Are they allowed to do that?

Well, I’m pleased to say that my predictions for this year’s Hornby range were, to a man, entirely wrong. I refer you to the official Hornby website for this year’s releases. Briefly, the things I’m getting most excited about are the LNER L1 and B17s. The 4-VEP multiple unit is to be introduced, which will be a nice addition to the expanding number of Southern multiple units available (as well as being units that operated locally to me), although I do wonder if it’s perhaps a bit too similar to Bachmann’s 4-CEP. Having said that, I would imagine there are plenty of people who will buy both – I recall them often working alongside one another, sometimes coupled together. And by changing the interior, they could produce the 4-VEGs that were used on the airport service to Gatwick.

Speaking of airport services, a train pack that has piqued my interest is the ‘Imperial Airways’ pack. This consists of a T9, a Pullman composite, a Maunsell brake coach and a bogie utility van, all in Southern livery. This replicates the service that ran out of London Victoria, serving the Imperial Airways airfield at Southampton. Due to the lightly-laid track, the T9 was about the only express engine capable of using the route. I’ve often thought it would be an interesting service to model. AND I WAS RIGHT.

The Railroad range has a number of new additions this year. The GWR County and LMS Patriot have been added, as have the old Lima Class 40 and Class 33. One that rather caught my eye, though, was this:

It’s a freelance 0-4-0 finished in the livery of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. A neat little model and rather appealing. It appears to be based on the LBSC E2, which was an 0-6-0. But I do wonder how this works in terms of copyright.

Allow me to explain. Bachmann, as I have explained before, holds the licence to produce Thomas the Tank Engine characters for the North American market. A few years back (2005 I believe) they introduced the Junior range in the UK. The locomotives for this were an 0-6-0 side tank and an 0-4-0 saddle tank, both rather freelance-looking but nice enough in their way (I own both, and crude though they are, they have a certain charm). Unfortunately, the tooling they used to make these was developed from the Thomas range. As a result, they got into a bit of trouble with HIT Entertainment, who own the copyright for Thomas. They have since withdrawn those original Junior engines and introduced a generic 0-6-0 saddle tank and diesel shunter.

The problem, you see, was that Bachmann’s tooling was specifically developed for the Thomas range. Hornby can get away with using the same tooling for, say,  Oliver the Western Engine that they use for the 14xx in their regular range because the 14xx was developed first. Now, the engine you see above was originally developed for a battery-powered starter set in Hornby’s Thomas range. That is to say that it was specifically developed as a Thomas character. This, I think, might cause them to fall foul of the same problems as Bachmann. I hope they don’t, as it’s a delightful little engine.

Further Reading – The E2


So, what aren’t they making?

Well, chaps, New Year is nearly upon us, and inevitably that means the new models for next year will shortly be officially announced. Already things are looking exciting. Kernow have their Beattie well tank and Hastings DEMU on the way, Bachmann have promised us a Robinson O4 (not a moment too soon), a Cravens DMU, a retooled Class 03 and a 2-EPB EMU. Dapol have a Class 22 on the way. Even Model Rail are getting in on the act with their Sentinel shunter, something I’ve often thought would be a good choice in ready-to-run, although that’s partly because I like small, quirky locomotives. Roco have their OO9 Double Fairlie on the way, pioneering ready-to-run British narrow gauge in 4mm.

I think the most interesting lot of models, certainly if you’re a diesel person, is in Heljan’s range. We’re promised Lion, the Class 23, the Class 14, the Class 15 and, rather out of left-field, models of all four types of four-wheeled railbus used on British Railways (AC, Park Royal, Wickham and Waggon und Maschinenbrau).

There’s even an all-but-confirmed rumour that Bachmann are to bring out a ready-to-run City of Truro. Everyone’s sworn to secrecy at the moment, but here are the facts as reported in the modelling press.

  • Bachmann is producing a top-secret model.
  • One of the major manufacturers has been developing a model of City of Truro in secret.
  • Bachmann produced a hugely successful model of Deltic for the National Railway Museum and have been looking for a follow-up.
  • They carried out a poll and City of Truro was the National Collection locomotive most wanted.

