Wednesday, 30 December 2009

I’m a Duff Buff (and proud!)

Without a hint of nostalgia-influenced sentiment, I was always excited to see a Class 47 when I was a young ‘spotter’. The ubiquity of the ‘47s’ put a lot of enthusiasts off them in the ‘70s and ‘80s but, living beside a virtually DMU-only line in my formative years, ANY loco sightings were a cause for celebration.

I can just remember jaunts up the Dock Road in Liverpool and seeing the odd blue ‘Duff’ haul a rake of MGR hoppers or Freightliner service across the ungated crossings, preceded by a scruffy BR man with a filthy red flag. My Uncle’s blue Mk1 Escort would be idling impatiently - with the ever-present stench of petrol lingering around the back seat – as the train plodded noisily past the end of the bonnet.

Big days out to Lime Street or, better still, Warrington to spend the day on Bank Quay’s platforms, or a trip on a bone shaker EMU to Crewe would leave me in heaven as lots of blue diesels and electrics scuttled around. A ‘47’ was just as good a cop as a ‘37’, ‘25’ or a pair of ‘20s’. Mind you, a Forty was a different matter! It was the ‘86/4s’ and ‘87s’ that used to bore me. I’d seen them all within a couple of weeks.
But I digress. Part Two of Model Rail’s revisit of the Class 47 Masterclass appears in the current issue (MR139) and concentrates on the 1973-85 period. What we can loosely term the 'Rail Blue period' offered me a few possibilities for modelling subjects to compliment the article. Most obvious was the need for a blue loco, but there was a need for something a bit more interesting.
Killing time in Liverpool, I mooched into Central Library and looked through a couple of ‘47’-themed books. And lo, 47373 jumped out from the pages, complete with flashing rooftop light, a la an old fashioned police car. Maybe the author was so taken with the idea of a Duff acting like an extra in the Professionals, because the light was described as having a flashing blue beam. In reality, it was amber.
But, no matter, my model of 47373 was never going to have a flashing light. Reason 1: I find flashing lights a bit vulgar and... Reason 2: I’m not an electronic sort of chap. I’m sure it’s possible, however, although the light would have to be very small. Maybe fibre optics and a flashing LED would do the trick? Is there anyone out there willing to try it, I wonder....?
Although the ‘70s and early ‘80s was Rail Blue-arama, a small band of Duffs lasted in the tasteful two-tone green scheme until the late summer of 1976, albeit in a pretty knackered version of it. I had intended to do a second ‘47’ in the original Railfreight scheme, as 47280 Pedigree, no less, but that will have to wait for another day (perhaps using a ViTrains ‘47’). What made me change my mind? It was thrift.

At a couple of quid either side of £40 a pop, both of these Bachmann Duffs were obtained from Hattons of Liverpool a couple of months apart. That’s roughly the RRP of a single ViTrains ’47’. Now, I’m not going into which I think is the better model, but I was brought up not to argue with economic fact.
Although the green one was never meant to be a Model Rail project, I thought it would add a bit of extra colour to the piece, where I demonstrate how to replicate that truly awful exterior condition, while keeping the yellow ends fairly spotless!
Check out Model Rail to see the feature in full, although there are a few ‘spare’ images here to give an idea of what work was involved. The blue machine has a new set of Shawplan roof fan grilles, which are superb. Until I stuck my lumbering fingers straight through the delicate mesh just before photographing the models. Now they’re spoilt a bit by the blobs of superglue holding them in place. So, if anyone’s thinking of fitting this upgrade pack, keep those fingers away from the grilles once they’re fitted!
I hope readers enjoy the '47' feature in the mag, which is due out today. Hopefully my subs copy will arrive with the post today (we're lucky if we get a delivery before 4pm out here) as I've yet to see my piece 'in the flesh'. In the mean time, here's some extra info on my two chosen prototypes, lifted mainly from the excellent Class website.

Prototype Factfiles
Originally numbered D1892, this Brush-built Class 47 entered traffic on August 6 1965. Renumbering into the TOPS sequence, as 47373, took place in 1974.
One of two ‘47's specially equipped for working within power stations on MGR duties, a flashing amber rooftop light was fitted above each cab, along with remote control and slow-speed equipment. 47277 was the other ‘47’ so fitted, although Class 56 56074 also received a similar light.

