Monday, 22 December 2014


Season's Greetings...

...with best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.
Have a good one!

Monday, 8 December 2014


Advance sample under review.

It's been a veritable feast of high quality second generation DMU releases this month and, following on from Bachmann's Class 150/1, I now have the pleasure of reviewing the latest Realtrack Models Class 143. As a follow up to the widely acclaimed Class 144 (winner of Model Rail's Model of the Year award, no less!), it's a hard act to follow. But this particular sample certainly lives up to expectations...

A full review can be found in the next issue of Model Rail (MR204, out December 17th), but a sneak preview is presented here to whet the appetites of 4mm scale modern era modellers. The first manufacturer to attempt replication of First Great Western's intricate 'Local Lines' livery, Realtrack has managed to get all of the tiny place names printed clearly and legibly, even if you do need a magnifying glass to read most of them! 

The small dots (of varying sizes) that lighten the blue livery along the lower edges of the sides are also crisply applied, making for a complex production job. With so many separate printed processes involved, you'd think there'd be more of a risk of smudging or 'steps' visible between the graduating shades. But, everything appears seamless and the overall effect is as impressive as anything else I've ever come across. That all this has been achieved by a small manufacturer - and with a retail price starting at only £120 - is incredible. And that's before the accuracy, character and technical specifications are taken into account (which are all equally impressive).

Two versions of the FGW livery are being offered, with different unit numbers and destinations applied (my sample is turned out as running a Bristol Temple Meads - Severn Beach service), while a pair of Arriva Trains Wales units are also due out imminently, each with suitable South Wales destinations. 

Who would've thought that one of the most mundane prototypes would be honoured by such a superb model?! 

With thanks to Chris Nevard for the images.

Greatly magnified, the bodyside printing reveals an amazing level of detail. The shade of blue also varies from top to bottom, as with the real thing. It's almost imperceptible, but it's there nonetheless!

Thursday, 4 December 2014


Backscene painted, but is it too blue?

More work has been visited upon my new layout over the past week, albeit in fits and starts. The 'sky' has been painted, initially with white household emulsion via a small roller, followed by a mix of Tamiya acrylics sprayed through my trusty Iwata TR2 airbrush. Said airbrush then decided to fail, necessitating a visit to the experts at The Airbrush Company, where the seals were replaced with a set of solvent-proof fittings as are now standard on many decent airbrushes (mine was about 10years old and had been, up to that point, 100% reliable).

Now the airbrush is back home, I'm thinking of reworking the sky a little. It looks positively mediterranean in the photographs - is this accurate for a layout set in Ireland?! I shall have a think about this over the next few weeks...

The goods shed is another feature that is currently under consideration. It's a Skaledale engine shed that I titivated some years ago, but the corrugated roof is bugging me somewhat. The corrugations run horizontally along the sides and, once you notice this anomaly, it's difficult to ignore. So, I shall have to take some action with model filler or clay. As for the low relief factory, that is now securely planted, atop a plinth of rock and earth, giving the layout some extra variety in terms of height.

The station building can also be glimpsed, having started to receive its paint job - I'm thinking peeling paint and exposed, weathered timber. Still lots of scenery work to take care of too, but most of this is being saved for the Christmas holidays...

Wednesday, 26 November 2014


Landscaping completed, almost ready for scenics

Further progress to report, with the all of the remaining landscaping completed and the painting of the bridge, platforms, dry stone walling and road surfaces finished. Before anything else happens, the scenery will be protected and the back scene primed and painted in suitable 'sky' tones. Once that's taken care of, I can make a start laying the grass and finally try out our new Noch Grassmaster.

Most of the buildings are currently being painted and weathered away from the baseboards, with the station building in particular, destined for some special treatment - I'm thinking of plenty of peeling paint and exposed timber, redolent of a forgotten wayside station that may or may not still be open...

Thursday, 20 November 2014


New Sprinter enters the photo studio for a portrait sitting

As mentioned earlier this week, I've been tasked with reviewing the latest release of Bachmann's Class 150/1. Having just taken some 'proper' portrait images for the magazine, here's a better sneak preview than my previous effort on the old 'dog and bone'... Something else I mentioned recently, was the inspiration from the new Scalescenes small modern station kit - reinvigorating a long-standing desire for a small DMU-orientated 1980s urban layout. Now that this '150/1' has been sitting on my desk for a few days, the layout idea has just received an extra push....!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014


Great-looking chassis kit awaits assembly

On a recent visit to Manchester MRS clubrooms, Ralph at Palatine Models kindly gave me one of his excellent 4mm scale LMS 57ft carriage chassis kits. Etched in nickel silver, the kit was designed initially to allow members of MMRS to assemble rakes of suitable 'P4' gauge stock for their Slattocks Junction layout. A 60ft version of the chassis is also available and each kit allows for either rivetted or flush sided variants.

