Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Colour Lights under (Super)Test

Dummy signals can always be handy for far flung corners of a layout where the aspects can’t be seen; or if you’re on a tight budget. This is part of a set from Knightwing that can be built in many different ways. They’re cheap and they look great. Look out for an in-depth study of the full range of CLSs in MR153...

Before finishing for the Festive break, I’ve managed to put the finishing touches to the latest Model Rail Supertest, destined to appear in issue MR153 (out in late January). The subject is Colour Light Signals in kit and ready-to-plant form and will be followed in MR154 by a look at semaphores.

I’ve been working on and off on this Supertest for the past six months as many of the kits have been quite time-consuming to assemble, not least the 2mm scale signals. Having only ever modelled small layouts with few signals, this is an area where I’m not that clued-up so I’ve also spent some time reading up on various aspects of train control. Despite often hankering after a job as a signaller, I’ve been finding all the rules and regs pretty hard going, but then I’ve never been one for strict adherence to things like that. Maybe it’s because I’m an artist, darling....!

Anyhow, the final signal off the production line has been an Irish-outline, twin aspect unit, built from a kit by Studio Scale Models (, who I’ve not come across before. SSM offer various kits and accessories for modellers of the Irish scene, both in the modern and steam eras. Included in the range is a variety of semaphore and colour light signals, all finely etched in brass and complete with all necessary LEDs, resistors and cables. Not the easiest thing to assemble, the finished signal does look pretty good, though.

The Supertest will also look into fitting and wiring up Colour Light Signals (CLSs), although with this being such a whopping subject, I’ve opted to keep it simple for now. Maybe a more thorough look into this complicated subject will be tackled in the near future..?

I like N gauge. But there are times when I realise why I’ve stuck with OO! Especially when soldering a kit like this. Needless to say that my asbestos fingertips came in useful...

From Studio Scale Models comes a range of Irish-outline CL Signals in kit form. Everything is provided, even down to the decals for the ID plate.

It may not be a full signal kit, but Comet Models ( offer a sheet of etched brass components to produce a number of 4mm scale signals of varying types. The signal head isn’t included so here I’ve added ‘dummy’ plastic head (from Knightwing) plus a Position Light Signal and Stencil Indicator from the Comet bits.

The Comet kit just needs brass or copper tubing for the signal posts and working heads to complete and can be built in all manner of ways. All for just a fiver! Solder construction certainly makes for a rugged signal.

Connecting working signals can be made simpler with an array of coloured wires to match the colour of the aspects. This can get expensive, however, but Maplins offer small bags of coloured wire for a few quid each – perfect for jobs like this.

This Berko four-aspect signal is simple to fit and connect and looks pretty good straight from the packet. A coat of matt grey paint to the post and a little weathering would help, though.
Don't forget that MR152 is out on 30th Dec!!

Thursday, 23 December 2010


May I wish all Model Rail readers and followers of this Blog a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Many thanks to all who have posted comments or Emailed me at the magazine in relation to what has appeared on these pages over the past year. I hope that you all find the Blog worth reading. I hadn’t expected so many people to ‘tune in’ (over 40,000 hits in the first 12 months!), and I’ll try and keep improving the content over the coming year.
Indeed, 2011 looks to be an exciting year with some very tempting new models due soon. I'm particularly looking forward to the Hattons/Heljan 'Co-Bo', Heljan's 4-whl Railbus, Bachmann's LMS 'Twins' and Freightliner Class 70 (just hitting the shelves now, I believe), plus a few of Hornby's recently announced new models for 2011, especially the .... Oooops, almost gave it away - look out for a full list of what will be appearing from Hornby in the new Model Rail - out next week!

