Category Archives: Modelling techniques

Figured Out

Well, following a trip to the Festival of Railway Modelling at Alexandra Palace this weekend, I have almost the last items I need to complete my layout.

If you’re going to have a non-specific factory, you’ll need box vans. For some reason, decent (i.e. not Triang, not Dublo, not Hornby-garish-private-owner) vans seem to be hard to come by. These ones are, left to right, a Dapol meat van, a Mainline Vanfit and a Hornby ex-Southern Railway van. I’ve tried to get some variation in terms of shape and colour, just to make shunting a bit more interesting. For some reason, I really like those Southern vans. I don’t know if meat vans were used for anything other than meat, but there’s one here anyway. Maybe it has the workmen’s lunch or something.

Speaking of workmen, you’ll notice there are none. I’ve been trying to find some typical steam age factory worker types and they are very difficult to get hold of. At least, to the level of detail I’m looking for. I don’t want something ready-painted, because frankly ready-painted figures look terrible. My brother is a wargamer, and having seen the results he and his fellow hobbyists get on their figures, the blobby paint jobs that seem to be the industry standard just won’t cut it for me.

The big difference between the way wargamers do things figure-wise and the way we do things (generally) is that wargamers appreciate that one thing you can’t scale down is light. Therefore, they paint light and shade on their figures – starting with a dark base coat, adding colours, then adding highlights. The results are, comparatively, spectacular.

This chap explains things far better than me.

http://www.brifayle.ca/2bshadowstheory.html

So, that’s how it’s done. And for my money, these are the best OO gauge figures on the market at the moment:

http://www.dartcastings.co.uk/montys.php

These are figures full of detail and character. The Workers, in the Railway Staff section, look to be exactly what I’m looking for, and I reckon they’ll come out just fine. I do have their Skipper and Vicar figures (I intend to paint them as Captain Haddock and Rev. W. Awdry respectively).

[Usual disclaimer – I have no link with the above other than as a satisfied customer. Although if Monty’s would like to send me a load of figures in exchange for this plug I wouldn’t say no]

The reason for my concern figure-wise is that, on a large layout, the somewhat short on detail and dubious-of-scale figures by Modelscene and Hornby would go unnoticed. On a layout this small, detail compromises tend to stick out like a sore thumb. That’s why I’ve been painting the track, as you see above. Still no ballast, but you know how it is.

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The ex-file

Well, contrary to what I said in my last entry, I have actually made some changes on the micro. Witness:

It all started when I added a bit of grass (carpet fibres, available from the shop at Pendon Museum in their own scenic range). Unfortunately, this was a little more effective than I’d hoped, and really showed up the bare grey card. I added washes of light grey in various shades with various brown tints to make the card look a bit more like concrete. Here’s what the layout looks like with no stock, vehicles or buildings:

As you can see, I did add clutter. The buildings have loads stacked up against them, largely to ensure they get positioned correctly. The large crates and small barrels are from Gilbow – superb accessories, among the best on the market in my opinion. The other crates are Peco and the red-ended barrel is Merit.

The pile of sand is a discovery of my own. There’s this substance you can get in art shops known as gel medium. Essentially, the idea behind this is that you add it to paint to give your paintings texture. It comes in several varieties and can be easily shaped. It costs a little under £10 a jar, but is incredibly useful. I’ve used it to represent sand, gravel and pebble dash in the past. Here, I mixed it with Games Workshop’s “Snakebite Leather” paint, which creates a nice sandy colour.

The tractor is an Oxford die cast model and the car is Classix. I don’t intend to fix the vehicles down, as they’re a handy way of setting the period. I want this to be fairly flexible in terms of setting, just so that nothing I run there looks totally wrong.

Conceptually, this is basically a smaller version of “Micklewhite Wharf.” At the moment, it’s called “Semple Town,” which I hope people won’t take as a comment on its builder. It’s set in East London on the south bank of the Thames – the distant buildings on the backscene are supposed to be on the far side of the river. The name comes from the tendency of places in East London to be named after industrial firms – Canning Town, Silvertown, Beckton. This is the works of Harry Semple.

I have no idea what Semple’s factory produces, but it certainly requires a large variety of rolling stock. Much of this has been inherited from Micklewhite Wharf, for the obvious reasons that (a) it’s the same setting and (b) both layouts require compact stock in order to be satisfying to run.

Above left is the Terrier, the “main line” engine. It’s also the longest engine on the layout, which might be a first for a Terrier. It’s hauling the workmen’s train, which consists of repainted “Emily’s Coaches” from Bachmann’s Thomas the Tank Engine range. There’s barely enough room for the engine with both coaches, so most of the time the train will consist of one coach. The Terriers, as I’ve said before, were typical East London engines and could be found both north and south of the river.

