If I'm asked, I'd call myself a railway modeller, but recently I've tended towards other modelling disciplines, too...
I'm undoubtedly a modeller but my modelling interests go way beyond just railways. Indeed, my interests and expertise tends to lie as much outside the rails as between them. Building a layout is about so much more than merely making, or operating, trains. I've built, or been involved in building a lot of layouts but I can't claim to have ever built my own track, and in a lifetime I've only scratch-built two steam locomotives. My 'score' in scratch-built diesels is about the same. I built a Plastikard NBL Type 2 body and mounted it on an 'HO' European chassis, and I still have the Class 59 that I built because I couldn't wait for a ready-to-run model to be released.
On the other hand, I've lost count of the number of stations and other railway buildings that I've built. There have been lots of non-railway buildings, too, most recently around 15 structures for my Cornish harbour layout, 'Polwyddelan'. Of all the different aspects of layout building, I think I enjoy making buildings more than anything else. I've been photographing a derelict pub in Oundle, Northants, with a view to making a model.
In the early days of Model Rail I got great satisfaction from the printed building kits that we included as free gifts. I devised them all, and Andrew Mackintosh drew and painted the finished artwork. Readers may remember Hogwarts Castle, spread over several issues, but before that there were also parts of Colchester and Moreton-in-Marsh stations, Peterborough Wagon Works, Oundle Tyre & Exhaust Centre (somewhat disguised) and even the terraced house in Windsor where I spent the first five years of married life.
However, it isn't just making buildings that I enjoy - I can't get into sci-fi modelling like some of my colleagues - but I do enjoy building kits of non-railway subjects. I've an Airfix Avro Vulcan under construction and two larger scale radio control ships, one of them chosen because it’s 1:48 scale, ideal for ‘O’ gauge ‘scenery’.
At present I'm completely captivated by a little laser-cut wood kit that builds into an 'HO' scale stern-wheel paddle steamer. I’m finding laser-cut wood and board a very nice medium to work with. It glues easily with a quick-setting PVA glue, such as Velo-Set or Deluxe Materials’ Speedbond and it enables an innovative kit designer to come up with some really finely detailed parts which don’t involve complex or difficult assembly techniques.
So allow me to introduce the Bangor Packet by Railway Design Associates http://shop.railwaydesign.com
She’s 1:87 (HO) scale and based on drawings of a real vessel, a 60ft long cargo-carrying riverboat. In outline, she’s remarkably similar to the Lucy Fisher a fake sternwheeler built as a movie ‘prop’ and operated for some 30 years by French Brothers from their boatyard at Runnymede on the Thames. The kit took a week of evenings to build and all I’ve added by way of extras are the rowboat, the Confederate flag and the two cannons and figures. The rest of the cargo is supplied as white metal castings.
Railway Design Associates’ other products are mainly structure kits.
I guess we all have favourite models in our collection...
I’m a big fan of first generation DMUs and for my 'Black Dog Halt' ('BDH') layout, I built a Craftsman Models Swindon 3-car Cross-Country unit (Class 120). One of my favourite photographs is a shot I took of just such a unit coming into 'BDH', (on the Calne branch) so naturally, I had to model that unit. Although I no longer have the layout, I do still have all the rolling stock, and the Class 120 was recently pulled out of the cupboard in order to help Joel and Andy from Dapol to find the correct shade of green for one of their upcoming models.
It was then that I realized the Class 120 could have a new career on 'Polwyddelan' - the Cornish Harbour project I’m building for Model Rail. The Craftsman etched brass kit fitted onto a Lima Class 117 chassis. There’s no easy way I could convert that Lima mechanism to DCC but it then dawned on me that I could swap the old Lima chassis for a more recent DCC-ready Hornby chassis from their Class 121 DMU. Hornby used the old Lima tooling but upgraded it to accept a DCC socket so the dimensions and the mounting lugs are all the same.