To keep with the Festive theme (and mirroring the conditions outside), here are a few images of a snow scene I created for Model Rail a few years ago. Using Scenic Snow and Scenic Shovelled Snow from Deluxe Materials, the scene was knocked up fairly quickly as a demo stage for the two products that were just about to be released. It’s good stuff and, having trialled it a few more times since, I'm happy to recommend it over other brands.
My own preference for application is to brush the scenic area with a PVA-type glue (a fairly thin mixture rather than a 'neat' woodworking glue), especially onto rooftops and over flat ground. For dense areas of vegetation and trees, a spray glue will be helpful, preferably something like Deluxe's Scenic Spray or Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement from a mister bottle. Let the glue become slightly tacky before scattering the 'snow' from above using a dessert spoon or suchlike.
To seal the snow in place, I recommend the use of a clear matt varnish, sprayed at a very low pressure from an airbrush (and at a distance of about 12-18in). Spray glues and hairspray can create too much mess and disturb your nicely arranged snow drifts with their high pressure propellant. Besides, a lot of spray scenic glues (and some hairsprays) remain tacky when dry and, while this is great for the underlying adhesive, a sticky upper surface will simply attract dust and debris. Varnish, on the other hand, will dry hard and give a strong bond (I use Johnsons Klear or Humbrol Mattcote) and it doesn't matter about it overspray landing on structures or track as it will be invisible when dry (and not sticky!).

Incidentally, the Deluxe Shovelled Snow material can also be mixed with a little PVA to form a thick paste that can then be formed into shapes – perfect for a snowman!

All the best - see you in 2011!

Friday, 17 December 2010


Looking at home in the industrial confines of Maudetown Colliery, the new gravity-fed water column and tank are in place to serve the NCB's small fleet of steam engines.

The new water tank and loco filling apparatus are now in place on my Maudetown Colliery layout, serving the small loco servicing spur on the outside of the NCB installation. I’ve been planning the extension baseboard, with measured drawings underway and a shopping list has been drafted for track, points and scenic items.

A chat with the guys from Ten Commandments at the Warley show has led to an offer of more of their low-relief brick industrial buildings, including some new additions to the range, which will be exciting. I should be picking those up at the Glasgow show in February, so that’ll give me time to get the baseboard built. The wagon fleet has also swelled considerably since the first baseboard was completed in 2009 and I’ve a few NCB-branded road vehicles complete too (see earlier posts).

Assembled from cheap and recycled bits and bobs, the tank and its stand proved to be an enjoyable way of passing a few evenings.
What used to be: This is how the layout looked originally, with a Bachmann boiler sat derelict, waiting for a new lease of life. That boiler did go on to pastures new (see post re. Illinois show dioramas), but as you can get a pair of these for a few quid, the other one was pressed into use as a water tank.

As Maudetown Colliery is set atop a hill in a location similar to the South Wales Valleys, there had to be a way of ensuring a good, clean water supply for the motive power. So, I've repainted a couple of rectangular tank wagons to be NCB water carriers. Inspired by the Cromford & High Peak Rly, I'm also looking through my junk boxes for a spare loco tender to treat similarly... it's all fictional but it's good fun!

However, the layout’s namesake – Maude the cat –sadly passed away last week, so the layout has taken on a somewhat sorrow-tinged status. It was, after all, one of her favourite places to snooze when we were working together in the shed. In fact, so many of my everyday tasks are much duller without her, as she was involved in so many of my projects, whether I liked it or not!

But, Little Maudie lives on in my memories and in the form of a model railway that is set to grow, perhaps even further than I’d ever envisaged...

The Empress of Maudetown. After discovering my late feline assistant stretched out between the pumping house and engineering stores, I thought it best to drape my LFC flag over the model (with a little bubble wrap beneath) to preserve some of the details. Despite it becoming a somewhat unexpected sleeping place, she never once broke anything - a true model-maker! She was always suspicious about what may be lurking in the tunnel, however. Although it was usually just a Class 37!

Speaking of which, the sponge-lined boxes of ViTrains Class 37s were a particular favourite with Maude - she had her own unique ideas about comfort!
Even updating this Blog will never be the same now, as she always helped in some way, whether in terms of 'editing' my text or simply keeping my shoulders warm...