Above right is Billy, a rather battered Bachmann Junior locomotive. For a while, Bachmann produced this and an 0-4-0 saddle tank using the tooling from their American Thomas range. Unfortunately, this got them in a bit of trouble with HIT Entertainment, Thomas’ copyright holders, and so have been withdrawn. Detailing is minimal and they’re basically freelance, but I think they look rather neat. I was going to repaint this one, but I think I might just weather him down a bit.

The engine on the left is another Bachmann Junior engine, this time a somewhat Hunslet-esque diesel shunter originally named Rusty. I’ve repainted it and slightly weathered it, and coincidentally it matches Billy’s colour quite well. The wagon immediately behind is a curiosity, and not actually mine. My brother picked it up second-hand, and due to a lack of space and time I am the current custodian of much of his stock. The lack of markings suggest it’s an internal user wagon. As the bro said, it’s quite a nice thing to have on a Docklands layout.

The railway still isn’t finished. The more I do, the more I find to do. I’m sure you know what I mean. But given that in terms of total hours I’ve spent less than a day to get this far (not including drying time for glue) and considering that I’ve spent less than £10, I’m quite pleased.

Now I’m thinking in terms of other micro-layouts. I’ve had lots of layout ideas over the years, but no room for them. Now I’m thinking in terms of a parcels depot, a Tube station, a harbour, a scrapyard, dabbling in O-16.5…

Is this the world’s laziest model railway?

Hola, amigos. It’s been a while since I was last here. I was busy with some things. I won’t lie to you, there have been other blogs. But they meant nothing to me, nothing, I swear.

That out of the way, here’s my latest project. It may be the laziest layout ever built.

The concept is shamelessly stolen from various layouts Carl Arendt’s now-legendary website, Micro/Small Layouts for Model Railroads (link below). It was built in a boxfile. Most of the scenery was from the scrapbox, so total cost to me was £6. Quick run-down of the layout…

Base – Boxfile from W. H. Smith. I removed the end rather than try to hack through it. This caused the file to lose a lot of its stiffness, remedied by reinforcing the bottom with foamcore board.

Track (including buffer stops) – Hornby. The points were a fiver second-hand (RRP £12), which is why small local model shops with a good selection of second-hand stock are indispensible. Shout-out to Jane’s Trains in Tooting, possibly the best model shop in London.

Buildings – Metcalfe. I’ve had these for a while, and as you can see, they’re a little the worse for wear. The kit came with a sheet of card with extra details on – I cut the walls around the edge of the layout from this.

Ground – Grey card.

Backscene – Blue card. The buildings in the distance were cut out of National Trust leaflets (yet another reason to support the National Trust). I plan to add more buildings along the right-hand side, which currently looks rather bare.

Crane – From the Ertl Thomas the Tank Engine range. It’s currently awaiting a hook. In my opinion, this is a hugely underrated toy in modelling terms. Admittedly it’s freelance and could do with detailing, but cranes like this could be seen from the First World War right through to the 1970s. It could be used in almost any industrial scenario and, to my knowledge, there’s nothing quite like it on the market at the moment (not for that price, anyway).

The layout is almost finished in fact. Now, I know what you’re thinking. How can I say it’s nearly finished when I haven’t even ballasted the track? Well, here’s the thing. I don’t plan to. I actually quite like it the way it is. I know, sacrilege. I plan to add some clutter to distract the eye from the bare “concrete,” but otherwise the ground will stay as is.

Basically, I wanted a simple layout that I could actually get finished without getting bogged down or having to make expensive shopping trips for the scenery. It took a grand total of two evenings, not including the time it took to assemble the buildings (one evening). It’s not much, but I like it.

Further explanations will be forthcoming in the next entry.

See also

www.carendt.com – A Mecca for the enthusiast of the micro-layout.

Micklewhite Wharf – We’re Getting There

Hullo all, I realise it’s been a while since I updated this thing. You know how it is with this hobby. Anyway, the layout’s been taking shape over the past few weeks, and now looks like this:

IMG_1659

There’s still a long way to go, obviously. I’ve decided to scrap the “siding in the sky” idea (although a siding on a stub of viaduct isn’t impossible – only today I saw one on the approach to Cannon Street). Instead, the bridge will act as a scenic break. It’ll still carry a railway, but will be static.

A lot of the scenic features you see above are from Saxondale Mouldings, in their Finishing Touches range. They don’t have a website, but sell quite a lot on eBay. I encountered them at the Croydon show last week. They produce accessories in various scales, mostly lorry and wagon loads. The crates saved me quite a bit of work making and painting clutter for the wharf. The yellow resin thing at the back is, I think, intended as a viaduct side. I think it looks a bit like an early 19th century dockside building, so that’s what it is. I think a whole row of corrugated iron warehouses would be a little monotonous.

Mud, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for ruining shipping.