Swapping the Class 120 body and interior onto the Hornby chassis (£69 on Ebay) has proved remarkably easy. Now I just need to remove one coupler and add some buffer beam detail and my ‘120’ can come out of retirement. I’ve several other DMUs which could have the same treatment. (CJL)
If a brand-new green Hornby 121 body on an old Lima chassis is any use to you, drop me an e-mail at my office e-mail address.
Readers of my 'Backscene' will know that I'm a movie fan. Like most of my generation I grew up when the big screen was the place for 'westerns' - not Class 52s, but cowboys in the Wild West, where you always knew who were the 'goodies' and who were the 'baddies' by the colour of their hats. The Saturday morning 'Minors' Matinee' at the ABC Regal in Staines frequently included a 'Buffalo Bill' serial, and most movies would have a train sequence at some point. Then came Disney's The Great Locomotive Chase, for which the historic 4-4-0 General, centre-piece of the original Andrews Raid, was steamed.
It was against that background that I became interested in American history, and acquired a copy of the 1961 publication Civil War Railroads by George B. Abdill. From then on, my US history interest became centred on the 1861-5 conflict and I bought a Mantua Western & Atlantic Railroad General 4-4-0 and some old-style boxcars, with a view to creating a diorama.
I never did. Somewhere over the years the boxcars were disposed of, and the locomotive, too, it seems. I also had Pocher's model of Abraham Lincoln's private car, which in reality was only used as a hearse after the US President was shot at Ford's Theatre in 1865. I guess I disposed of that, too. I have found a couple of contemporary Pocher passenger cars which have price tags on, so presumably they were also offered for sale.
In over 50 years of model-making, with inevitable changes of direction, I have lost track of the models I’ve sold, given away, or on occasions, ‘binned’. I have, currently under restoration, a large model of the Mississippi side-wheeler Natchez. It suffered severe damage in a shelf collapse in my workshop about 10 years ago and is, at last, receiving some much-needed TLC.
I've been having a clear-out at home and the surviving models have emerged from a cupboard, prompting me to re-watch that timeless work of cinematic art Gone with the Wind. There's only one brief but powerful railroad sequence in that particular movie, the Atlanta rail yards with hundreds of dead and wounded awaiting the imminent arrival of Sherman's army. In fact, the American Civil War was the first conflict in which rail transport played a significant role. Indeed aspects of rail-related warfare, which were first employed in 1860s America, were adopted and expanded upon in the 20th century conflicts.
My searches also unearthed a Kitmaster plastic kit-built General with only minor damage. Fascinating to think that the hugely popular Kitmaster kits were made just a few miles from where I now live, in the Rosebud dolls factory at Raunds, Northamptonshire. The little engine has outlasted the factory where it was made, no trace of which now remains.
It has all prompted me to think again about my Civil War diorama, especially as work on my Model Rail project layout 'Polwyddelan' draws to an end. Once that layout is out of my workshop, perhaps the diorama that's been in the back of my mind for 50 years could actually become a reality. Watch this space... (CJL)
People who write for a living will sometimes complain that they are suffering ‘writer's block’. It’s an affliction, which can last for hours or days or even longer. Basically, it is a type of fatigue – a lack of inspiration as much as anything else. I find that I suffer a similar problem with modelling – modeller's block.
It usually hits me part-way through a project and it may well mean that I will take years to complete something, or indeed abandon it without ever finishing. I notice it among my modelling colleagues, too.
I had planned to complete the scenic work on my Cornish harbour layout, 'Polwyddelan', over the Christmas break. I had the terminus station to finish for the next instalment in Model Rail and the final building, a seafront hotel, was partly built. In fact, I did nothing to the layout over the Christmas break. I was occupied with family visits but there was still plenty of time. The inspiration had simply evaporated.
Instead, I set to work on the ‘O16.5’ Cyprus Government Railways 2-6-2T which Keith Willows had been building just before he passed away. His widow gave it to me to finish and it had been lurking on my workbench as an embarrassing reminder for over a year. It didn’t actually need as much work as I thought, because Keith had made many of the detail parts. He just hadn’t fitted them. It’s nearly done and I just need to make a pair of pony trucks to complete it.