... and she was a dab hand at pressing the self-timer button on my camera. What will I do without her expertise?

Monday, 6 December 2010

Sentinel Update - Hand-finished prototypes

On show on the Model Rail stand at the recent Warley show was a small fleet of our exclusive OO gauge Sentinel 4wVBT locomotive. Chris Nevard, the expert 'photter' took some lovely images of them and here they are, along with the latest UPdate on the model's progress....

These samples have been hand-painted by Dave Lowery to illustrate how the models will look when released. A fourth model, Departmental No. 57 in BR black with the late crest is taking a little longer as we’ve had to commission bespoke transfers to replicate the hand-painted lettering/numbers of the real locomotive – pictures will follow shortly. GWR green No. 13 will have a printed numberplate – the raised one shown here was assembled by Dave from plastic in the absence of an etched brass plate or transfer. These models will shortly be shipped to China as prototypes for the decoration of the production models. We’ll bring you more pictures and information as soon as we have it. Look out in January issue of Model Rail (MR152, on sale December 30th) for more pictures and information about the Sentinels, and many other new models due for release in 2011.

Our sole working prototype ran like a dream over the Warley weekend, despite having to work in challenging conditions. Indeed, it had been working on the office test track for a week prior to the NEC show without any problems. Haulage has been impressive (better than many bigger models) and, even after running for 8 hours at a stretch, the model felt barely warm. As this is a bespoke drive system designed specifically for this model, the level of performance has been very exciting and offers great potential for Dapol products in the future.

Friday, 3 December 2010

More Steel Wagon Loads

Further to the previous post, here are a few more images from the upcoming Model Rail feature on steel wagon loads. This detailed and repainted Bachmann BDA now carries an assortment of steel girders and sections. You'll be able to see how this was created in MR152.

This wagon load, from Ten Commandments, arrived in the post a little late so has missed out on featuring in the article in its finished form, but this is what it looks like when painted and weathered slightly. It's a perfect fit for the Bachmann OBA or OCA. The product ref. is W184 and rrp is £4.00 - well worth it!

The plaster cast 'load' was primed and painted (Tamiya acrylic Titanium Silver') before a light covering of MIG Weathering Washes ('Oil and Grease' and 'Rust Effects'), all applied by hand brush. The washes settle into the relief in the casting, enhancing the 3D effect of the coils.

This is another cast load from Ten Commandments (ref W163), again fitting precisely into a Bachmann OBA/OCA. The wagon started life in EWS livery but has been sprayed over in Lifecolor BR Freight Bauxite prior to much weathering and distressing.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Steel wheels keep a-rolling

I’ve been adding the finishing touches to an array of steel-carrying freight stock, complete with realistic 'metal' loads. Indeed, the making, painting and fitting of the loads forms the main thrust of the Model Rail article for which these vehicles have been produced. Look out for the four page feature in MR152, out on Dec 30th.

Most of the featured wagons are of the 1980s style of air-braked stock, intended to form part of my growing Speedlink collection. Much has been based on my memories of similarly loaded wagons observed at Arpley Junction (Warrington) in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, especially the pipes and coil consignments and I’m thankful for Bachmann for offering some suitable – and authentic – wagons in its range; most notably the BDA bogie bolster, plus the OBA and OCA 4-wheel opens. Some of these have been picked up in whatever livery I could find for the lowest price and repainted accordingly in plain ‘Freight Brown’ or the fetching Railfreight grey/red scheme. There are also a few Cambrian Kits’ OBAs knocking around, along with a pair of Hornby OAAs, although the latter really need new chassis to replace the fairly basic renditions of the Margate-built models (which I’ve had since the 1980s!).

