I must now have more aerosols than Halfords of various shades of gray (I'm using the US spelling as it is appropriate for the livery that I'm trying to produce.) I have Humbrol colours (oh no - that should be colors!), I have Tamiya, Vallejo and Revell. All have been studied, checked, tried and tested. I have the Federal colour code, the RGB settings and scrutinised the colour charts and I cannot get a perfect match. Now the problem is that I am aiming for a moving target. As any search of the web will show, photographs of KCS power in action will produce a variety of shades of gray. Not that the railroad necessarily varies their paint scheme, it is just that grey (jeez!) seems highly susceptible to showing up differently according to the lighting at the time. I have photographs showing a very light shade all the way through to what might be called battleship grey.

I didn't realise it before but I have developed a whole process for describing these variations in my colour options. Too pale, too dark, too green, too brown, I even have a note saying too grey! Now I have gotten to the point where I think it is more important to be consistent than to be absolutely fixed on any one shade. After all the prototype varies according to the daylight available.  Just to show how vulnerable we are to situation, the photo below was taken with a sky blue background and on pure white base. I decided that  my best option was to select a specific suitable colour and that is what I will use for future projects, giving consistency over absolute fidelity.

KCS SD40-3 number 662 in rather dirty gray livery

This example has shown how a simple choice can cause problems and how by using a methodical approach the problem can be solved. I don't need to match to other peoples colours, or to a particular colour sample of paint chip. I don't even have to match to RTR products. Rather I have to produce something that when applied to the model will be representative of what people recognise as a particular livery. It will operate in my setting along with other similar liveried engines. Whether its KCS Gray, or the shade of teak on a Gresley coach the best choice is the one that looks and feels right.

Now, about that Caledonian blue!
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