Basically, this is the worst kept secret since Watergate. I look forward to it, I think City of Truro is a fine and elegant locomotive and I have no doubt that sales will be through the roof, particularly if they produce it as it looked when performing railtours in the 1950s.

No word on Hornby’s programme yet, so I’ll no doubt be scouring their website as intently as is possible with a roaring hangover on New Year’s Day.

So, what’s next for the major manufacturers? Well, frankly, I think all bets are off. Take a look at the list above and take a look at some of the models we’ve already had in recent years – the ‘Clan’, the 4-CEP, Falcon, Kestrel, Deltic, Class 17, Q1, T9, the Devon Belle Observation Car. These are models that, not too long ago, would have been considered risky if not downright insane for anyone to produce ready-to-run. Yet even the economic climate hasn’t slowed the flow of oddities. So, these would be my wild guesses.

  • The Class 35, better known as the Metrovick Co-Bo, better known still if you grew up with Thomas the Tank Engine as Boco. It’s the really obvious gap in the diesel range at the moment.
  • DP2, the super-Deltic produced in the 1960s. No more ridiculous than some of the one-offs Heljan has been producing, it was basically a regular Deltic externally. Bachmann, over to you.
  • Duke of Gloucester. A one-off, but it’s an obvious gap in the range of BR Standards. It’s back in the news at the moment and, of course, has done extensive work in preservation.
  • Come to think of it, the other BR standards, namely the 3MT 2-6-0 (i.e. the tender variant of Bachmann’s recent tank) and the 2MT 2-6-0 and 2-6-2T.
  • Upgraded GWR coaching stock. Given Hornby’s upgrade of their Castle class, this is an obvious accompaniment.
  • An upgraded GWR King. Generally, upgraded GWR stuff.
  • Hornby, I have no doubt, will continue to expand the Railroad range. I’d imagine the old Castle and Schools class will find their way there. There’s a fair bit of Lima that would go quite well there, I’m hoping to see the LNER J50 and GWR 94XX.
  • Electric traction is obviously neglected at the moment. So, BR Classes 81-85, the EM1 and EM2 for Easterners and the Class 71 and 74 for Southerners. I note that Hornby have been advertising catenary recently – preparing the ground?
  • Obviously it depends how sales of Bachmann’s new 4-CEP go, but it does seem to be the dawning of the age of the old-skool Southern EMU at the moment. I would imagine a pre-war unit such as a 2-HAL to be a good choice, as it complements existing models but is reasonably different in outline.
  • People keep on asking for the Blue Pullman. Will someone finally grant them mercy?
  • Hornby have re-released the Dean Single and Caledonian Single in a number of guises. The one veteran from the Triang range that hasn’t been re-released is Rocket. Could this be its year?

Those are just my guesses for now, but as I say, nothing is too ridiculous at the moment. Nothing at all.

“Why does my tank engine…”

thomasworkWhen I was a small child, I absolutely loved Thomas the Tank Engine. It was my favouritest programme in the world ever. It wasn’t what got me interested in railways – that had more to do with the three or four generations of railwaymen in the family. But it certainly helped. I learnt to read through the books. Much later, I even wrote my dissertation on the original Railway Series books. So I still have a considerable nostalgic attachment to that little blue dock shunter.

Which is why I was intrigued by a new book in the popular Haynes manual series. The Thomas the Tank Engine Owners’ Workshop Manual (1945 onwards). The book promises to be a technical guide to how Thomas and his friends work and how the railways of Sodor operate (probably at a loss).

This is far from being the first technical guide to Thomas and friends, but it’s the first one to tie in with the television series (as opposed to the original books) and the first one to be aimed specifically at young children. The television series has long been criticised for moving further and further away from railway realism, so this would seem to be a return to the good old days.