Steam-age vehicles and loads are also considered in the feature. With another nice Bachmann product – the BR ‘C’-type Bogie Bolster – forming the basis of a quick and easy project. Making use of scrap or improvised materials and off-the-shelf products, I’ll be suggesting a number of methods of creating realistic loads, along with tips for painting and weathering, plus some ideas on how to secure the 'metal' to the wagons in the most prototypical way. In the meantime, here are a few preview images...

The 1980s are back in vogue in many ways – music, fashion.... But the only good things about the 80s that I remember are Liverpool FC being the best team around and British Rail introducing some colour into the Railfreight scene with bright red/grey wagons and locos. I’ve been slowly building up my collection of 80s-style freight stock in order to recreate various Speedlink services to be hauled by a diverse range of traction, especially Classes 20, 31, 37, 40 and 47. I've still got a lot of work to do, though...!

Tubes, angle, girders or plates can be created from Evergreen material and, as long as the painting is convincing, it’s a quick way to a highly realistic wagon load.

This Bachman BDA is carrying 2 strips of hollow steel rectangular section, created from simply painting some strips of Evergreen styrene.

At the Warley show last week, I picked up a number of useful bits and bobs for this (and other) upcoming MR features. Amongst them was this great stone-cast block from Ten Commandments. It’s tailored to fit snugly inside a Bachmann OCA or OBA and represents a load of steel wire coils. All you need to do is paint it. It’s only £3 – great value!

Other off-the-shelf solutions include these cast whitemetal coils from A1 Models. Again, they need painting and weathering for added realism and they certainly add a good bit of ballast to a wagon – perfect for kit-built stock.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Happy Hoppers

Whilst working on a couple of recent projects involving the need for realistic 'metal' finishes, I've been making use of the splendid range of Alclad2 paints and lacquers. Great for recreating the look and texture of various unfinished materials - such as steel, aluminium, copper and brass - they are probably the best metallic paints around. Happily, they're not expensive but they do have to be applied by airbrush only. I have tried brushing them by hand, but unsuccessfully.

Anyway, one of the projects in question has been my quest to assemble a late 1970s-early 80s-era rake of HAA merry-go-Round hoppers for my colliery layout, using the Hornby model as a basis. They're not available in this condition at the moment, so I've been removing lots of top cowlings and converting the odd CDA derivative with the extra bits and bobs added. Basically, I've been picking up whatever models I can find at the cheapest price, regardless of livery or fittings, as they're all destined for stripping and repainting into a more realistic livery.

The newly painted and weathered hoppers have received a coat of Alclad2 'Steel' which is much more authentic than the shiny Hornby factory finish.

With just a few left to treat, my short rake (8 wagons) is almost complete. I'm just debating whether to replace all the buffers: the Hornby sprung units are nothing like the prototype's Oleos but, as my layout requires lots of propelling manouvres over short radius points, I'm loathe to introduce solid castings in case it causes derailments, what with scale couplings being used... there's also the cost to take into account...

I think a trial run on a single wagon may be in order.

The raised panels on the sides have been picked out in a lighter shade of Alclad2 - 'Semi-matt Aluminium'. The contrast looks stark here but will be toned down with careful weathering.

The steel hopper framing has been treated seperately. primed in white and sprayed with Railmatch's vibrant 'Railfreight Red'.

The hoppers, framing and chassis were wethered seperately to make sure that the paint reached all the nooks and crannies unhindered before reassembly. The finished models look a bit more realistic, but I'm just not sure about the unprototypical buffers. I've also got a few bags of Instanter scale couplings to fit in place of the tension locks...

Friday, 19 November 2010

Shed Update: Mirrors and Numbers

More Class 66 progress has been made this week, most notably with a set of extremely fine etched side mirrors being assembled and fitted to one EWS-liveried example. The brass bits are from PH Designs and require a good amount of care and patience to fold and assemble. Some good quality tweezers, a Hold n Fold tool and good eyesight are also imperative!

