Category Archives: Off the beaten track

Expo time

This weekend brings ExpoEM North and for the second year, I have the pleasure of being amongst the range of demonstrators there, along with my good friends Brian Sunman and Ken Gibbons.  Anyone who’s been to an Expo will know the unique atmosphere they have, and we’re very much looking forward to being there and seeing what else Derek Evans has lined up.  Demoing is probably less tiring than showing a layout, but that said, it can be even more difficult to see the rest of the show!

The overall theme of our little bit will be BR period modelling, and Ken will be taking an eclectic mix of projects which echo back to the spirit of Modelling the British Rail Era. Steam, diesel and very probably electric, from the ’60s to the ’90s all have a chance of making an appearance.  Brian’s main focus will be on buildings for our under-construction Waverley route layout, but he will also have with him some of the Carflats that he’s been working on for the same project. This pic isn’t my best effort and the wagon needs some finishing work, but it should show the effectiveness of what is essentially a simple conversion – based on an LMS Period 1 coach underframe as so many of the prototypes were:

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I shall be presiding over my usual random mix of modified RTR and kitbuilds, and will also be taking my paintbox.  One particular project I’ll be giving a coat of looking at is my small fleet of grain wagons based on the Trix/Lilliput model.

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The methods we use are not specific to any particular prototype or period, but that said, we recognise it’s a finescale show and will obviously slant things that way.  We all have some experience in regauging locos and stock so if you’re curious about easy steps into EM, ask away. And the same goes for anything that’s on show, or even that isn’t.  We’re there to talk, and don’t be put off if we look ‘busy’ or already have somebody at the table – it’s usually a case of the more the merrier 🙂

More details on ExpoEM North can be found on the Society’s own website.

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Filed under Brakevans, Heritage diesels, Mineral wagons, Off the beaten track, Scottish railways, Uncategorized, Wagon kits, Wagon loads, Wagon weathering

Summer shortbread

This started out as another holding post, really, as things have been noticeably quiet on here. Partly this has been due to the usual pressures and diversions of life and to more pleasant things like holidays – and even with the summer we’ve had here, up until a couple of weeks ago, it’s hardly been the weather for working to deadlines.

But working to deadlines is mostly what oi aaarve been, for a commitment to take something resembling a layout to the excellent little  Thirsk show, which is held on a Sunday late in July.  After a slightly false start last year with thoughts on my Stoneferry Tramway project, this was to emerge as Blackhill Ferrya micro layout based on a single platform passing station, a genre which I’ve always been fascinated by the simplicity of.  The Stoneferry thing is still very much something I’d like to do, but for the future – it wasn’t long before I realised that the original micro concept as I’d envisaged it, at a mere 4’6 on its longest edge, would neither satisfy what I wanted from it nor do it justice.

They caught the last train for the coast, the day the music died…

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Overbridge west of Portgordon looking towards Spey Bay, August 2011

So, thoughts turned back to what was still a relatively recent infatuation with the GNoSR system, and particularly the Moray Coast line from Elgin via Buckie to Cairnie Junction.  The only thing with this was that the Coast line, despite its almost ‘light railway’ character, isn’t actually well suited to minimum space interpretations!  – the original idea having been for a slightly larger layout but that had kinda lost its way.

Quite apart from the  rolling landscapes and seascapes, most of the trains in diesel days seem to be composed of a minimum of four corridor coaches, often with added bogie vans.   Previous Scottish inspiration though had included examples such as Ballachulish Ferry and Grandtully on the Aberfeldy branch, both being very simple single track passing stations, and eventually everything came together when plate 152 in George O’Hara’s wonderful BR Diesel Traction in Scotland, plate 152 showed the Moray Coast station of Portgordon in a way that definitely had that ‘something about that’ factor.  Possibly the significant factor here, albeit one that wasn’t instantly obvious in my tortured mind, was that the NBL type 2-hauled train was composed of just two coaches.  So from this, thoughts changed again, towards  the eventual interpretation being something of a pastiche, a Coast Line-ish location but with shorter train formations.

The layout as was seen at Thirsk was obviously very much a work in progress, a sort of ‘operational demo’ really, with suitable descriptions and illustrations of what it will all look like when it’s finished and shown again next year.

Twixt Lossiemouff and Bannth…?

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Looking east into Portgordon, this view shows how the line sat between the village at just above sea level and the rising ground going inland.

I did long ago set up a standalone blog for Blackhill, partly as an experiment with the Blogger platform, but my original ideas for that and to back it up with other Scottish material have been altered by various factors over time.  And in any case, progress so far on Blackhill is not ideally suited to a blog, particularly as the concept is still evolving (which is a pretentious way of saying I’m making it up as I go along…).

