Category Archives: General

Visit to: The National Festival of Railway Modelling, Peterborough

Last weekend I visited a model exhibition I have been wanting to go to for years: The National Festival of Railway Modelling in Peterborough.

Finding myself with a weekend with ‘no plans’ I thought I would take the long drive from Swindon (not actually as long as I thought) and take a look.

The first layout I looked at was the N-Gauge ‘Grange-Over-Sands’, with its well represented saltmarsh habitat spanning the front of the layout. I spend a lot of time in my day job studying saltmarsh habitat, so I paid special attention to the little creeks and different patches of vegetation.

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I think ‘Oulton TMD’ (OO-Gauge) was one of my favourite models at the exhibition. It was such a large model and I liked how it was a busy layout, but didn’t look cluttered. I could have spent much longer looking at that one.

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‘Ludlow’ was probably my favourite layout of the show. An N-gauge layout with plenty of sprawling landscape and an assortment of traffic running through the valley on the main line. I really liked the track plan of this layout and it has given me some ideas for a future N-gauge project.

‘Up The Line’ was a very interesting WWI layout built in 16mm narrow gauge. The sound of the distant thump of bombs added to the ambience of this model. I particularly liked the ambulance train (ambience and an ambulance in so many words).

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Another N-gauge model I really liked was ‘Barton Road’ set around London somewhere in the late 60s and included plenty of west country stock (my favourite). It is built in a fascinating ‘T’ shaped arrangement with the off scene fiddle yard placed in the centre of the ‘T’. This allows trains to run off scene at two ends of the ‘T’ and then stock cassettes are swapped to each off-scene area. I really like the arrangement, but, for me, it might need a bit too much concentration to control at a show.

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I also have to mention the BRM Magazine project layout Ruston Quays, what a lovely little model. It shows how much you can do with limited space.

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I got the chance to see a couple of DJM models that had passed me by in my months away from modelling. I saw the Class 71 and would like to keep telling myself I don’t need one in my life, but it looked and sounded great. I also saw the new J94 Austerity which also looks like a brilliant model. There is a nice yellow NCB one that was previously an RMweb exclusive and is now being sold by Kernow (it would look great with a bit of weathering).

So all in all, an enjoyable show. It seemed that every time I filmed a train it cast a curse on the tracks and things would crash or stall, but with a bit of editing I managed to get a decent film out of my footage. Here it is:

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Remember me?

Hi, remember me?

This is my first blog entry in quite some time (apart from a few reposts from some other websites I manage). I’ve had a few queries about progress on some of my projects and a few questions about the lengthy silence from me.

It is safe to say that 2015-2016 was a difficult period for me and life took somewhat of an unexpected turn and put model making firmly on the backburner for a while.

What was the last thing I did on the model blog?

– Tom scans back through his own blog (a useful memory deposit, don’t ya’ know) –

Ah! Modelling At Speed (day 4). That was back in July 2015, only a few days before everything went a bit crazy.

Apologies for the delay, but you haven’t missed anything, apart from Brewery Pit’s attendance at Modrail 2016 which was covered in this article for Swindon Model Railway Club. I have some video I will upload soon. Oh, and another show, that I will report on later.

I also have an interesting new project I am working on for Swindon Model Railway Club, so keep your eyes peeled for that!

You’ll hear from me again soon (hopefully it won’t take over 12 months this time).

P.S. If anyone is interested in some of the non-modely things I’ve been up to in the past year, you might want to check out my music site: https://grasslandsmusic.wordpress.com

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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.