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A slight diversion

One thing that’s always bugged me a little about the above image is the coupling rods on the class 11 (left). I cant remember why but I used the Brassmasters standard rods rather than their finescale ones. Well I finally got around to swapping them over.

Another little distraction is this Bachmann anchor tank wagon.

A simple wheel swap with a new etched discharge wheel and new ladders from Stenson models.

A bit more of a ‘proper’ project was this diagram 1/163 iron ore hopper from Wizard models. Quite a neat little project this one.

Finally, i don’t want to remind anyone but the nights are drawing in again!

A few more trailers

Been busy knocking up a few more trailers.

Starting with this offering from Knightwing. Although the cabs they supply are to a slightly larger scale the trailers, or at least this one, is pretty much spot on for 4mm scale. I changed if from a 3 axle type to 2 axles and fitted some spare Base toys wheels but that was pretty much it.

This 40ft flatbed is something I’ve had for a while. Its from RTI, brought when Frank was still with us. It’s a somewhat basic kit with just the bed, bogie and wheels supplied. The rest is knocked up from bits and bobs.

When I built my last batch of tractor units I printed enough registration plates for the trailers too. Do you think i can find them now?

The Bachmann Compound – part 1

I found a relatively cheap Bachmann Compound recently and thoughts have turned to what to do with it.

Lets start with a little disclaimer. Alan Gibson supplies a set of wheels to convert this loco to P4 and I would have every confidence that just swapping the wheels would get a p4 steam loco up and running pretty quickly. After all a 4-4-0 has got to be about the best case scenario you could really ask for. I didn’t try it myself but we’ve had a wheel swapped GWR Grange (I think) running on Moor Street for years now.

Being relative new to RTR steam locos, this is actually my first RTR tender loco I’ve had since i was a kid, there’s always 2 areas that stand out to me as looking a little weak on pretty much all RTR steam locos. No, not the wheels although big, in your face, wheels do perhaps yield the greatest benefit of swapping to p4 visually. The areas I am talking about are bogies and tenders. More specifically in the case of the latter, tender underframes. They just always seem so, for want of a better description, flat!

The bogie

So to the bogie. There was nothing about the supplied RTR one that i wanted to keep so its a straight swap with a Comet example. As supplied they can be built with central springing for side control but no springing on the axles. Setting some simple springs up however couldn’t be easier.

The loco chassis

To the loco. I decided I wanted to use some of the Comet chassis bits but not exactly as intended. So the first process was deciding what of the RTR offering I wanted to keep and what I wanted to replace.

I wanted to use the sideframes in a sort of Brassmasters easychas inspired way and keep the original Bachmann drive. Initially I thought the crosshead was just an RTR bodge but they do actually look like that. So that and the cylinders were keepers. I also liked the brake gear so that stayed.

The Comet chassis is not designed for this model and is too long. The wheelbase between the driving wheels and hence the coupling rods are also too long. Comet do specify this is the case on their website. The Bachmann frames are actually the right width at the front of the loco but narrow from the cylinders back to accommodate the 00 wheels. The cylinders look, from underneath that they might fit on little pegs coming down from the footplate. They don’t, they slot sideways into the chassis. Its best to pop them off and keep them safe.

I decided to split the chassis behind the forward step to loose some of its extra length. The front part being a relatively easy fit. The rear part needed some trial and error to cut away little sections to get it to fit. The Bachmann model is driven on the front driver ( it looks like the chassis was designed for gears but to both axles but it doesn’t have them), so the Comet chassis was carefully titivated so that the rear axles position matched. I wasn’t too worried about the front driver as I has decided to keep it rigid.

By leaving the RTR style bearings off the rear driving axle you get a little room for vertical movement. A Brassmasters sprung bearing was modified with a bit of tube (the Bachmann and hence Alan Gibson axles are an odd size). The frames were glued in place using 60 thou plasticard to space them out to something more prototypical. The springs are part of the RTR keeper plate so they are too to far back but I decided to leave them as is.