Part of this ‘evolution’ is the supposed location.  At the moment, given the considerations of train length detailed above, I think I see Blackhill not as being on the Coast line proper, but as perhaps the last station before the terminus on a third branch off the Coast line.  That would render the short trains more plausible, and yet still redolent of the Scottish diesel era imagery that’s so prevalent in the common consciousness.  Not that I’m deliberately perpetuating any myths here of course, oh no, not me…

So anyhoo, I shall refer you to this thread here on Modellers  United  for associated further ramblings.  You can view MU without joining up as a member, although you wouldn’t be able to comment.  Future development will be posted possibly here, possibly there and possibly in other media, although the precise details are something I’m as yet undecided about.

In the meantime, thanks go to Peter Simmerson for accomodating the layout at Thirsk, to Ken Gibbons and Brian Sunman for assistance with pointwork, wiring and other practical tasks during the runup to the show, and all those who’ve shown general interest and support.  Also, the website of the Great North Of Scotland Railway Association is well worth a visit, being very probably one of the best of its type, and with the picture here being a large part of the inspiration for Blackhill.

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Filed under Heritage diesels, Off the beaten track, Scottish railways

More for the creaking bookshelf

Not a review as such, but a quick ‘heads up’ to a couple of recent publications which may be of interest to those with kindred interests.

Hornby Weathering Large

Firstly, Hornby Magazine’s Skills Guide on weathering; at less than the price of two regular magazines, a worthwhile investment even for those with some experience.   In the interview-style preamble, I was pleased to see Tim making the point that an airbrush is far from essential, although perhaps unfortunately for a publication that will be flicked through by newbies to the art, there is quite an evident visible emphasis on this sort of work .

There are a few more words here on James Wells’ Eastmoor blog,  and after my comments a few posts ago on the ‘art of the state’, I would generally agree with James’ endorsement.   Despite the  sticker-driven appearance and obligatory ‘we show you how’ strapline, this is a publication that’s actually been penned by a seasoned and prolific modeller with a genuine track record.  There are a few namechecks for particular products here and there, but nevertheless you do get the feeling that this is because they are genuinely felt to be fit for purpose, not part of some tacky ‘advertorial’ exercise.

Secondly is George O’Hara’s latest extravanganza in Caly blue: BR Steam in Scotland is a followup to his earlier similar volume on Scottish diesel traction.

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Again there is more elsewhere, on the Culreoch blog of my good friend Jamie Wood.  And you’d be well advised to go and read it, because I’ve not yet had my paws on this one!  I’d be very surprised though if it doesn’t warrant an instant purchase as and when I do; the subject matter, quantity of material and track record more or less guarantees satisfaction.  As Jamie points out, there are unlikely to be too many surprises in the motive power (compared with the diesel volume), but again a large part of the value is going to be in the settings, the infrastructure and the train formations.

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Filed under Heritage diesels, Mineral wagons, Off the beaten track, Rust effects, Scottish railways, Wagon weathering

Of claypits and colonies

A bit of a personal report from the recent Hull Model Railway show (10/11 November), featuring two layouts that, whilst having been around the block a bit, are none the worse for it.

A significant part of the weekend was spent operating the Hull MRS OO9 layout Barrowfleet Brickworks.  It’s hard to believe that this was the first time I’d done so in its 21-year history but as with  the ‘Bomber’, it’s a remarkably absorbing exercise.   The main part of the layout is based on the narrow gauge systems that used to exist on each side of the Humber, bringing in clay for brick manufactory, and as the name suggests, combines elements from former installations at both Barrow on Humber and Broomfleet.  This, for me, is one of those ‘one that got away’ subjects – in their prime, the Lincolnshire systems may as well have been in a foreign country, and even once the Humber Bridge was open, they just didn’t feature on the young Pennine’s radar.  It should be borne in mind however that there was nowhere near the amount of readily accessible information on industrial systems back then.

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now…

There are two operating sequences, both well thought out in typical HMRS NG style; a weekday one where the narrow gauge diesels busy themselves exchanging loaded and empty rakes of tipper wagons, and a weekend preservation sequence with predominantly steam traction.  In each case, appropriate BR traffic rumbles past on the standard gauge to the rear.

As well as the irreverently named Greta, Wes and Tern (and no, that’s not a typo…), the preservation sequence features a diesel whose driver has a habit of baling out of his cab if his  speed gets a bit too high!  Another endearing little quirk is the ‘phantom’ shunter, that can be heard, but not seen…

As always, the best part of a show is often the human element and on the Sunday, we were pleased to chat with one visitor who’d actually worked at the Barrow works, as a fitter and general factotum.  He recognised the dock in particular, where barges had once been loaded with clay for Wilmington cement works in Hull, and was able to provide snippets of previously unknown information to Paul Windle.