Delivered new to Tinsley shed, it then moved to Knottingley in 1967 where it stayed until 1979. Transfer to Healey Mills took place in 1979, before a return to Tinsley five years later. After serving the South Yorkshire coalfields for over 20 years, 1987 saw the Lincolnshire port of Immingham became ‘373’s home as the machine became part of the Railfreight Petroleum pool of locomotives. Here it stayed until storage and eventual withdrawal in 1992. The end came at MC Metals, Glasgow, in November 1994.
Although never fitted with a boiler, it retained its water tanks until the early 1980s. 47373 also kept the distinctive cab roof lights, although once these had been rendered obsolete, only the glass tops were removed, the bases being left in place. These remained until around 1990 (through an application of early ‘red stripe’ Railfreight livery), finally being removed to accommodate rooftop radio aerials about the same time as a repaint into the three-tone Railfreight grey scheme, with Petroleum Sector markings.

Built as D1888 in July 1965, this machine went first to Tinsley, but spent most the following two decades working freight around the Nottinghamshire area, before transfer to Crewe in 1985. One of the last half-dozen ‘47s’ to remain in BR green, 47369 finally succumbed to Rail Blue in the autumn of 1977 when it was despatched to Crewe for a major overhaul. The blue scheme was retained until the late 1980s when triple-grey Railfreight livery was applied, with petroleum sector markings.
Another freight-dedicated locomotive, 47369 also never received a train heating boiler although the side filler hatch and under-slung water tanks remained in place until the late 1970s and 1980s, respectively. Fitted with slow speed control, this was another ‘47’ that spent long periods working MGR coal trains around the Midlands. Withdrawal came in 1996 and the locomotive became history after cutting-up for scrap two years later.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Dreaming of a White Christmas

Having been deluged with nearly a foot of snow over the past five days, Dent Towers is rapidly disappearing into the white landscape and making the journey to my shed-cum-workshop is getting more and more difficult. I’m at risk of losing my white cat out there, too...

Above are a couple of photos of the scene from (almost) our front door on Sunday, as me and Mrs D braved the elements to make a lunch date across a few fields – well, about 5 miles of fields. I must say that it was a bit tricky coming back in the dark.

All this has got me in the mood to get on with my Settle-Carlisle layout, recreating Dent station in the snow. Ben called me the other day asking what my New Year resolution was for 2010 (for Model Rail’s biogs page) and, while I said something about trying to sort my shed into some semblance of order, what I should’ve said was to make some progress on Dent – not least as I haven’t touched it since October 2008.

Maybe Mrs D will give me leave to spend a few hours of the holidays 'on shed' and at least get some of the scenery formed behind the ‘Up’ platform. Once that’s done, Monkey Beck will follow before the bleak moorland scenery can be applied.

Who knows... if the snow continues, maybe I’ll be snowed-in by then?

Anyway, MERRY CHRISTMAS to one and all!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Festive Jobs

No, not Christmas shopping, but Model Rail jobs to do over the festive period... First up is this wee Caley Pug 0-4-0T, using a Hornby Railroad model as the basis. I've already spent a day stripping the bodyshell and adding various new details. In fact, I'm just waiting for my shed to warm up enough for me to go and spray a coat of primer over it (we had a bit of snow up here in the Pennines this morning - not much, but a bit!).

While that paint dries, I'm going to look into improving the look of the chassis, without making any drastic mechanical alterations. It's the cylinders that may need the most work, I fancy. The full project will be described in the Feb 2010 issue (MR140).

A few other things are cluttering my workbench this morning, to be slotted in around drying glue and paint on the Caley Pug: Some C-Rail containers, more 21t mineral wagon kits and some Q&As to catch up on.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

DRS Class 20 Revisited

Although the Warley show is now a few weeks behind us, I only just got round to emptying my ‘samples box’ last week, working out how I’m going to feature some of the products that various traders were kind enough to pass my way.


I’ve already mentioned the lovely Shawplan Class 17 roof fans and grilles – so lovely that I was drawn to spend my pennies on a Heljan Clayton within days! Brian Hanson generously gave me a fistful of Class 20 bits as well, aimed at a DRS conversion.