The brake gear needs a bit of modification to fit over the new frames and it was here that I hit a little unexpected snag. Bachmann use bigger wheels than scale. I wonder if this is because its a development of the national railway museum model which being an earlier example had bigger wheels? Anyway the effect of this is the brake gear sits too low and would likely hit the rails when crossing pointwork. The solution is to take a mm out of the top of the keeper plate so that everything moves up a little.

Valve gear

Lets be honest RTR valve gear is generally a bit weird. Its often both too big and to thin at the same time. The Bachmann coupling rods are about scale height (ignoring the bosses which are huge!!) but being only 1 piece of metal aren’t thick enough. So these were discarded and the Comet ones used in their place. Suitability shortened by 2mm.

The connecting rods as supplied are quite good though. Much more meaty and they feature the big square bosses that the Comet ones don’t, so hybrid valve gear it is then! The Bachmann crank pins are 2mm wide (really!) so a bit of tube was soldered in to make them fit the Gibson crank pins. While I was at it I made another 2 collars for the trailing driver a the coupling rods on a compound are outside of the connecting rods.

On to the tender

Body great but underframe – ugh!

Luckily Lanarkshire models do a replacement chassis kit for a Fowler tender. This was assembled as per the instructions. For the outer frames I was kindly supplied a spare etch by Brassmasters and mated this with some Comet springs and axleboxes. I decided to keep the Bachmann steps as they are moulded as part of the tender body.

As is often the case with this sort of stuff, the most pleasing view is the one you wont ever see!

Class 120 revisited.

One of my earlier DMU conversions was a class 120. Built from Craftsman overlays on a Lima 117 it’s done many shows on Moor Street and was probably due a bit of an overhaul.

I had already rebuilt the underframe to better match the prototype and a few years ago I swapped the bogie side frames for Dapol ones* as they better matched the Swindon design the class ran on.

*the older ones from their trans pennine mode not the newer ones from their bubblecars

The big thing I wanted to address was the inner ends. When I built the model the inner ends were void of detail and the instructions just said to stick the Lima gangways and exhausts back on. However the class 120 exhausts are somewhat distinctive and look nothing like what Lima supplied. So the ends have been detailed up to better match the real thing.

As mentioned before I am a fan of the Masokits gangways for DMU’s however I don’t see a lot of point using them if they are hidden behind the exhausts. So for this model i have use paper bellows and moulded gangways I had in my spares box.

Working on wood

Tim Horn and I have been working on a few ideas recently and here are some prototypes.

Starting with a wall mounted version of his display shelving.

Next up a stock box. I’ve long used Ikea ‘Fira’ boxes but for a while they disappeared before returning in some less handy configurations (as well as costing a lot more). The little handle on the front is to stop the drawers sliding out in transit which was an ongoing problem with the Ikea ones.

Each draw can hold 24 standard 10 ft wheelbase sized wagons.

These are a work in progress and Tim is very much snowed under at the moment with work so these are not available yet. I will post here when they are.

Some Steel wagons.

The diesels have escaped to Brettell Road again. Actually its just a convenient photo background but there you go.

New Street isn’t known for its freight operations but there were some services booked through the station on a fairly regular basis. Normally late at night and of those steel traffic was quite common. To that end I have recently finished off a few old Cambrian bogie wagons that have been lurking in my half started box for a while now.

First up a BDA. When I started this model there was no Stenson Models so sometimes, letting a model live in the half started area for too many years works out as a positive. The little kit for the braking gear lifts the model. I’ve used Jon Hall etched bogie inserts with the cambrian bogie sides but if you want better, sprung bogies with nicer sideframes then Stenson models do those too.

I replaced the supplied bolsters (when i say replaced I actually mean lost!) with microstrip which better suited the wooden ones fitted to the earlier conversions anyway!

In a not entirely unrealistic scenario, a class 56 heads towards Round Oak.