Ralph showed me some of his assembled carriages, employing Comet etched body shells. However, I'm wondering about marrying my chassis to a Dapol body that will be super-detailed to match the finesse of the underframe - should be a fun project...

Tuesday, 18 November 2014


Etched detail brings life to a country road

A little more progress on my fictional Irish layout...

This great etched brass cattle grid, from Studio Scale Models, has been installed over a shallow recess in the roadway. Having treated the pit to a wet and murky looking finish, the grid was fixed in place with a little cyano glue. The road was formed from DAS clay, complete with a slight camber. This is a departure from my usual road building method and was inspired by some of Chris Nevard's techniques (although he does it better than me!). Even though the clay had dried, it was still easy to cut out the rectangular section to form the pit. I just need to erect a post and stile for pedestrians to bypass the grid on the left hand side.

The other road on this layout followed my regular technique, using finely ground stone powder from Geoscenics. It's hard to tell which looks the more effective as they're intended to portray two different types of surface. The above pictured road crosses the railway on the level and is meant to be recently laid tarmac, while the minor road that crosses over the bridge - and gives access to the station - is more of a rough country lane.

Monday, 17 November 2014


Parcel arrives, bearing a lovely new Bachmann Class 150

I've just been sent a new Bachmann Class 150/1 to review for Model Rail magazine, and very nice it looks too. Decked out in what is probably my favourite livery for these units, comlete with a subtle factory-applied weathered finish. The twin shades of blue hark back to the British Rail sectorisation period and the 'Sprinter' logos certainly seemed futuristic in the mid-to-late-1980s. In those days of ZX Spectrums and Commodore 64s, 'stickmen' seemed to be all the rage! Seriously though, having displaced the rickety old first generation, 1950s DMUs on many branch and secondary routes, the Class 150s did feel very new and exciting.

Being able to operate the doors at the touch of an illuminated button - wow! This was a big deal for many of us of a certain age and with limited experience of urban transit systems in big cities. No longer did we have to lean out of the window to turn the brass knob from outside - often a perilous task for youngsters who had to stand on tiptoe to reach. How many young people do you see on a HST these days, staring at the doors and expecting them to open automatically?

My first trip on a '150' was between Aberystwyth and Dovey Junction, in September 1986, having changed from a set of Mk1s and a pair of Class 37s on the run through Wales from Shrewsbury. I can well remember sitting with my parents, as we all took in the very plasticky, but clean and bright interior. The early livery, with the pale shade of blue taking prominence, has yet to feature on a Bachmann production run, which is surprising. Also being offered with this latest batch of 150/1s is a contemporary First Great Western livery.

Look out for my review and some better images (sorry for the quick camera phone pic!) in Model Rail issue 204, out in early December.

Thursday, 13 November 2014


A bit more work on the new layout...

Can I admit that I'm making this layout up as I go along, or shall I pretend that it's been painstakingly planned in every detail - as we always recommend in the press...?
I'll let you make your own minds up about that, but I did spend a few hours last night ruminating on the industrial buildings intended for the backdrop. The Skaledale engine shed looked OK as a goods shed-cum-loading facility for a factory or warehouse, but it needed something else. Also, the chimney placed alongside didn't look right - why would it be there, when any processing would be going on on the other side of the tracks...?

Anyway, sticking to my mantra of using only what I already had in stock, a quick rummage in the attic found a Bachmann factory unit with north light-style roof. I'd painted and weathered one side of this for an article or teaching demo (can't remember which) some years ago and it looked rather nice. But, it needed trimming drastically to fit, so a bit of work with a big hacksaw was required.

Having created a low relief version, I thought 'Wow, I can just stick the two halves together and have a much longer unit'. Alas, the 'north lights' on the other half would then be pointing south, which looked really strange! So, three peaks it is. And the chimney looks much more at home at this end.

Oh yes, and my meticulous planning meant that I had to then chop away at the previously constructed landscaping to create a flat plinth for the building to sit on. Some extra height was gained with some Wills embossed stone sheets and I added some drainpipes from plastic tube. It all needs painting again to ensure that the bricks and stone all look consistent, but I've a pond to create first...

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


New downloadable kit sets me thinking...