I converted a Bachmann ‘20’ for my first loco detailing book (Detailing & Modifying r-t-r Locomotives, Volume 1 [Crowood Press 2009]) – as pictured here – but made  use of a series of A1 Models bits that were the only suitable parts available at the time. Now, I don’t want to do the A1 bits down as the finished model looks pretty good (if I say so myself) but, compared to these new Shawplan products, the A1 window frames do look a bit chunky.


A further boon for DRS Class 20 conversions is the availability of etched kits to form the extra bodyside fuel tanks, which I had to scratchbuild on my model from plastic card. Ironically, there’s now a choice of kits for this feature, from Shawplan and Peter Harvey Design, both looking supremely well executed and I’m looking forward to trying both. Mind you, it means that I need an extra Bachmann ‘20’!


For modellers of the contemporary scene, it’s worth having a glance at Peter Harvey’s website – - as there’s some cracking stuff available, some of the kits and finishing aids being highly innovative. I especially like the etched brass windscreen masks for use when weathering, leaving a clean area where the wipers have done their work. I’ll also be reviewing these for Model Rail soon.


Another consideration is which prototypes to choose as the basis for my models and which version of the attractive DRS livery. A set of new ‘Compass’ decals is in my reviews ‘Inbox’ from Lancaster City Models who are also offering numbering packs to compliment the logos for both OO and N gauges. Personally, I prefer the original scheme, so maybe I’ll do one of each.


Stay tuned for updates on this pair of ‘Choppers

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Chivers 21t Mineral Wagon & Bauxite Paint

Further to my recent testing of the Lifecolor BR livery paints, as my previous posting mentioned, the only colour that I wasn’t entirely convinced by was the BR Freight Bauxite.

This looked too pale to me but, with a little Lifecolor UA701 Rust Dark Shadow mixed in, a much better shade is produced. What’s more, varying the ratio of the mix provides some welcome diversity to a rake of similarly liveried vehicles. You only have to glance at a few images of the real thing to notice that every one seems to be a different colour. And that’s before they started to turn to more of a rusty appearance!

The wagon featured here is built from the splendid Chivers Fineline ‘OO’ gauge kit of a BR Dia. 1/120 21t mineral wagon. I’ve built three of these wagons now and am about to order another half-dozen to complete a 1970s/early 1980s period train of coal empties, probably to be hauled by a scruffy blue ’37. You can get this - and the rest of the Chivers range - from DC Kits. See

A full review of the kit is to feature in Model Rail early in the New Year.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Big Tipper!

Treated myself to a fleet of National Coal Board tipper lorries for the planned extension to my little Colliery-themed layout. These Guy trucks look great and the tipper even tips! Complete with twin hydraulic rams. I'm tempted to pose at least one of them with the rear raised, dumping a load of slag or coal onto a stockpile.

Produced by Corgi in the OO gauge Trackside range, I picked a few of these up from Hattons of Liverpool the other day. They're crying out to be detailed and weathered and, perhaps, to have the odd donkey-jacketed chap in the cabs.

Anyway, I'll keep this blog updated with news of the layout's (and these trucks') progress. I've got a few other things to finish first:
2 Bachmann 47s, a DJH Jones Goods 4-6-0 kit, a Caley Pug, a German electric thing, plus a stack of things to build for review.....

Friday, 27 November 2009

BR Green Clayton arrives from Hattons

Wrapped in the trademark brown paper and string, my latest purchase from Hattons arrived at 7am this morning, seeing me have to leap out of bed to frighten the Postman with my loud pyjamas.
Having convinced myself that I deserve an early Christmas present, I opted for a lovely green Heljan Clayton, having looked longingly at a few on the Heljan stand at Warley. It's very rare that I part with my own money, especially on model railway things (this being my job, after all), but this looks to have been £79 well spent.
I just need to fit the amazingly delicate etched fans and grilles given me by Mr Hanson of Shawplan. I also want to do something about the cab interior. And a nice, gentle weathering job.
Watch this space - or, indeed, the pages of Model Rail.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Lifecolor BR paints: GD's Verdict!

After a couple of weeks of testing, I'm pretty happy with these new acrylic BR paint shades from Lifecolor. As mentioned in a previous post, I helped out a little in the development of these paints, although I never got to trial the shades before production began.