BAA also from a Cambrian kit.

… and a BBA.

Although my Yorkshire DE02 is part of the Brettell Road fleet they were still very much around in the late 1980s and still in their original wasp livery so this scene isn’t implausible either!

A few more road vehicles.

Been tweaking a few more road vehicles starting with fitting better wheels (from RTI) to a couple of old cargos. The WH Smiths lorry seems to draw a lot of attention at shows and for many people sets a time and place quite specifically.

Next up another little batch from Oxford diecast waiting form my usual treatment…

… which is to paint the inside of the window apertures and wheel arches black and a quick spray of matt varnish before some gentle weathering. I might see if i can get some more standard looking wheels for the Land Rover.

The Volvo (760) required a bit more effort as out of the box (on the right) it did not capture the look of the real thing very well at all. The solution was to file the windows so that they are much deeper. I enlarged the windows of the Rover 3500 too but not by anything like as much. Wing mirrors are just a bit of microstrip.

J94 Project – Done!

When I picked up my nearly finished J94 kit it came with an already assembled Branchlines Gearbox. Try as I might I just couldn’t get on with it. For some reason it seemed to have very little torque but this wasn’t sacrificed for speed as it didn’t really have much of that either (perhaps the energy was being used up by the noise it generated?). So admitting defeat I swapped it for a High Level Road Runner +. What a difference that made!

Another little problem I came across was the lack of space between the inside motion and the springs I fitted on the front 2 axles. I had used a short handrail knob in the same way that the advocates of CSB systems use but it was all just a little bit too tight for comfort. So I ditched that and just soldered a couple of springs to the inside of the chassis – Number 10 guitar springs for the center axle and number 12 for the front bearing on the top of the axles. Anyone with any kind of knowledge of how things should be done are probably reading the rest of this post from behind a sofa but it works so that’s fine in my eyes!

Anyway its done so here’s a few pictures.

Here’s a very short video of the inside motion at work

Below are a few evening images.

Another little video – this time a spot of shunting. There’s a few stutters which I am hoping a little more running in will iron out.

Finally one of those unplanned shots you sometimes get when you are focussing on something else and they just catch your eye. A simple line up of coal wagons.

More mk1s

As coach building continues for New Street, much of it is more of the same and to some extent so is thisnse-mk1

Another Bachmann mk1, fitted with replica bogies and the usual details. Like the rest of my Bachmann based NSE liveried stock I repainted the blue to something lighter which I feel better matches the early vehicles so painted. The IC liveried coach behind was completed at the same time.

Here comes the rain

Regular readers will be aware that I plan to model Brettell Road in the rain. While falling rain is not doable and if it was to scale wouldn’t be visible anyway I believe it’s worth trying to show the effects of rainfall. Of course it will be frozen in time but I don’t think there’s a lot I can do about that and I’d like to credit those who view the layout in the flesh with a degree of imagination.

Aside from things looking wet the other thing I wanted to try was raindrops in puddles and the canal.

The canal itself was done with multiple layers of varnish as per Gordon Gravetts book then the area where the bridges were masked and more varnish added (Humbrol clear) with baking soda sprinkled on while wet. I did try cold and warm varnish  to see if it made any difference but found it didn’t.

The above image shows the canal in position (again you will have to imagine the walls) and below in something approaching the light I plan the final project to have.

New Street, new board

Back in the latter half of last year when Tim and I did the boards for Brettell Road we also cut the next 2 boards for New Street. While the boards for Brettell Road were experimental both in design and materials we didn’t want to jump that far with New Street so sticking with what we know we opted for ply.
This is the first of the two. A simple rectangle but the awkward part was that the surface isn’t flat as the trackbed drops down as you leave the station. This board will be entirely under the tunnel but I plan to leave a letterbox in the front so you can peek in. The jigsaw shape in the top surface is due to Tim’s cutter not being long enough (he now has one that can do boards this size with ease).
One thing I did forget was although we etched the track plan and cut holes for the point droppers into the top sheet I forgot to include the holes on the bottom one! (note for next time). I also mistakenly glued the back boards the bring way round (hence no jigsaw as Tim kindly re cut it for me on the bigger cutter).