Having been hard at work building a mini layout, with a small station building at the heart of the plan, seeing this great new kit from Scalescenes has set me to thinking. Perfect for a post-1970s commuter station, it could form the basis of a minimum space through or terminal station with a DMU or EMU service. Maybe as part of a modern park and ride location... I've been wondering about a tiny layout based around such a facility, mainly as a means of running some of the post-1980s multiple units that I've been hoarding. And there's also the chance of building something with catenary, but on a small scale. 

It costs less than £4 and can be printed as many times as you like, and there's a choice of brick shades to suit different parts of the UK. There's also a choice of signage and fittings that span the BR, sectorisation and privatisation eras. The interior is fully detailed, with ticket office window (and self-service ticket and vending machines), tiled floor and even an external air con unit. Great stuff! 

Friday, 7 November 2014


Progress has been swift so far - but can I maintain it?!

My recent career has been littered with layouts that have started in a burst of enthusiasm, but ground to a halt due to lack of time and space. Ironically, with a recent shift in my professional role, I've actually had a bit more time to devote to a layout plan that I'd been ruminating on for some time. Certainly, with less in the way of 'modeller's fatigue', taking on a more editorial role has allowed me to dabble on more leisurely projects without the stress of deadlines and ultra-fidelity.

Having built a baseboard a while back, it was originally planned for a quarry/cement-themed terminal. However, I soon realised that it lacked the necessary 'headroom' to accommodate the tall silos and chimneys that I'd envisaged. With that project put on hold, I was determined to make use of the baseboard, so this little layout started life...

Inspired by a few of Chris Nevard's mini layouts, it's a fairly simple affair with just one 3-way point, a small halt platform and a goods siding serving a small factory. Another siding in the foreground is to assist in shunting and storing extra wagons. Initially, the plan is to base the layout somewhere in rural Ireland in the 1970s, but it may later be shifted back to this side of the Irish Sea. Or maybe it can be switched between the two...?

In a flurry of activity, spread over a few evenings, the track was laid, wired and fully tested, before ballasting. One of the things I'm trying to do with this layout is to employ stuff that I already have in stock, rather than buying anything new. So, there will be a few buildings seeing a new lease of life, having been salvaged from bygone layouts and dioramas. 

I'll also be trying out some new scenic products and tools on this layout, including some lovely kits of Irish rail infrastructure - one of the main reasons why I decided to build the layout - which I'm very excited about. In fact, I'll also be using a static grass machine for the first time - hope it works!

The final trackplan laid out, on sheets of polystyrene that will produce the scenic contours.

Initially, I'd wondered about using this lovely brass GWR station, built from a Scalescenes kit years ago, but after consideration, it was deemed to be too big.

The small Wills platform building is more in keeping with the location. The Hornby Skaledale engine shed has been adapted to form part of a small factory/warehouse.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014


Oh my, what a lovely 'Whistler'

A big parcel just arrived, bearing a lovely big Class 40, courtesy of Tower Models in Blackpool. I've managed to bag the review for the next issue of Model Rail magazine (MR203) so I've been running my eye over the Heljan model with calipers and a tape measure in hand. Although I only remember the tail end of their careers, the '40s' were a real favourite during my spotting days, with the last four locos seeing out their BR lives around Warrington, where we'd just moved to. 

It's a real hefty brute, weighing in at nearly 4kg and first impressions are good. It's already been road tested on Dave Lowery's extensive 'O' gauge layout, with 100% positive feedback as far as haulage and performance is concerned. Now it's a question of looking at the details. All will be revealed in Model Rail, on sale November 20th... 

The '40' only just fits on my desk!

I'm not sure I can justify treating myself to a blue '40', but I'd love to have a got at weathering one. Unfortunately, this model has to be sent back...!

Thursday, 23 October 2014


Etched chassis brings extra class to elderly loco model.

Having recently upgraded an old Mainline LNER J72 for a friend, reader Duncan Young asked about me fitting an etched chassis to the model, that's now in the Bachmann range. He'd mentioned the Comet chassis, but I employed a Mainly Trains etched kit which was a joy to build and really looks the part - certainly a massive improvement on the old solid metal split chassis block that dated back to the 1970s.

The building of the chassis, and detailing of the bodyshell, was covered in Model Rail issue 190 (January 2014), where I talked about knackering up an excellent Exactoscale enclosed transmission (all my own stoopid fault), so the loco is now running on a Comet gearbox and Mashima motor that I had in store - and run very well, it does.

Another thing I'd tried and made a mess of, was a set of plunger pickups. After drilling and reaming out the mounting holes, I managed to break a couple of the delicate brass turnings and, to be honest, I simply lost patience and abandoned the idea. It only took an hour or so to  knock up a set of my usual wiper power collectors and these have been working fine enough.

