The Three ‘I’s

The heading photo to this page shows a class 24 at Clifton Mill near Rugby, on the cross-country LNWR line from Peterborough.  It is used with the kind permission of Nigel Ratledge.

Inspiration, Indecision and Intent

OK, this is the self-indulgent bit.

First off, inspiration, and the two pictures on this page have been chosen to try and bring together the two main strands of this.  The one below is from my spotting days in the 1970s, and the header is the sort of scene that at that time had not long disappeared, and was tantalisingly accessible to me via the pages of secondhand magazines and other railway publications.  Added to that, I find I have a natural affinity for the railways of the East and South Midlands, partly due to family connections with East Nottinghamshire but also because of the way the former LNER, LMSR and GWR came together in this area.  Not quite in pursuit of the ‘middle of England served by all Regions’ scenario so beloved of modellers, but hopefully a sensitive  understanding of how the different systems interacted with each other.

The 1970s were probably the last gasp of many aspects of traditional railway working; steam had gone and track layouts were rationalised, but a few freight fkows like the one below were hanging on much as they’d always done.  Even away from the main lines, locomotive haulage could be found amongst the plethora of  DMUs – most notably of course in the more far-flung parts of  Scotland.  Obviously all of these survivors provide a lot of scope for modelling, but it’s long been evident to me that winding the clock back just a few years will provide even more examples of lines like the one above.  The line from Ruggers to Posh (as I understand the locals knew it), closed in 1966, but not before running for  several years with diesel traction, to just the same pattern as it had with steam.  The traction was undoubtedly modern, but the result wasn’t really the ‘modern image’, to use that thoroughly disreputable phrase.

The period right in the middle of these, the few years either side of 1970, have long been recognised as providing a wonderful variety of liveries, as the green and maroon gave way to blue and grey (and of course the many hybrid schemes in between).   And whilst that coincides with those first few trainspotting years of what’s become a lifelong hobby, if anything the bulk of my interest these days falls slightly either side of that; whilst my heart belongs in the ‘not quite blue’ era (my natural birthright, and something I can’t change), my head yearns for a little earlier towards the things I never really knew.

On the one hand, the very last years of steam provide for not just that traction itself, and the challenge of replicating its pattern of usage, but also a wider variety of freight traffics and wagon stock.  On the other, the early TOPS period coincides with the most developed years of my own teenage interest; looking back, it’s an interlude that has its own distinct fascination and character as the old ways of freight working morphed into the increasing specialisations that would come to characterise the Speedlink era.

Indecision? Well, I think a lot of modellers fall foul of this one.  It’s only very recently that I’ve had the space to contemplate building things for myself, so rather than set off down roads that might, for whatever reason, not lead anywhere, I’ve contented myself with building mostly general purpose stock that could potentially suit any setting. As mentioned elsewhere, I have become involved in other projects and this has had the natural effect of causing some prevarication over periods, but whilst retaining a vestigial interest in later stuff, the bulk of my output in future will be concentrated in the directions above. Most significantly, the sort of locations I’d like to model have become clearer in my mind, which means it’s made much more sense to stash away a few locos if they’ve become available at prices too good to refuse!

Almost ‘Sheepwash’? The image below shows 08576 waiting with a trip freight at Bodmin Road, Cornwall in July 1975.

Intention is where I go from here, and the factor that brings in the ‘finescale renegade’ tagline below.  One significant point is that (along with the two close friends that I model with) the bulk of future output will be in 16.5mm gauge rather than the EM that I adopted probably twenty years ago.  At the time, diesel mechanisms were basic and rewheeling was obligatory (albeit admittedly easy with Ultrascales).  Doing much more wagon building from kits, it was just as easy to drop in EM wheels as OO ones, and even on the few acceptable RTR items, changing the wheels was probably the biggest single improvement in appearance that could be made.  But some years ago a nagging feeling started, that this was just one more hurdle I’d set myself, one that I didn’t need to keep vaulting.  Modern RTR is a completely different kettle of fish and (particularly with steam locos), it makes much less sense to risk upsetting its fidelity or running qualities.  Subsequent events, whilst disruptive at the time, made it easier to follow my own counsel rather than be a slave to peer pressure and external whim.  I’m not setting out to prove any particular points, to ‘raise any bars’ or ‘to show what’s possible with readily available products’; I’m just doing what interests me and if it interest you as well, that’s great.

Whilst I’m not averse to mechanical or constructional tasks, the artistic aspects – finishing, weathering, scenery and detailing – are what draws me most and for a long time, it’s been my contention that if a 4mm layout is well presented, I don’t even think about what gauge it is.  Not only that but my interest in freight stock has come to a  natural plateau; whilst I certainly don’t know all there is to know about said subject, I have soaked up more information than is strictly necessary to build an effective model railway, and I do want to move on and try different things, to develop  skills in areas that are not so much new to me, but remain so far unexploited.

In similar vein, I’ve also come to terms with the level of detail that I’m comfortable  in applying to any given model, rather than work to a standard that might arbitrarily be expected of a ‘finescaler’.  As a generalisation, the younger we are, the less likely we are to realise that we simply can’t do everything to the highest of standards – as we get older (and hopefully wiser…), we get better at identifying the compromises that will trouble us the least.  I’m more and more inclined lately to please myself and make my own assessment of what needs doing to a model or whether it’s  time-effective to do so.

The word finescale and its meaning are sometimes hotly debated on the ‘Net, but ultimately it’s undefinable.  I’m not one for labelling people, that causes more trouble than enough on the forums, but I suppose I’d still consider myself a finescaler (even if at the lower end of the scale).  The other ethos that regularly crops up is ‘achievable excellence’, the strapline of the old Modelling Railways Illustrated mag that tried to get across the notion that getting that last 20% of result could easily take up 80% of the time.  I know what it all means to me though and ultimately, that’s pretty much all that matters.


4 responses to “The Three ‘I’s

  1. Russ

    Enjoyed reading this, didnt realise you had your own blog. particularly this page you go through alot of the arguments I have had with myself regards gauge and things in general. thanks for taking the time to produce this blog, Russ

  2. You’re quite welcome Russ, good to have you around and thanks for the comments.

  3. Good grief ! The Humpty-Dumpty fields ! We (me, mum, little sister, assorted other pre-school horrors) used to walk down there from Clifton before my dad moved us all from leafy Warwickshire to ‘Oop North’. My mum has never forgiven him. Meanwhile, back on topic (and while I can still see through the teary fog of nostalgia), I thoroughly agree with the 80/20 theory – second best is close to ideal, and much less frustrating.

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