Mud, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for ruining shipping.

I’m rather pleased with the canal basin. I wasn’t sure what to do with this at first. I wanted it to be muddied up in order to add to the general air of dereliction I was trying to achieve. If a dock isn’t in use, it won’t be dredged and it’ll silt up pretty quickly. Here are some examples from my own explorations.

St Katherine's Dock

St Katherine's Dock

One advantage of the docks in London closing down is that there’s no shortage of silt. But I was worried that, again, it might look boring to just have mud. I considered a boat, but most boat kits are pretty expensive, especially given that this one would most likely be chopped up to fit the space. In any case, most boat kits are unsuitable for the London Docklands. The other option was the Hornby butty boat, but I didn’t much fancy the idea of hacking resin about – the dust is clingy as the Dickens. Fortunately, The Finishing Touches came to the rescue again with a short boat that looks about right for a canal – the sort of thing that might be used to carry miscellaneous rubbish and just moored wherever. There was a similar vessel moored in Richmond a few years ago until it sank.

St Saviour's Dock

St Saviour's Dock

However, in the meantime, I’d had another idea for making the basin interesting. I’d come across a photo of an abandoned canal basin in the East End that had filled with rubbish brought in by the incoming tide. So I used Polyfilla to create the mud and pressed various bits of plastic, wood and card into it. The edges were lined with sections of those wooden stirrers you get in Starbucks and suchlike places. Finally, everything was painted with Tamiya Olive Drab for that slimy effect.

What else, what else… The crane is Wills, again intended to be long-abandoned. The lamp hut is also Wills, which I’ve weathered down to an acceptably grimy shade. The girders and the lighter-coloured crates are Exclusive First Editions, albeit I’ve given the crates a wash in brownish-grey thinned acrylic to tone them down in line with the rest of the scenery.
More when… well, when I get around to it, really.

Bricking It

WARNING: This entry takes a while to get to the point. You may want to scroll down to where there are pictures. I know I would.

As you may have gathered from previous entries, I’m not exactly what you’d call a rivet counter. I’m more of the Impressionist school of modeller, in that I’d rather create something that feels right than something that’s precisely accurate. Put it this way – Hornby Dublo, to me, often seems more “real” than finescale stuff because it has a real weight and momentum to it, despite the fact that the detail is often laughable by modern standards.

Similarly, my favourite layouts are often the ones where there’s less attention to detail, where the builder has shunned conventional accuracy to create something genuinely different. Quite often, these are created by people who are new to the hobby. I recall British Railway Modelling published articles on Midge Grassing’s Sancliffe Junction some years back, a layout created using some unconventional scenic techniques which, as a result, really stood out. See http://www.ngrail.co.uk/2_sand.htm for some photos. I also enjoyed Model Rail‘s recent article on artist David Shepherd’s home layout, built according to the philosophy that “‘it’s my railway and I can do what I bloody well want with it'” (to quote the article). Even Allan Downes, who has been wowing us with his buildings and scenery for decades, admits that he doesn’t worry about getting things dead on, provided they look like what they’re supposed to.

However, this philosophy doesn’t necessarily mean that you can get away with anything at all, as I discovered while researching my current project My layout is set in the East End of London, and one of the things I wanted to include was track on more than one level – a characteristic of railways in East London is that they are carried on viaducts. My initial thought was that I could just get away with weathering Hornby’s standard single-arch road bridge, which is already brick red.

brid1I mean, bricks is bricks, right? It turns out not. See, my research, which largely consisted of wandering around the East End with a camera looking suspicious, showed that brick viaducts in the East End are yellow.

This, according to people who know these things, is because the bricks were made in Kent, where the clay is low in iron. Anyway, what this meant in practical terms was that I was completely wrong. I could still use red brick – there are red buildings in East London – but yellow would be better for creating the feel of the area.

Yellow brick viaduct, East London, apparently in the middle of an atomic explosion.

Yellow brick viaduct, East London, apparently in the middle of an atomic explosion.

And so I set to work with various shades of brown and yellow. In addition to the fact that the colour was wrong, it was also clear that I was going to have to do quite a lot of weathering.

For the base coat, I used Games Workshop’s ‘Bubonic Brown’  (are buboes yellowy-brown?). Then I went over with several layers of ink and thin, grey-brown paint. This adds depth to the basecoat, as well as bringing the colour closer to what I was aiming for.

One technique I used was to apply slightly darker paint to areas such as the underside of the arch and below ledges – areas that, on the real thing, are in shadow. This is because, with the best will in the world, you can’t scale the actions of light and shade down. Therefore, in this scale, shadows look a bit feeble unless you give them a helping hand.