I must admit to cutting a few corners with my set, omitting the small brackets between the mirror and stanchion - they were just too fiddly for me. Besides, I think they look OK without them. Once primed and painted (in situ), they look 'the business', especially with the correct square profile of the vertical stancions.

Look out for a full review of these and other parts in the PH Designs range in Model Rail early in the New Year....

I've also been dusting off some models to take to the NEC this weekend for display on the Model Rail stand. Amongst some of this year's featured projects, I'll be taking along the Network Rail Class 150/950 DMU conversion, a DRS Class 20/3 and maybe the Caley 'Pug' and a 'Royal Scot'. I'm just working to finish a 1980s era blue Class 37 with various new detail bits so, hopefully that'll be ready too.

We'll have planty of our limited edition models and lots of other goodies on show on our stand, including a working prototype of the Model Rail/Dapol Sentinel 0-4-0 loco for inspection. So, if you're coming to the Warley show, do pop along and see us!

The parts for the mirrors are small but perfectly formed!

I've also renumbered one of my EWS 66s (I had a pair of 66022 models) - this is not as quick a job as on other loco types, what with the corrugated sides. I'll also be providing an indepth demo of the techniques involved in Model Rail in 2011.

The re-numbering process has also provided the perfect testbed for a new, high quality clear lacquer from Alclad2 that I have under review. Again, keep an eye out for a full appraisal in the magazine in due course.

The re-numbered 66 just needs a bit of weathering to finish it off, but that will have to wait until I get back from Birmingham and the Warley show at the NEC.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Desert Storm

This scratch-built USATC Whitcomb was covered way back in the Nov '06 issue of Model Rail.

Further to the previous posting about my progress with various War Department wagon projects, I’ve been ruminating further on track plans and, more importantly, where to find the space for the layout.

I suppose it’s not the way that most layouts gestate but, after putting considerable time and effort into scratchbuilding a USATC Whitcomb diesel loco (featured in the November 2006 issue of Model Rail), I thought I ought to have a small layout on which it could run.

A number of track plans have been drawn up over the past few years, taking into account the very small area that I have at my disposal. The bare necessities of the layout are to allow enough shunting manoeuvres to maintain operational interest, whilst also showing off my kit-built, scratch-built and RTR-converted stock to good effect. I also wanted a minimum number of scenic features, allowing me to build a few interesting African buildings and the odd armoured fighting vehicle.

Despite the scenic section only being 6ft long, there is plenty going on with this rough impression of my ‘Desert Layout’s' track plan.

Some form of run-round loop will be required, with an adequate headshunt to accommodate a suitably modified 8F 2-8-0, which will be the longest form of motive power envisaged. Additionally, a hidden fiddle yard/traverse must also be incorporated. With all this in mind, the plan is growing from its original minimum space idea to a more complex undertaking.

Another diversion from the initial plan was the move towards finescale track. Initially, I intended to use up my stocks of code 100 track and turnouts that I’ve been carrying around with me for years. The nature of the real desert railway meant that the tracks were partially covered in sand and earth and I’d assumed that this would detract from the overscale appearance of the rails.

Plenty of time has been spent planning the track layout, beginning with a number of sketches in a notepad. Once I had a basic idea of what it was that I wanted, the next step was to draw it out full size on a length of scrap wallpaper. Peco’s full size facsimiles of track and pointwork have been used to check that everything will fit.

Having converted this little Lima 0-4-0 into a freelance WD loco of US origin (for MR133), I’ve recently obtained another donor model to form a second member of the fleet.

A small diorama was built to trial this track and various sands and ballasts, to gauge how the real layout would look. However, the large Code100 rails still looked a bit coarse to me, especially as the rolling stock is being built to a finer spec. So, Code 75 it will be!

As this layout idea is a little out of the ordinary, I’ve been faced with having to experiment with various materials in order to create believable scenery. The diorama featured in these photographs was built in order to trial some of these products and processes. On the whole, I’m pleased with the results although I will have to keep the sand clear of the running rails and point blades. The fine abrasive particles could prove damaging to the locomotives’ moving parts.