The next board will be similar and will recreate the area I originally did for the plank.

As always, thanks to Tim for his help.

Riveting stuff

The title does not refer to the quality of this post, don’t expect anything like the screenplay for Inception but there might be a very minor cliffhanger ending!  The title refers to what I have been doing, riveting the cabs of my 2 panniers.
class 15xx pannier cab
The Hornby cab I used for my 15xx had no detail really so the rear window framing was added from the Mainly Trains etch. The rivets are the water slide ones from Archers which have been around for a while now. They make the whole task quite enjoyable but they are a bit tricky to use. The main problem is they come off very easily. You can overcome this by working in small areas and sealing them with Klear (or Humbrol Clear) to protect them while you work on the next bit. The other tip is don’t be too adventurous. It’s very tempting to try to add a nice long line of rivets in one hit but the transfer tends to break so I find it best to work with strips of about a dozen or so (you can even count them if you like! You might be the first person to actually do this in the history of ever mind you!).
detailed lima 94xx cab
The detail on the Lima 94xx cab is much better but oddly when it comes to the rear it doesn’t match the rest of the model at all. It’s almost like an early EP sample and when the final model was completed, the guy charged with doing this area pulled a sickie! As with the 15xx, archers rivets, Mainly Trains rear windows and bits of strip metal and plastic were used.

While work will continue on the 15xx (Handrails next) contrary to my last post the 94xx will now take a back seat while a third party looks into doing a chassis for it.  (That’s the minor cliffhanger bit you see?)

5th January 2015

It’s a bit late I know but happy new year to visitors to my site.

For those who like to read my writings I have an article in the current issue of Finescale Railway Modelling Review. A relatively recent magazine from Bob Barlow and Tim Skackleton. Sort of pitching itself at the MRJ end o the market it’s a nice looking and feeling (I always like a decent paper to be used in magazines) publication.


My article covers the building of New Street’s lamp building along with some thoughts on what I would do differently if I were to build it now. I hope you enjoy it


Point rodding and hints of the past.

Signal detector
What you see above is a representation of a detector for the ground signal on Brettell Road. It was knocked up from scraps of brass using photos and Steve Hall’s articles in MRJ 113 and 115. I always enjoy fiddly details like this even though I know it will go unnoticed to most people.
There’s only going to be 1 point on Brettell Road that’s operated by the off scene signal box, the rest being operated by hand levers. However I wanted to include remnants of what was there before meaning the double slip would have been operated either end with facing point locks. Also given the distance a couple of compensators will be needed so while it’s not exactly complicated stuff it is worth doing.
My chosen route is the Brassmasters etched bits with rodding from MSE. I have also included the odd rodding stool where the rodding has been removed to help with the idea that it’s not so much added to the layout as taken away.
Point rodding compensators
Most of this stuff is quite basic if a bit fiddly. Above are a couple of compensators. The ones supplied are cosmetic and don’t move and that’s fine for the disused rods as per the one on the right however with only 1 run that does anything it would be rude not to make it work. Ok it’s driven from the point rather than driving the point itself but let’s not worry too much about that. 2 Brassmasters compensators were used to make the one on the left with the centre arm from one and a few brass pins meaning it will move when the point it thrown.
All in a fun little project.


I’ve always liked mechanical signals, the ones on Moor Street are great fun to play with but for New Street I wont get the chance to have any.  However for Brettell Road there are 2 (one of which is abandoned) so I have got to have a go at making some from MSE kits.
disused signal
First up the disused one, based on a photo I found. This one would actually be a repeater for the main signal the other side of the bridge due to sighting problems. Weathering is done with gouache. I replaced the supplied ladder with one of Colin Craig’s.
ground signal 1
ground signal 2
The other signal is this little ground signal (yellow so that the headshunt can be used when its set to danger) I deviated from the MSE instructions by making the counterweight arm work too. Theres a fibre optic in the lamp but its a bugger to photograph – you can just make it out in the second picture. It looks a bit blue but I was using a white light source – changing it to a yellow one should correct this.