Then, I set to work on a conversion for my Canadian layout. Since my ride from Sault Ste. Marie to the Agawa Canyon last autumn, I’ve become interested in the Algoma Central Railway, which owned that line until taken over by Wisconsin Central in the 1990s. The ACR had some baggage cars rebuilt from Second World War troop sleepers.
The baggage cars were used for all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and motor boat engines, anything which had petrol in it, because Transport Canada rules require such things to be kept separate, at least one car away from passenger cars. I enjoyed a nice kit-bashing exercise on a Walthers Troop Sleeper. An undecorated example of an out-of-production model, it was the most expensive piece of rolling stock I’ve bought in a long time at close to £70 by the time I’d paid the VAT and import charges. It wasn’t the easiest thing to take a hacksaw to, either!
Finally, after a month of prevaricating, I’m back at work on 'Polwyddelan' and the station will soon be finished.
Keith’s 2-6-2T and the Algoma baggage car? Well, the little tank still has no pony trucks and the baggage car needs decals and re-assembly. In the words of Scarlett O’Hara, “I can’t think about that now. I’ll think about it tomorrow.” (CJL)
In recent years, model railway manufacturing has become a world-wide exercise. It's way more complex than merely getting the models made in China. The latest Model Rail exclusive project, the LNER 'J70' 0-6-0T, is being researched in the UK, particularly at the National Railway Museum, designed in Toronto, Canada, by Rapido Trains Inc, and it will be made at Rapido's factory in China.
Despite all the modern technology which enables us all to communicate electronically, it is still vital to meet face-to-face and so Richard and I were delighted to host Jason Shron on a recent visit to Peterborough. Jason describes himself as Chief Cook and Bottle Washer at Rapido Trains, but he's also the driving force behind the company and its big push into the UK ready-to-run market, which started with the 'OO' APT-E model for Locomotion.
It took a great deal of ingenuity to make the articulated APT-E vehicles negotiate second radius curves whilst also tilting and transmitting electric power through the couplings and being capable of being uncoupled, too. Now, Rapido's Bill Schneider, whose expertise lies in steam-outline models, has to design a 'J70' with full outside Walschaerts valve gear and space to fit the tramway side-skirts which hide it all!
We had a very constructive working lunch in Peterborough city centre before Jason wanted a closer look at the cathedral. (He needs a leaded light replacement for one of his windows at home but we managed to persuade him that they were all too big!)
So the 'J70' starts to move on to the preliminary design stage and we have two further projects pencilled in, which should keep us busy for the next several years. We spent the afternoon in Dave Lowery's garden while Jason eagerly watched HSTs and Class 91s. British freight trains proved to be of little interest, presumably because they aren't a mile and a half long, with four locomotives on the front. He seemed equally unable to grasp why I showed no interest in passenger trains dressed up in red and white like cola cans. (CJL)
I don't 'do' new technology.
I vowed, when I heard someone using their phone while sitting on the loo, that I would be the last person in England not to own a mobile phone. In fact, I have owned several, kept in the car for emergency use. That was until my window was broken and the phone was stolen... Since then, I've done without. I'm not 'against' new technology. I've been using it in my work in magazine publishing since the late 1970s - I just find the handheld devices difficult to get on with.
However, at a 'youthful' (I hope) 70 years old. I've a new string to my technological bow. Welcome to my blog, on which you'll be able to read more of the kind of material that I write for 'Backscene' in Model Rail. It will be a case of 'anything goes' so there will be some thoughts about the hobby in general, and my personal interests, too - some of which are pretty wide-ranging!
I'm keen to widen the conversation among modellers so here's a thought for now. Just what should we expect from a ready-to-run model? I grew up in a time when we counted ourselves lucky to have a model that was a reasonable representation of a favourite class. Now, I read that a locomotive is 'wrong' because it doesn't have the correct style of cab beading for that particular member of the class. So, if we're forking out close to £100 for a 'OO' locomotive, is it fair to expect 100% accuracy in the tiniest of details. I leave the thought with you. (CJL)