Also at the show, fitting into that same ‘off the beaten track’ genre and making its final appearance after 28 shows, was Pete Johnson’s Canada Road.  This represents a bank of sidings in a typical dockland area of indeterminate location, named (as is often the practice in such locales) after the principal trade routes served by the indigenous vessels.

With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

The above image of a TechCad Clayton class 17 on a short rake of 16T minerals is courtesy of Keir Hardy, whose ’emgauge70s’ website is linked in the sidebar and features a great deal of work by several prominent modellers of the BR era.  Canada Road naturally has its own page on the ‘Layouts’ tab,  but images of Pete’s locos and freight wagons  appear throughout the site.    He has a very comprehensive selection of stock and in keeping with the location of the show, had made a point of bringing along a couple of 03s, a class 14  and even a pukka Dairycoates EE type 3.

Canada Road’s retirement is largely due to some of the buildings being required to maintain progress on the replacement layout.  Canada Street will follow the same dockland theme, but in a larger L-shaped format incorporating a sharp linking curve that will provide an apposite setting for the smaller shunters in Pete’s fleet.  Many of these designs were acquired by BR in the 1950s and ’60s for just this sort of work, but were destined to have short lives as this sort of work dried up and the National Traction Plan sought to rationalise as far as possible in favour of the all-pervasive class 08.

Canada Road was awarded the Hull MRS NG section’s MK Memorial Trophy for the layout with the best atmosphere at the show, following the example set previously by fellow operator Ian Manderson’s  Easington Lane.  Ian returns to Hull next November with his Borders layout Hartburn, but we have told him that if the group wins a third time, they don’t get to keep the trophy!

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Filed under Heritage diesels, Off the beaten track

The Kyle mixed, and ‘XP’ brandings

The above shot shows the evening Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness leaving Dingwall in August 1976.  Apologies for the quality, the light was fading but as I expect you’ll realise, it was taken for its intrinsic interest rather than any intention of being an artistic masterpiece.

At the back of the formation are a 13T Highfit loaded with a cable drum and a Presflo; it was at this time that Stromeferry (Loch Kishorn) was being used as a construction base for oil platforms for Howard Doris and I believe that both wagons would have originated there.  At this distance in time though, I’m a bit hazy as to how the wagons actually got onto the back of the train, which we’d just alighted from in order to step back onto the last Far North service into Inverness.  They could have been there when we boarded at Kyle, although if so, why I didn’t take the photograph then is debatable; if they were attached at Strome Ferry, I don’t recall any shunt move (though I could have been asleep, it’s not unusual).

The rest of the pic is not without interest; the lattice post signal, goods shed with GUV in attendance and the opposing turnouts and diamond of the goods yard trackage.

In more traditional days, mixed trains had been characteristic of many Scottish branches (that said, it should be pointed out  that the definition of a  ‘mixed’ is complicated, and in earlier years such workings often included unfitted wagons and thus required a brakevan).    The Kyle line, along with the Fort William – Mallaig section of the West Highland, had retained this propensity even in the diesel era, although by then the term ‘tail traffic’ is probably more appropriate as the freight vehicles were always vacuum fitted.  Often this would be with plebian 12T Vanfits, but occasionally something giving a more unusual appearance would turn up.  Indeed on the Mallaig line, 45T tank cars were conveyed into the early ’80s, and a shot in ‘Scottish Urban and Rural Branch Lines’ shows a fitted 16T mineral on the Kyle working.

Now neither 16 tonners nor Presflos carried the fabled ‘XP’ branding, although the Presflo’s 10’6 wheelbase should accordingly  qualify it.  But whatever, this is one of those subjects that modellers delight in trotting out the ‘official’ line on, often without realising what they’re scratching the surface of.  Whilst there certainly were some very specific rulings around this subject, they did change over time, and there would also have been the usual host of  exceptions, qualifications and ‘local arrangements’.  Overall my feeling is that being too prescriptive about them without access to extensive official records is like trying to nail jam to the wall.

As one example, a factor that often crops up is the stated requirement for XP vehicles to be screw coupled, yet it’s an indisputable fact that in the early 1950s BR built many thousands of Instanter-fitted wagons which were nevertheless XP-rated.  Having said that, the strict requirement is probably more focused on the necessity for the screw coupling on the coaching stock to be used if the Instantered wagon was next to it.  By the late 1960s, the fast running of short wheelbase vehicles was under scrutiny anyway and particularly with rapidly changing patterns of working, I suspect the branding steadily lapsed into irrelevance.

My thanks to David Vinsen (Eggesford Box) for prompting me to dig this out from the hard drive and put it up.  The blame for the associated ramblings however is all mine.

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Filed under Heritage diesels, Off the beaten track, Scottish railways, Wagon loads