Anyway, the 3 main loco livery elements: BR green, blue and maroon all look accurate to my eye, the blue & green in particular giving excellent results. The maroon takes quite a few thin coats before the correct colour begins to form (it starts off as a bit purple!), but this is natural enough, especially with acrylics. Around 10 or 12 ultra-thin coats, applied when the previous one has set (around 10-15 mins) should do the trick. Don't rush - you'll make a mess!
Rail grey, for Post-1960s blue & grey stock looks fine, too. The two freight shades are ok, but I wonder if the bauxite shade is a bit light; more like the 1970s freight brown... Unfitted grey looks good, however.

Interestingly, the maroon, blue, green and rail grey each dry to a semi-satin sheen, while the freight bauxite and grey offer a much duller finish. Regardless, all of the paints need a few coats of a clear gloss before applying decals, Johnsons Klear floor polish being just the job, adhering well to the Lifecolor paints (better than to some enamels).
Once finished with a sealing matt or satin varnish, the shades look great. I tested mine on an old Hornby Class 37 body and a Lima wagon, both pre-primed in grey (for the blue, green, bauxite and maroon) and white (both greys).

Available now from stockists, including, the paints are packaged in a box of all 6 colours, or seperately.
Definately worth trying for yourself.

Trees, trees and more trees

Been spending my last few evenings assembling a huge number of Woodland Scenics trees, of various sizes, shapes and foliage shades. They're to go on a couple of dioramas that I have planned for the new year and I thought I'd get some ready to plant beforehand.

Besides, it also gave me the opportunity to see how the plastic tree armatures could be improved with a little tidying-up of mould pips and a few coats of acrylic paint.

There's no rest for the wicked, as they say, and with my steam loco detailing book now in the shops, I'm starting my third title for Crowood. I shan't say what it's about just yet (I don't think I'm allowed to - better check my contract!) but somewhere within it should include how to create realistic trees!

When I've planted a few, I'll post some pix of the finished trees.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Steam book is out now!

Despite being delayed for a week or two, my second volume of a series of books dealing with model loco detailing was released yesterday, just in time for the Warley show this coming weekend. Hopefully, stockists will have received their copies!
I've tried to cover as many regions, periods and prototypes within the book as possible, within the limits of the book's study period: locomotives in use in Britain from 1948-1968. And, of course, those types represented in the r-t-r market.
It also aims to appeal to modellers of all levels of skill and experience, starting with how to fit all those fiddly little bits and pieces that come with modern models without making a mess or breaking anything! The book then goes on to adding other small details, re-numbering, repainting, weathering, fitting detailing kits, minor conversions and how to make the best of older models, including a 'showcase' project dealing with the Hornby 'Terrier'.
Illustrated throughout in colour (well over 300 images!), the projects and processes are clearly described with a broad list of suppliers in the appendices. It also has a very thorough index (that took me ages to compile!).
See for more details. The book is also available from all good bookstores, including
Talking of Warley, I'm wondering which models to take with me to display on the Model Rail stand...

Peak Update

My second stab at D10 is finally complete and packed off to its owner. It's funny, having produced two models of the same prototype but a decade apart in terms of details and livery.
Keeping the green D10 spotless also makes for an interesting comparison to the mucky blue 44010!
By the way, has anyone noticed how it's impossible to fit an open headcode disc to the upper position on the Bachmann '44', as the chunky moulded lamp bracket gets in the way!

Something for a rainy day

Whilst browsing in a local Model Shop at the weekend, I came across an interesting orange diesel shunter from Jouef. This HO loco, representing a French prototype looks to have been taken from a cheap starter set as the bodyshell and chassis are a bit basic. However, it has potential.
Not long ago, I upgraded a similarly cheap and cheerful Lima 0-4-0 diesel shunter to a semi-fictitious War Department loco for use on my embryonic layout set in North Africa during WW2 (although not intended to be totally authentic - merely 'inspired by...').
The SNCF loco will follow suit eventually, although it will need a lot of work. The motor is ok but noisy and jerky, so a new unit will be installed, perhaps with twin flywheels. I'm not sure if I'll retain the existing drive unit or upgrade the entire chassis with something like a BullAnt unit. The bodyshell will have to be modified to a large degree to suit the WW2 period, maybe as some kind of requisitioned industrial machine? By not sticking 100% to prototypical accuracy, there's much more room for your imagination to run riot!
See Model Rail issue 133 to see how I converted the Lima model, while the Jouef project will also appear in due course.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Another Peak to Climb