The book features cutaway drawings of Thomas, Gordon, Percy and Mavis (illustrating a side tank engine, a tender engine, a saddle tank and a diesel-mechanical shunter respectively) plus Trevor the Traction Engine and Harold the Helicopter. There’s also a diagram of how steam engines work and an explanation of how an engine is built, driven and maintained, including a section on the time Henry was rebuilt. An article called ‘The Tracks of Sodor’ explains the basics of railway operation and ‘Old and New Engines’ gives a history of locomotive design (The First Steam Engines, Narrow-Gauge Engines, The First Express Trains, Newer Steam Engines and Diesel Engines) using characters from Sodor as reference points. One niggle here is that Fergus is used to illustrate the first steam engines when he is in fact an Aveling Porter traction engine locomotive – not the pinnacle of modernity, but hardly a pioneer of steam. Given that Rocket has appeared in the books, it would surely make more sense to use him/her/it for this section.

There are a few factual hiccups – for one thing, I’d seriously dispute the article on how an engine is built (the cab before the firebox?). From the point of view of the fictional Thomas universe, the manual includes a number of sometimes quite obscure factoids from the books hitherto ignored by the TV series (Henry was built as an experiment, Sodor has a bridge to the Mainland, there’s a rack-and-pinion railway up Culdee Fell), but ignores others (the existence of the little-seen electric railway to Peel Godred is denied). Rather than going with the idea that Henry was entirely rebuilt into a Black 5 following the story ‘The Flying Kipper’, this book states that he was simply given a larger firebox. This, I suppose, explains why the Henry in the TV series looks nothing like a Black 5.

All in all, despite a few nitpicks, I’d say this was a perfect present for a young Thomas fan. Older children might find it a little basic, but for the young ‘uns it’s a simple introduction to a complex subject, easy to understand and clearly illustrated and just generally Really Useful.

Further Reading – Martin Clutterbuck’s site on the technical side of Thomas, with some contributions by Yours Truly.

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:


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.

The Kids Are Alright

A debate that surfaces from time to time in the modelling press is the question of layout heights. There are two main schools of thought in this.

Layouts should be built at adult eye level. After all, the majority of exhibition visitors are adults, and the majority of exhibitors are also adults – why build a layout where you have to bend down to see it properly?

Layouts should be built lower than eye level. That way, children and wheelchair users can see them as well as everybody else.

Speaking personally, I take the second view. I remember as a young child going to visit Certain Shows That Shall Remain Nameless and being very irritated by successions of layouts that were too high for me to see unless the Da lifted me up. Meanwhile, right now, I’m quite a lot taller (at least six inches if not more), and looking at child-eye-level layouts is no great hardship. There are alternative solutions, of course. The best is to provide some sort of box or bench for children to stand on. That way, adults don’t have to bend down and kids don’t have to be lifted up (resulting in later back pain that makes bending down harder).

All this, of course, is obvious. The real point of this entry, which is being written at the end of a long Saturday night, is that I’ve noticed there’s a certain attitude among some modellers, who again will not be named (I can’t remember their names), towards the concept of children at exhibitions. Namely, the belief that they shouldn’t be there in the first place. The argument is that, basically, most modellers are adults, therefore why bother producing a show that’s accessible to children and young people? Which in some ways is valid… and in some ways is not. Whichever way you look at it, the person making the argument is not a very nice person. The argument can be rephrased as “it is better to effectively slam the door in the face of a few than to cause mild annoyance to many.”

The other solution is to produce layouts specifically aimed at children. I don’t necessarily mean yet another Thomas the Tank Engine – not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. Vintage train displays seem to be popular with younger visitors. Quirky layouts, whether you go so far as a Rowland Emett-style line or just an unusual prototype, always look to go down well. Animated features and interesting cameos are a good way to keep the kids interested. That way, there’s something to occupy the kids while Daddy enjoys the finescale stuff.