Monday, 13 October 2014


Resin conversion kit lined and named.

Started a few months back, this ARC Models resin conversion kit for the Hornby L&Y 'Pug' 0-4-0ST is now finally complete and ready for service at Maudetown Colliery. I've treated it to a nice coat of carmine red and a set of Jackson Evans Poppy nameplates were found in the bottom of a toolbox. Being as it's almost Remembrance Day, the monicker seemed wholly apt.

I'm very pleased with the paint finish, not least is it was applied by aerosol and hand brush, with the airbrush only employed at the very end for a gentle bit of misted weathering (most of the mucking-up was also done by hand). The Revell carmine red looked a bit bright to begin with but once the lining and darker elements were touched in, followed by a few coats of gloss varnish, the red took on a lovely deep lustre - just the thing for a hardworking industrial engine.

I just need to add a footplate crew, 3-link couplings and some coal and Poppy is finally complete. I've thoroughly enjoyed the building and finishing of this loco and, with another couple of ARC Models kit in stock, I may be starting another one soon!

Thursday, 9 October 2014


Mainline/Bachmann hybrid makes a pretty picture.

A very patient friend gave me a slightly decrepit Mainline J72 0-6-0T a few years ago, with the instructions to 'see what you can do with this'. One of the axles had sheared and the motor was spluttering but the bodyshell was in good nick. Having eventually obtained a spare Bachmann J72 chassis after building an etched kit for a similar loco, it made sense to combine the two to make one good model. The body was treated to wire handrails (replacing the moulded originals), etched lamp brackets and smokebox door handle, plus new buffers and a set of fire irons stored atop the tanks.

It took a wee bit of fettling to get the later Bachmann chassis to fit the older body, but I got there in the end and, with a bit of weathering, the loco looks pretty good - and runs well too!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014


DRS Class 90 just needs a few finishing touches.

My upgraded Hornby Class 90, using a new detail kit from PH Designs, is almost ready for service. Just the glazing and the rooftop conductor/insulators need fitting, along with the headlight lenses. The DRS transfers, from R3Sprays went on a treat and, although it's perhaps not the most innovative livery, the shade of blue certainly suits the outline of the loco. This is definitely the more interesting side of the 90, with there being no room for the 'Compass' logo on the opposite side!

As usually happens when I dip my toes into modelling the contemporary railway scene, I read the other week that Virgin's 'Pretendolino' set - which the DRS Class 90 is contracted to haul - is being withdrawn soon, so I wonder what will happen to 90034...? Nothing seems to stay the same for long on the privatised railway.

Look out for a demo on how this loco was finished in the next issue of Model Rail (MR202), on sale October 23rd.

Thursday, 2 October 2014


Two very different models in the paint shop

It's not uncommon for me to be working on a number of projects concurrently, usually progressing through similar stages such as painting, transfers, weathering etc at the same time. This saves a lot of hassle as the workbench only need be set up for one undertaking rather than cluttering it up with all sorts of glues, tools and materials. However, this last week has been a bit different...

In the next issue of Model Rail magazine (MR202), we're looking at the painting and finishing processes in depth, so I needed to cover lots of different approaches. Therefore, the Class 90 project has been progressing, with airbrushes employed to get the main livery applied, hand brushes stepping in for the detail work. There's also been a wee mishap along the way when the masking tape pulled away some of the blue paint - only a small patch near the roof line, but it demanded a few hours of extra work and - most annoyingly - another 12hours for the enamels to cure. This hasn't happened to me for a while, but it's actually perfect timing, making for an excellent 'What if it goes wrong?' fact panel in the article!!

The other loco being finished is the great little ARC Models kit of the Andrew Barclay 0-4-0ST that I built a few months ago, using the Hornby L&Y 'Pug' chassis. I've been painting this one with aerosols and by hand (without fingerprints, ha ha!). It's years since I last used aerosols for a 'proper' loco finish and the Revell rattle cans have proved excellent. It's still a pain to get the paint evenly distributed around the boiler, so it takes a bit of care and patience. An airbrush certainly isn't any quicker in this respect, but it is easier to control, once you get the hang of it. Again, all will be explained in MR202.

I've a few bits to finish off on the '90' before it's ready for a varnish coat and then both models will receive transfers and, in the case of the 'kettle', some nice lining too. Although applying decals can be a chore, the fact that they help the models to come to life always makes it worthwhile....