After working on a couple of Peaks for the BR green era, I remembered that I had a spare blue 45 lying around awaiting detailing & weathering. After digging it out from the attic, I realised that I'd pinched the air brake tanks from the chassis for another model.
But hey ho, I'll make some replacements from plastic rod at some point, but I did detail the cab fronts - adding wire handrails, new lamp brackets and scoring on the missing seam line.
The yellow ends were masked and re-sprayed before a bit of dirt was sprayed at it with my trusty Iwata airbrush. And much better it looks for the attention, too. Especially as it's the bulled-up version of 45114 with white roof and bodyside stripes. The clean roof looked luminous when set on my layout and benefits from a bit of exhaust staining.
I'm not sure why and when the real thing was painted thus, a quick trawl through my books and on the internet has found no real info. It looks nice, though!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Colliery layout in progress

Some images of Maudetown Colliery layout under construction in my shed over Summer 2009. Maude's (the cat) input was priceless, snorting with derision with some of the proposed track plans.

The whole caboodle took just 6 weeks, working around all my other Model Rail commitments. Much of the scenic work features in a new Model Rail DVD, The Scenic Expert, due for release very soon.

Rapid-build Colliery Layout

My mini layout set around a fictitious colliery (appearing in Model Rail issue 136) has generated a few queries from readers, including some comments about the track being too clean and tidy! This is true: it should be covered in coal spillage and, indeed, it will be once the points have been motorised and the glitches in the wiring have been cured. You'd think it would have been plain sailing with such a basic trackplan but 'haste makes waste' as my cabinet-making tutor used to say.

With the magazine feature 'in the can' I can take my time and sort out the few problems and get everything up to scratch. I'm also planning a small extension on the colliery side, with the rest of the washery/loading building, plus a short run-round loop. I've yet to finish the fiddle yard as well, but that should keep me busy in my spare time over winter. Although, I have a dining room to re-plaster and some radiators to replace... spare time, what's that??? 

A Pair of Peaks

‘Peak’ D67 has simply had a nose seam line added. I say ‘simply’, but this wee task can take a while to get right. Any errors and a repaint is necessary. With care, the line can be cut with a sharp blade without the need for any refinishing. My book on detailing ready-to-run diesel & electric locos demonstrates how I go about this task. See

The headcode panels have been modified to display 0O00 at one end and .D67 at the other. These Fox decals are, strictly speaking, a bit big for these particular headcode boxes, but they look alright!

Another ‘Peak’, this time a Class 44 has been converted to D10 Tryfan complete with US-style heavy duty grilles, courtesy of an A1 Models set of etched parts. While these new grilles could be better in terms of fine relief (maybe Shawplan could have a go in the Extreme Etchings range?), it’s the only pack around.

Anyway, this is the second time I’ve done this job, funnily enough both times recreating D10 (D9 also had the same grilles). While I did an un-named blue version of 44010 for myself, this green D10 depicts the engine in mid-1960s condition. Again, the technique features in my book on diesel loco detailing.

Something Old, Something Blue

Being a pair of gypsies at heart, me and Mrs D seem to move around a fair amount and rarely get time to unpack all our stuff before getting itchy feet again. After looking through a thousand-and-one packing crates the other day (for something completely unrelated), I came across this old Lima single car Class 121 DMU.

Not a true single-car unit, it was converted from a driving trailer car of a Class 117 using (I think) a Craftsman Models kit sometime in the late 1980s. It’s funny how memory works as I’d almost forgotten that I had this model. However, now I’ve found it, I can picture buying it second-hand from a swapmeet at the Masonic Hall in Warrington in 1988 on a Saturday afternoon. I can even remember what I wore!

My older brother actually did the initial conversion although I ‘refined’ the job a few years later and applied a rendering of blue & grey livery using some aerosol cans. Not having seen the light of day for over 10 years, the motor is no longer up to the job and a few small parts have gone missing. Using Modelstrip paint stripper, the various painting efforts have been consigned to history and the shell now awaits some detailing work and a new paint job, possibly in green.

A new motor is necessary and I’m weighing up the options: a Model Torque drop-in upgrade for the Lima ‘pancake’; a Black Beetle; or perhaps a custom Bull Ant unit. I fancy that this project will morph into a full feature for Model Rail in the near future...