Finally as I was tidying up I left a pack of LED’s lying on the layout and purely by chance it illuminated the signal. Thinking it looked quite nice I took the image below – I’d like to claim it was carefully planned but nope – this was just lucky!
signal in the dark
Click here for Model Signal Engineering’s website

Peak performance

Those who have been following my efforts for a while now will know I really like class 45’s.  However the model ones seem a bit lacking in performance especially when it comes to road-holding. The problem is usually down to the pony trucks which are really just along for the ride in a flopping about kind of way.  I wonder if RTR steam loco’s have the same problem?  The problem is to my mind two-fold.  1 – staying on the track, they are just too light and while there’s some rudimentary springing its more of a token effort than a real attempt at a solution.  2 – no side control, a pony truck should lead the bogie into curves and without some sort of side control thats just not going to happen.
Peak pony truck
The solution? These rather natty sprung pony trucks from Rumney Models. They also provide side control and a handy ballast box to get some much-needed weight in there. For more details see www.rumneymodels.co.uk

The image above shows progress on the embankment section. I can’t claim any expertise in modelling nature as it’s not something I’ve come across much before however a while spent looking at local plant life for the “what” and Gordon Gravetts book on the subject for the “how” has produced something I’m quite happy with although I am undecided if the nettles are a bit bright. I drew a quick fencemade from sleepers and Tim kindly laser cut it for me for the top of the bank. I guess it does mean that Brettell road will be set in early October mind you. If you haven’t got Gordon’s book yet then its well worth finding a copy.

I’ve made a start on some wagons. From the left are a Cambrian 5 plank open for which I found you need to remove a bit of material from the base of the w-irons for P4 wheels. Then there’s a Ratio Van and open (I’ve never built Ratio kits before) The open is really too old but I have a plan for an off scene steelworks (sort of Round Oaks ish ) so I will use this as an internal user. Followed next is a Parkside 7 plank open, simplicity itself and a Bachmann RTR van- this was supposed to be a quick win picked up from the bargain bin at Modellers Mecca but conversion to p4 was a bit more than just sticking wheels in with material needing to be removed and new brakes added from MJT. Right at the end is a Peco wonderful wagon tank. Quite advanced for their time with working buffers and springing. In reality the springing is a bit too hard to be of any real effect so I will fit some Bill Bedford sprung W-irons.

detailed GBL Jinty

Finally back to where it all started , the GBL Jinty. The body has been detailed with bits from the Brassmasters kit, some parts from Markits (and London Road Models as well as some home brew parts such as lamp irons from brass strip. I haven’t done any work under the footplate yet as I need to look at the High Level chassis next.

New(ish) technology or modelling witchcraft?

New technology, there are those who embrace it or those who reject it or seeing it as cheating in some way. It’s not a new phenomena or even restricted to railway modelling, I remember such discussions when digital illustration started to appear. With a hobby of course it’s up to you how you pursue it. Do you want the end result to be the best it can be or do you enjoy the route to the end result more? No one is ‘right’ in such circumstances but if someone choses to embrace new technology is it fair to accuse them of cheating in some way?

The finescale end of the hobby has always had a reputation for valuing the journey over the destination and for a long time detailed or converted RTR was frowned on as not proper modelling by those who scratchbuild stuff when in many cases the RTR looked much more like it was supposed to than the scratchbuilt stuff anyway. In reality though the finescalers have usually been the ones to embrace new technology and ideas first and the current crop of high quality RTR is largely down to people wanting something better. You hear it all the time, we’ve never had it so good and it’s probably true but things don’t get better if people just accept what they are given – they have to ‘want’ better too. It’s probably worth at this point mentioning that we never had it so good 20 years ago and we will probably still be saying it 20 years from now. Does anyone really believe that the current crop of RTR is the best we are ever to see?

