Category Archives: General

Twenty Twenty Vision

Albion Yard

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This week there’s been quite a kerfuffle about Bachmann’s 20% price rise, most noticeably on assorted forums and meejah. Basically rising costs have meant that Bachmann have passed on elements of that rising cost to the end user, the man on the Clapham Omnibus. It would appear that this is going to be the end of the hobby, the thin end of the wedge driving people out of a ‘rich mans’ hobby. One even mentioning that they knew of the coming increases at Warley last year. Well cynical old me, but I doubt that very much. The hobby started out as a rich mans plaything certainly, and the high quality end of the hobby has, and always will be expensive, but that’s no different to any leisure past time. The hobby is cheaper now than it has ever been, in my experience of about 40 years or so. The contemporary Ready to…

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Beyer Garratt Arrives

Yesterday my new Beyer Garratt arrived. These engines were the largest steamers to ever run on British metals, and what a beast it is too. The Beyer Garratt is essentially two steam engines operating across a single (yet very substantial) boiler. This particular model was commissioned by Hattons of Liverpool and built by Heljan.

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I have planned to build a Garratt kit for a long time, but I always knew that I would have to be well versed in putting together the chassis components if I was to ever get a good build from a Garratt kit. Lucky for me, Heljan have saved me a lot of hassle.

The Garratt is now officially the most awkward model to handle that I own. It has lots of detailed and fragile parts and it is very awkward to find a suitable place to grip onto it with your fingers when taking it off the track or moving it into a display case. I eventually placed it on a display base so I could move it around a bit easier.

There has been some discussion about build quality on this model, and I can see where such concerns from, but they don’t cause me significant concern. There are a few marks and stains on the rather plastic-looking body, but this will be resolved when I weather the loco. A piece of plastic had also come free beneath the rotating coal bunker, but this just needs a dab of glue to fix it back in place. I think the cab is also a bit loose, but I can glue that easy enough.

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What is really impressive is the motors and chassis. Just like my Heljan diesels, this loco is a quiet and powerful loco. All I have managed to do so far is run it on the rolling road, but I will soon be putting it through some haulage trials.

 

Wisbech and Upwell Tramway Video

I have just come across this lovely video of the fruit trains running across the Wisbech and Upwell tramway. This video links to the modelling at speed videos, which show my conversion of a Bachmann 04 Diesel Shunter into a W&U Diesel Tram.

I only wish there was some video footage of the J70 and Y6 steam trams. The narration incorrectly states that there were only two Y6 steam trams. I believe there were ten constructed in total, which were replaced by the J70 steam trams.

You may have noticed that there have not been many updates to the blog recently. This is because my flat is slowly being packed up in readiness for a move to Swindon in the next few days. This means that all current projects are now packed away safely for the move. Once I have unearthed my work bench and tools in my new home I will recommence updating the blog.

RTR ups and downs

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I have enjoyed some distance from the model railway hobby this year, and I am just starting to rekindle some interest for those long, dark winter months. Having been absent from the usual model railway forums for a while, I revisited and saw much discussion of quality control issues and demands for improvement from unhappy consumers and this got me thinking…

Are we modellers?

My collection of Ready To Run (RTR) models is far from immune of quality control issues, but very few have been returned to the manufacturer or shop, ‘Why?’ you ask, because I can resolve some of the problems myself. Be it: clipping off flash; swapping wheels sets around; re-positioning pick-ups; re-seating motors; pressing loose wheel-rims back onto axels; I can do these things (and have done). Building brass loco kits and chopping up different RTR models to create weird new locos can give you a clear perspective of running performance and the issues that can occur.

Even the simple act of removing the body of a loco to fit a DCC chip helps build confidence in tackling certain issues. I can only assume how difficult it must be for someone to approach these running problems or cosmetic issues if they fear to fiddle with the internals of these expensive models. But how fair is it to pass this back to the manufacturer?

Manufacturing RTR models

Let’s be honest about this: we are discussing a highly complex and highly detailed miniature with circuit boards, cogs, motors, pick-ups and fly wheels. They are a strange hybrid of analogue and digital technology. How many similarly complex items are sold by manufacturers on mass? Watches and cameras are all I can think of. Cars, I suppose, but they are a tad bigger and a tad more expensive.

Mobile phones, tablets and PCs don’t really count because they don’t have any moving parts these days, and just think how many issues are reported for these devices (just look at the software issues associated with updates to Apple devices and Windows etc.). Apple and co. can fix many problems on the fly, after release, by remotely sending fixes and updates. We are not in a position yet for this to happen with our trains.

Some questions for you:

  • Would you pay much attention to a noisier-than-expected servo in a camera lens or a loudly ticking watch? – Maybe.
  • Do you compare the running of your car against a friend’s one?  – I suppose some car-addicts do.

The decision to keep or return a model train might hinge on similar questions to those above. I completely agree that it is our right as consumers to receive accurate running and functioning models, and I think it would be brilliant, but I am not so sure how realistic these expectations are. What testing procedure would remove 98% of failures and deficiencies? We would have to wait even longer for our models and they would be unsustainably expensive, thus is this actually a possibility? Hornby’s recent retro-grade approach is about reducing costs of manufacturing. How much of this decision is based around quality control requirements?