I realise that there are some modellers who feel that children at exhibitions are one step above a rat infestation, but – if we’re going to keep up the broad generalisations – most kids are okay. The sort of kids who are interested in model railways are probably not the sort of kids who hang around shopping precincts in hoodies, let’s be honest. Provided the parents are keeping an eye on them, what’s the problem? You can mutter about how they don’t appreciate the hours of work that have gone into it or whatever, but hey – plenty of kids enjoy X-Men without appreciating the civil/gay rights allegorical subtexts. Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be there.

 The fact is that some kids like trains and they like model railways. Maybe they’re not the ones who spend the money, maybe they’re not going to join your club, but in their way, they’re enthusiasts the same as you. Don’t be a jerk about it.

The Reign of Terrier

Well, the docklands layout now has a locomotive. I don’t normally buy locomotives specifically for layouts, more the other way round – I build layouts in order to give locomotives somewhere to run.

IMG_1553But, well, I rather like the London, Brighton and South Coast ‘Terriers’, and I saw a second-hand one going cheap on a stall at a jumble sale, so policy be damned.

The use of a Terrier (or A1X, if we’re going to be pedantic) is, of course, entirely justified on an East London layout – the LBSC actually built these delightful engines to work passenger trains on their lines in South East London. They were nippy little engines, and more than capable of the work they were given to do. They were equally capable of goods and shunting work, and their small size and light weight made them perfect for branch and light railway work. So good at their jobs were they that they lasted in service from the 1870s through to the 1960s, often passing through more than one owner – where the LBSC or Southern Railway didn’t want them, someone else generally did. Some even ended up back with the Southern after the lines they had been sold to were taken over.

The engine in the photo is Brighton, an engine that had something of an adventurous life. It was a showtrain of sorts, winning a gold medal at the 1878 Exposision Universelle in Paris and, in a moment to gladden the heart of any red-blooded Englishman, set a speed record of 50mph on the Chemins de Fer de l’Ouest. It went to the Isle of Wight Central Railway in 1902. On withdrawal, it was a seaside attraction at Butlin’s holiday camp at Pwllheli, which frankly sounds like a fate worse than death. Fortunately, the engine was saved by the Isle of Wight Steam Railway and now lives there under its Wight identity of Newport, number W11.

All of which rather suggests that it shouldn’t be in the East End during BR days. Fortunately, there’s a little phrase we modellers like to use, which is “might have been”. J E Connor, in his book Stepney’s Own Railway, notes that there was at one time a plan to build a link between the East London Railway and the London and Blackwall Railway at Shadwell. The East London Railway used Marc Brunel’s tunnel under the Thames to provide a link between the North and South sides of the docks in East London. It was operated by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, the Metropolitan Railway, the Metropolitan District Railway, the South Eastern Railway, the Great Eastern Railway – and the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. Connor suggests that enthusiasm for this project was the reason for Terriers being built with the names Stepney, Fenchurch, Minories, Shadwell, Millwall, Poplar and Blackwall. The Terriers were named after places on or near LBSC lines (which apparently caused Victorian travellers a lot of confusion, as they mistook the name of the engine for the destination of the train), but those seven places were all along the London and Blackwall Railway.

So I’m gonna go right ahead and say that, in the universe where my railway is set, that link actually was built. The Terriers would have been ideal motive power for the dock lines, as the swing bridges carried a severe weight restriction. They already worked through the Thames Tunnel, that’s why they were fitted with condensing equipment, so it’s no stretch to suggest that they would have been regular performers on such a link.

The docks give me an excuse for all sorts of (small) motive power, justifying the use of engines from the London Midland, Eastern and Southern Regions, although I don’t intend to restrict myself to BR days. I could also bring in the Port of London Authority’s locos and stock, as well as any number of industrial shunters.

Yes, I think this is going to work out just fine.

Why “Terriers?”

Ever wondered how these engines got their nicknames? The most popular suggestions are that they’re very small compared to most locomotives, and they have a distinctive exhaust “bark” when working hard (apparently due to their Westinghouse brake pumps). J E Connor adds another suggestion – because the A1 class worked through the Thames tunnel, they spent much of their time underground. Like, yes, a terrier hunting rats.