So to the point – Laser cut buildings. Already people are saying that its cheating, that you just push a button and a building pops out of a machine but in reality it’s just a very very clever scalpel and while I believe the end result is better is it any easier or quicker?
What you see above is a simple canal bridge drawing for Brettell Road. Its drawn in illustrator and while I have used some time-saving tricks like custom brushes for the arch and a custom fill for the brick pattern it seemed to take a lot longer than just getting a sheet of brick plasticard and cutting it out. The thing is though I could convert the pattern to lines (expand appearance for those interested) and then tweak it. For example I could easily recreate the half width header near the corners in an English Bond wall while doing so with plasticard would have been a massive faff. In fact I wonder if anyone has even bothered, I know I didn’t think it worth the effort!
Above is the actual wall loosely positioned on its canal bed and towpath. The top row are routed and cut by Tim.
However laser cut can be a bit clinical. For the towpath I wanted a cobbled section but also a dirt section to – the finished cut was attacked with files and sandpaper to roughen it up. Going back to the point of New technology and illustration, I always thought, if Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci had Photoshop would they have used it? Id bet that they would!

Transit, nearly there

20140920-232312.jpgWell thats another transit van nearly done. Just need to add a tax disk and wing mirrors.

Some more wagons

Despite not really getting caught up in the rush for the latest thing when it comes to RTR I do find that the new wagon announcements have an effect on what I’m up to. It’s because most of the new stuff actually isn’t. It’s been available before as a kit and if it suits what I’m doing there’s a good chance there’s an example or two in either my unbuilt kit pile or half started in a box somewhere. I’ve had to admit I’ve never really understood the clamour for new stuff we already have especially if the example is something simple like a 4 wheel open wagon. I mean you will see comments on forums that it’s the greatest thing ever, that someone has wanted one of these for years etc etc. I just think they can’t have wanted one that badly or they would have built the kit! Don’t dare suggest it though as such people seem to rejoice in explaining that they are so inept that they can’t stick 2 sides and 2 ends to a floor, or even better puff their chest out with pride when they tell you they have never even tried! And yet after all this time waiting they will absolutely buy 3 dozen of them just on a written specification, yeah right!

Getting back to the point, this time it’s Bachmanns tube wagon which so far does look nice. If starting from scratch I’d probably buy a couple but I’ve had the Parkside kits half done for many years. Having said that I would be surprised if Bachmann manage to match Parkside’s lovely thin sides.

20140613-211414.jpgHere is one of them after changing the w-irons for Bill Bedford ones, adding brakes from MSE and a few bits of wire for linkages and safety loops.

20140613-212312.jpgAbove is a Bachmann VGA also done with Bill Bedford w-irons. The original axle boxes look nothing like those on a VGA so it’s worth changing them for slightly cut down hooded roller bearings, again from MSE. the break gear is from microstrip and wire but you can’t see the wire when the wagon is the right way up. The end steps are from DEMU member Martyn Normanton. I thought they were a bit too long so moved the top fold along by 1mm to reduce the height. Martyn also does steps for BAA and BBAs.

20140613-211425.jpgOne little tool I’ve had for years but never really used is this, which is like a temperature controlled hot glue gun designed for sticking etched details to plastic. It’s kind of like a soldering iron for plastic because if you get it wrong you can over heat the part and the glue breaks down and just rubs off. More faff than using superglue but the joint appears to be stronger.

A glipse of the future provided by memories of the past.