Companies like Heljan, Dapol, Bachmann are not monstrously sized businesses. Every returned model surely imposes a cost to their business. Do we ever consider how much the Heljan Clayton engine failure episode financially impacted Heljan? I don’t really want to be a part of destroying these companies. Thus I try to separate any problems associated with my models into two groups:

  • Actual manufacturing faults, which jeopardise the prolonged life of the model and things that are beyond my ability to fix, which will ultimately result in product returns.
  • Issues that are just unsurprising results of an industrial manufacturing process on a miniature, which I can fix or resolve.

RTR examples

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I have a few new models on my workbench.

  • My Heljan Class 16 diesels operate perfectly and silently, just bliss to watch.
  • My Heljan Class 15 is a tad noisy, I have taken the motor out to investigate and have found the chassis to run quietly when the body is not on, thus I am putting this down to the vibration of the plastic body. I may also lubricate the cogs a bit more. I might also put it through a haulage test to make sure that the motor is sound.
  • My Heljan Class 14 teddy bear wouldn’t move at all. No lights, nothing. However, it did seem to be receiving electric current. I quickly decided not to attempt cranking up the voltage (this is based on previous experience with loco chassis construction). I unscrewed the chassis keeper plate (which is screwed down very tight). The little loco then lurched into life and is a lovely smooth runner.

Granted the Class 14 is based on previous experience, this being my second one for my layout… well… technically it’s my third! My first model was bought at product launch and went up in a puff of smoke! The replacement came and attempted a similar death, until I discovered that the chassis cogs seemed to be locked up by the overly tight keeper plate screws. I could have thrown all three models back at Hattons/Heljan, but there is nothing wrong with the model. It just needed a little tweak. A tweak I was able to diagnose and resolve. I have to confess to finding this process quite fun.

Somebody on a model railway forum recently proposed that it is better to consider our RTR models as almost completed kits, which might need a bit of ‘tweaking’. I am 100% behind this analogy.

I do not know how many of my fellow railway modellers are happy to fix these type of issues, but I do wish we would be more open and acceptant of these problems and try to resolve them, rather than bang the drum of our ‘trading standards’ act. Much like the H&S legislation that we laugh at for its pedantic approach, maybe our ‘quality assurance’ and ‘consumer rights’ policies and legislation can be just as senseless and unrealistic.

Visit to the Doncaster Model Railway Show (2013)

Two weeks ago me and my Dad visited the Festival of British Railway Modelling in Doncaster.

It was our first visit and we both really enjoyed the day. The best thing about the show was the number of big layouts (in a UK context), which allowed some good length trains to be run.

Wisbech and Upwell Trams

My interests in the Wisbech and Upwell Railway were well catered for with some interesting discussions about how to model the tramway version of the Drewry tram (see separate post). The highlight for me was the Y10 ‘super sentinel’ shunting around Happisburgh Goods. This was an odd coincidence as I recently begun development of this loco using a 3D modelling programme, thus I took the opportunity to take pictures from all angles (the pictures of the top being a God-send).

O-gauge Y10 'Super Sentinel' on Happisburgh Goods

O-gauge Y10 ‘Super Sentinel’ on Happisburgh Goods

Grasslands

I was also interested in the disturbed grassland and ephemeral vegetation modelled on Kensal Green (sorry… went all ‘ecologist’ there). Their grassland just seem to have something that my current efforts don’t seem to have. I think it is do with the thicker layer of decayed vegetation beneath the current growing stems (closer to the buildings). I think I will experiment and see if I can improve mine.

Disturbed and ephemeral grassland on the 4mm Kensal Green

Disturbed and ephemeral grassland on the 4mm Kensal Green

Black Country Blues was also looking impressive with some great modelling of recently disturbed vegetation, very much the colours, structures and ‘feel’ of the surrounds of home ‘back when’ (Me and Dad thought we recognised the view from Barr Beacon).

Purchases

I was in a wallet-burning mood and was quite set on buying a D11 Director, which I managed to acquire from one of the cheaper vendors.

D11 Director from Bachmann

D11 Director from Bachmann

Unfortunately for said wallet, I then came across another subject I am interested in: a T9 in Southern Green with ‘British Railways’ on the tender. Opening the box I was quite surprised to find a colonial star on the front (apparently this was the designate royal train). This wasn’t evidently clear from the box and it would be nice if Hornby considered expanding beyond the traditional ‘side profile’ photos on their model-boxes. I also find them not the most flattering images, but that’s me. The colonial star didn’t of course amount to the surprise of finding an elephant on the side of my Heljan BR Blue Falcon when I bought it a couple of years ago!

Hornby's Royal T9

Hornby’s Royal T9

Video

Below is my video from the show, hope you like it:

Warley Model Railway Show 2012

I have not visited the Warley show at the NEC for a number of years. My last visit (some 3 or 4 years ago) was quite exhausting.

I am pleased to say that this years show was my most enjoyable visit to the exhibition, with some very impressive modelling on display.

‘Cliffhanger’ was a very impressive layout; constructed on a steeply angled base board. More on this superb layout can be found here.

Another great layout was ‘Veldhoveh 1935’. Positioned in a picture frame and viewed from a fixed perspective. This super small layout gives the impression of looking along a busy street in 1935 to a photo-realistic finish. It is all achieved with the clever use of different scale buildings and trains, not to mention the novel idea of creating a ‘skewed’ train that appears to be driving off into the distance.

If you can understand Dutch and fancy reading more about it, visit here.

Below is my video of the the show, enjoy!