Further Reading – The Terrier Trust. An informative and informal site with lots of interesting articles. – The Southern E-Group is, to my mind, the best online resource for enthusiasts of the Southern Railway, its constituents and successors. They have no less than twelve lavishly-illustrated pages on Stroudley’s little friends.

Let he who is without sin…

My attention was just now drawn  to an interesting new website that’s appeared. The website is called Model Railway Critique, and may be found at It seems to have drawn a certain amount of hostility already. I wondered why this could be. The remit of the website is to offer commentary on model railways. In theory, this is no bad thing. After all, we have critics for painting, gaming, writing and music (among others), why should our particular hue of the creative spectrum be immune?

(note to self: use “hue of the creative spectrum” more often)

Then I visited the site, and… well, perhaps I should just quote the front page.

Hello and welcome to this new website.  We represent a group, within the model railway hobby, who believe in maintaining only the highest standards.  Standards which we perceive to be driving the hobby forward.  Unfortunately, we often see shoddy workmanship, sub-standard layouts, and poor reflection of the real life situations which we are trying to replicate in model form for the viewing pleasure of the general public. 

Over the next few weeks we will be giving comment on various layouts and recommending which ones are worth looking at and which are not. 

Hopefully this guide will help when it comes to deciding whether a particular model railway exhibition is worth going to.

My first reaction was to shout, “Oh really, and I bet you can fit a really good layout up at the top of your IVORY TOWER!!!

This upset the neighbours somewhat.

The problem I have here is that the tone is condescending and frankly pompous. There’s no indication of who this group they represent is, and why we should give a damn what they think. Are they professional modellers? Regular contributors to the magazines? Veteran exhibitors? I’d like some sort of credentials. Some names at least. Some indication that there’s more than one person running it.

It also seems to be a rather subjective view of what the hobby should be. I don’t want to say the words “rivet counter”, but now I have, I might as well apply it to this website. Don’t get me wrong, I find it annoying to see half a hall taken up with a layout that’s only 20% finished, but who’s to say what a layout to “the highest standards” should consist of?

Speaking personally, I like to see a wide range of layouts at a show. Finescale is great if you like that sort of thing, but frankly there’s only so many times I can watch a beautifully made locomotive crawl painfully slowly up to a wagon while a gentleman reaches in with a shunter’s pole to couple the two together before I grab said shunter’s pole and stab myself through the temple with it.

I’d like to see a few layouts where it looks like the builders actually enjoyed themselves. I want to see unconventional scenic techniques. I want to see new and interesting settings. I’d like the occasional layout that’s fun, or one that’s deliberately unprototypical. I’d like a couple of museum-type layouts with Hornby tinplate trains chasing their own tails at breakneck speeds. I’d like something for the kids.

Of course, some might say that these kinds of layouts make them want to take the shunter’s pole/temple route I mentioned above (although please don’t do it in front of the kids’ layout, it’s hard enough attracting young people into the hobby). That’s okay. Some might call me a philistine for not appreciating their hand-built track and scratchbuilt 0-6-0s. And you know what? That’s okay too. You look at the finescale stuff, I’ll look at the quirky stuff. We’ll all have a good time and a sandwich at the end.

A model railway exhibition should be a balance. With the exception of the really big ones, most shows tend to attract a predominantly local audience. It’s the job of the organisers to ensure that they attract as broad a range of enthusiasts as possible – these things don’t pay for themselves.

Furthermore, driving the standards forward is great in its way. But for me, one of the things that got me back into modelling was looking at layouts and saying, “You know what? I could do that.” If I’d seen nothing but finescale, I’d probably have run home crying to momma and never looked at a wagon again. Elitism is a harmful force in any hobby, particularly a minority one like this.

So frankly, I don’t think I’ll be consulting this website before “deciding whether a particular model railway exhibition is worth going to.” I’ll go out as I please, and damn your impudence.

[P.S. Having laid into Model Railway Critique, some might ask what exactly qualifies me to go on such a rant. So I’ll tell you. Nothing at all. You can take or leave my opinions.]