Monday, 29 September 2014


Weathering demo subjects cleaned and packed away for next classes

As I mentioned a little while back, I've not long finished teaching another set of courses on airbrushing and weathering down on the South Coast. However, I've only just got around to sorting out my boxes of materials and model samples, now all organised and ready for the next series of classes in March 2015. Just before sealing the crates, I thought I'd grab a few images of two of the locos that have been treated in previous classes and which I use to illustrate the possibilities of certain materials and techniques.

The Bachmann Class 25 has been demonstrated on a number of times, with quite a range of paints and washes and, despite being knocked about a bit still looks presentable. The green livery has been given a range of high- and low-lights using different shades of BR green to give something of a washed-ot look beneath the layers of grime.

The old Hornby GWR 0-6-0T has also been employed on many occasions over the past few years, again with a variety of materials and techniques visited upon it, including textured acrylics, T-Cut and mechanised buffing! The last thing I did to it was spray areas with gloss varnish to soften some of the dirt deposits and give it more of an oily sheen, especially on the tanks and dome (the Class 24 was treated in a similar way). For a fairly basic model, it now looks a bit more lifelike.

I believe that my courses for March are all but booked-up, but I'm hoping to set some more dates for autumn 2015. Check The Airbrush Co. website for more details.

I really ought to finish both models off at some point and add them to my traction fleets....

Friday, 26 September 2014


Another 50ft LMS observation saloon photo found in the archives

Having unearthed images of an LMS 50ft saloon for a previous post, I've just come across another pic of a similar vehicle. Pictured at the Railway Age, Crewe in either 2004 or 2005, DB999501 still wears the remnants of BR InterCity colours and had been based at Preston prior to withdrawal and preservation. Outwardly, it looks very similar to the LMS-liveried 45030 in the previous Blog post, although the side windows have been modified. My notes at the time say "double glazed?" but I'm not sure about this - there are pronounced frames around each aperture which looks like a later modification, although it may just have been a repair of some sort. Mind you, I have a feeling that this vehicle had been used up in the Scottish Highlands in the 1980s, so maybe it had been given some form of extra insulation...? I'll have to have a dig about for more info on this, if I get a spare few hours....!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014


A selection of prototype images

The latest issue of Model Rail goes on sale this week and readers will note my article on improving the new Bachmann 50ft LMS observation saloon. During my research for this - and the original review of the model a few months ago - I dug out a stack of photographs that I took of the real 45030, languishing in the South Yard of the National Railway Museum in York. I was working there at the time and the saloon had just appeared in the yard, having been in use as a static office at Leeman Road since withdrawal in 1993. Decked out in replica LMS livery, but with standard yellow ends, the interior had been upgraded by BR sometime in the 1970s (I'm guessing!), with some pretty foul orangey carpets that were in vogue at that time.

Anyway, the photos weren't good enough to be published in the mag, being taken on a very cheap and nasty 35mm pocket camera. They date from Spring 2003 and show the saloon in a bit of a state. A couple of homeless folk had been living in it, who had kicked in one of the doors and generally trashed the interior, leaving lots of empty whisky bottles and other debris. At the time, I did think how the vehicle would make a jolly nice holiday home, akin to a camping coach. With a kitchen/galley, toilet compartment and two spacious saloons, there was plenty of room. Couple it up to a Class 25 or similar, and away you go... what a way to see the country...?!
Guard's compartment with handbrake wheel and air brake valve on the wall.

Other side of Guard's compartment, with comfy, sprung bench seat and luggage rack

Side corridor linking the two outer saloons with the WC, galley and Guard's compartment

Modern BR-era features include ETS socket/jumpers, airbrake hoses, C1 classification and yellow ends.

The well appointed galley/kitchen was equipped with gas-powered cooker and appliances.

Other side of the galley. Note the BR-issue box of Jaffa Cakes....

The larger of the two saloons. Note the fold-up desks under each front window and air horn operating knobs.  A brake pressure dial is just out of view above the central end window. Electric heaters are a post-1960s addition, as is the orange carpet.

The same saloon looking towards the centre of the coach, with tall store cupboards and access to the side corridor on the right. With luggage racks and other smaller cabinets, there was certainly plenty of storage space.

One of the few remaining bits of furniture was this desk in the corner of the smaller saloon, with an old telex-type printing machine still in situ. Whisky bottles litter the floor and the twin wall lamps over the desk make it look quite homely!

My (very) rough sketch made at the time on a scrap of paper. The 'T's indicate from where I took each photograph, just like the little cameras we use on layout features in Model Rail!

The side with all the graffiti was actually in the better condition. The recessed door handle and folded access steps are seen here. Originally vacuum-operated, the steps had been modified to air-operation.

The steps on the other side... note the air tank behind.