Here’s the result, as compared with an unpainted bridge.

brid2It’s not perfect, I’ll admit. It’ll need several more layers of paint before it achieves the old-and-dirty look I’m aiming for. But it’s a massive improvement over the out-of-the-box road bridge, and now looks like it might actually be made of bricks.

Incidentally, I took several close-up photos of brick and concrete, which I will bore you with in a future entry.

Anachronism Stew

One of the things I enjoy most about this hobby is the research side. Early on in the planning stage, I like to get out there and get some reference material. Not just on the railway aspect of things, but the scenery, the buildings, even the people. It’s no good ensuring that your 1923 locomotive is pulling the correct 1923 stock if the figures are dressed in 1940s fashions, for instance.

But then again, sometimes you get a perfectly legitimate reason to get a bit silly with the scenic details. For instance, today, while I was walking through St Pancras Station, I came across this:

IMG_1256It’s that staple of the steam era country station, the milk churn. Specifically, four of them being used to advertise a promotion on dairy goods, smack bang in the middle of a station that’s come to symbolise the future of rail travel in Britain. Incidentally, there were also displays for bread (using flour sacks), fish (nets) and fruit (crates). So you can, perfectly legitimately, be completely random with your accessories.

IMG_0193Or how about this on the right? There are several of these old GWR benches in what was once Windsor & Eton Central Station. Most of this grand station, famous for its royal connections, has now been turned into a shopping centre. The railway is limited to a single platform with a shuttle service to Slough, hidden away at the back. But even if there were no longer royal trains, the owners weren’t going to let this illustrious history go, and so the shops are largely housed in original station buildings and, as you see here, they’ve salvaged several GWR station benches. Coopercraft produce these in OO scale.

Windsor also houses what might be the biggest anachronism of all – a locomotive that was cut up in 1912. Or at least, a replica thereof. The locomotive in question is The Queen, a Great Western ‘Achilles’ class and the non-working replica was built for the Royalty and Railways exhibition. The tender was sadly scrapped (although parts have been saved by the Bluebell Railway for their new ‘Brighton Atlantic’ – the tender originated with the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway).

IMG_0192This is a terrible photo – I was on my way to a dinner party, so the engine was snapped in the evening. Anyway, despite my appalling photo, this does give you a legitimate excuse to put historic and even non-existent locos on a modern image layout. If you want this particular locomotive, both Triang and Hornby have produced the ‘Achilles’ class and it’s available fairly readily second-hand.

These are just three examples. Plenty of stations up and down the country – not just those directly linked to preserved railways – can boast features from the steam age. Whether they were deliberately put there or simply left over, it’s easy enough to find an excuse to have more-or-less any historic feature on your modern layout. There is, as they say, a prototype for everything.

Grime and Punishment

They say that a layout is never truly finished. I’m afraid I managed to disprove that supposition with my last layout, which I definitely did finish. Now I’m bored, which is why I’m embarking on a new layout. Like the last one, this will be a micro.

 IMG_0823_2Hopefully this mock-up gives you some idea of the sort of thing I’m going for. The setting is basically going to be somewhere in London’s Docklands, with brooding warehouses looming on all sides, two-level track and a small canal basin. I’m not aiming to be even remotely realistic here, aiming primarily for atmosphere. You see, I’m a great fan of grime and rust. I’m weird like that. I love sooty, crumbling brickwork, corroded metal, abandoned buildings and places where I shouldn’t be. This is going to be a version of the Docklands that celebrates that. A Dickensian caricature of reality.

There is quite a bit that’s not so obvious from the photo. Under the bridge, I’m planning to have the canal – all silted up, maybe a grounded barge. There will be a similarly decrepit crane or two, a reminder of better days. The sheets of card will be hacked into giant corrugated iron warehouses. Were there ever warehouses that big made of corrugated iron? In this version of reality, of course there were. And they were never maintained, either.

It’s a scrap box project, that is to say, I’m trying to make it using mostly things dredged up from my scrap box with minimal expenditure. The signal box and pagoda shed are both Wills, the bridge is Hornby, the buffer stop is Peco. Track is Hornby. The water tower is from Hornby’s Thomas the Tank Engine range, and is perfect for light and industrial railways.

The baseboard cost a grand total of £4.50, being the frame from a dirt-cheap artist’s canvas with a sheet of foamcore mounted on top. I’m planning on adding at least two more sheets of foamcore, partly for the sake of strength and partly so that the canal will have a bit of depth when I hack it out.

You’ll recall that I mentioned corrugated iron warehouses. These were inspired by a lucky find in an art materials shop in Soho (Cass Art of Berwick Street, if you’re interested). They had corrugated card in A4 sheets – slightly overscale for 4mm, but again, this ain’t reality. In any case, it’s cheaper than plasticard and easier to work with than plastic sheets. The sheets are available in several colours; I went with white, as I plan to paint the Dickens out of these things.

I’ll keep you posted.