Some widely available scenic products have been utilised on this mini 'test diorama', including packs of cork bark and chippings from the Hornby range and tubs of ‘desert sand’ from Games Workshop. Perhaps the biggest resource that I’ve used, however, is fine, kiln-dried sand, left over from various plastering jobs about the house.

The Peco Code100 track has been succesfully disguised with the sand and 'ballast', but the width of the rail heads still give it away. I think I'm going to opt for Code75 instead, although I may build another test diorama to make sure the finer metals don't disappear beneath the sand!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Desert Wagon Progress

Having only just started to recover from a particularly nasty dose of flu, today has seen me ease myself gently back into modelling. Having received a lovely new compressor for review, I set up my mini spray booth in the dining room and painted and weathered a few wagon projects that have been in primer for some time. It also helped that Mrs D has been away, so I didn’t have to worry about any ‘change of use’ issues for the dining table and it was certainly a warmer environment than my shed, especially with the wild weather we’ve had in the past 24 hours.

So, what were the wagons, I hear you cry... They’re destined for use on my layout based in North Africa during World War Two. This is a project that is developing very slowly, with the trackplan almost finalised and the baseboard timber obtained. I think I’ve mentioned previously in Model Rail that I had already built the 2 baseboards some time ago, but they were duly ‘absorbed’ into a potting bench for my wife’s greenhouse!

Well, the layout plan has evolved slightly since then and, without the time or space to restart the baseboard construction, I’ve spent the time amassing some suitable motive power and rolling stock. The basic premise of the layout is a recreation of the Western Desert Railway Extension, as built by the Allies in 1942/3, adding a few hundred miles to the Egyptian State Railway’s metals along the northern (Mediterranean) coast.

As this is a purely personal project, pursued as a means of escaping the rigid authenticity demanded by my ‘day job’, I’m taking plenty of liberties with what locomotives and stock are to appear. Indeed, the layout’s trackplan is deliberately un-prototypical in order to provide some shunting entertainment... the real railway was, after all, just a long single line through the desert!

To compliment my existing Warwell and Warflat wagons, complete with military hardware loads, I’ve been aiming for some general merchandise ‘opens’ and ‘vans’, with the wagons illustrated here being the first off the production line, converted from RTR and kit-built vehicles. Having looked through hundreds of images in the archives of the Imperial War Museum, these wagons are not a million miles away from some of those in use during the War. In fact, the combination of Egyptian State Railway (ESR), British War Department and captured Italian and German vehicles, made for a motley collection of rolling stock.

Next on my list of wagons to build is a couple of ESR brake vans, complete with a commodious veranda at one end. These will be vital, as most trains were propelled along the desert lines, with Allied engineers keeping lookout from the veranda for mines or booby traps on the rails.

This Piko HO gauge bogie van was picked up from my local model shop for a few quid. The previous owner has attempted a fairly rough weathering finish, but no matter – it was soon stripped down ready for repainting.

New buffers, ladders, couplings, bogies (Parkside) and wheels have been added, along with various other small details from the scrap box. Once painted and weathered, the lovely surface relief can be appreciated. Despite being HO scale, it doesn’t look out of place with OO stock.

This Ratio kit is designed to be a recreation of an LMS ore wagon but, again, it has been adapted for War Department use. New buffers, wheels and couplings are the only additions to the kit.

I’ve had a bunch of these old Lima wagons since I was a kid and they're definitely not of BR origin, despite the markings! They're well suited to ex-German or Italian subjects, however.
With a new scratchbuilt underframe and some basic vacuum brake equipment, buffers and couplings, it’s not a too different from some of the steel opens used in Egypt during the Forties.

Once painted in a variety of khaki tones, I think it looks ok. In fact, the quality of the Lima bodyshell moulding can be better appreciated without the toy-like original chassis.