When I was a kid, standing at New Street I only had a little brownie camera that took 110 film (remember that?) and couldn’t really take a decent picture of anything, not that I could afford film anyway so while I was there at the location and period I am modelling I never took any pictures of my own.  It’s somewhat taken for granted these days that we can just have access to images of whatever we want due to the internet and sites like Flickr but unless people were there at the time to take the images and today give up their time to upload them for no reward we would really struggle to get even basic info on our chosen subjects.  It is these unsung contributors that play a vital role in our hobby and its worth now and then taking a moment to stop and appreciate the efforts they go to.

Recently I found a video I hadn’t seen before that featured New Street, just a few months after the period I intend to model from Brian Hancock. His Youtube channel is well worth checking out and with his kind permission I can share with you his video.

This look back at the past is a prediction of my future. It is scenes like these that I am ultimately trying to recreate.

Theres a bit of Marston Green before and Reading after but these are still well worth watching, so if you have a spare 25 minutes – make your self comfortable and enjoy.

Some thoughts on the video

The first thing that stands out (because it’s the first train) is how un-colourful freightliner trains were in the 80’s with mostly white, blue and red boxes. The class 31 apparently rescuing a failed 47 (2.46) seems to be putting in a good performance.

The New Street stuff starts at 3mins 33 seconds and its interesting to note the lack of uniform rakes of coaches, there’s a set of nearly all Mk1s in blue and grey at 7min 50 though. Also worth noting is that none of this set is running on B1 bogies.  In fact there’s an awful lot of Mk1s throughout the film.

The Class 158 test bed, class 154 puts in an appearance just before 12 minutes as does the yellow 312, albeit in the background.  Is also worth noting the high number of light engine moves the highlight of which is a lash up of a class 56 and 2 class 58s in the 14th minute. I have no idea what the markings on the side of the DMU seen at 14.40 are but its worth noting that these 4 car 115/116 hybrids were common place at the time.

Theres an awful lot of platform enders throughout the film and this reaches a peak in the 15th minute as a class 45 generates much interest – I must remember to add the various bags they seem to leave lying arround to the model!  At 18 minutes there’s one of the Express Parcels liveried 128 DPU’s which is causing much frustration on one of the Model Railway forums at the moment due to the new model apparently being in the wrong colour. The last train seen at New Street is a bit of an oddity with a class 31 hauling a rake of what seems to be mostly first class air cons. Perhaps an excuse to use up some of those cheap Airfix Mk2 FO’s that we all seem to pick up as the years go by. It would certainly give the exhibition critics something to get excited about.

Theres a few highlights in the Reading bit too with 50027 (Lion) making a nice getaway, a class 56 storming through the station and one of the class 210 DEMUs.

Thanks to Brian for uploading it but as mentioned before thanks to anyone who uploads videos and pictures, the hobby would be all the worse without your efforts.

Building the platform canopies

I know it sounds a bit odd as the station was under a giant slab of concrete but New Street did have canopies in the traditional sense, although typically utilitarian.  The ones furthest from the front of the layout are the easiest by the virtue that they are straight so that seemed like the logical place to start.

BNS-canopy-top-sideAbove shows the top side (that you wont be able to see) but demonstrates the construction which is standard 6mm foamboard. The outer edges are 30 thou plasticard scored at 30mm intervals to represent panels. The reason for the 2 rows per side of foamboard is its easy to drill a 3mm hole through the inner one and pop an LED through (I use cheap strings of Christmas tree lights to save a lot of soldering).

BNS-canopy-undersideThis is the underside.  The ribs are just evergreen board and batten sheets, the whole lot was sprayed black and then sanded to get back to the black and white pattern. The cutouts are for pillars and structures on the platform which will need to support the shopping center above.  By using foamboard you can position it on the platform and then press down to get an imprint of where the holes need to be.  Below is the finished result which I feel captures the feel of the place before its facelift in the early 1990’s.



What’s wrong with this picture?

Given the recent appearance of some of my images in a recent magazine, which were a bit of an embarrassment if I am honest, it might seem strange that I want to touch on the subject of photography but never the less…

My first job was as an illustrator. Illustration is a very proactive thing to do, you have complete control over the end result. My second job was as a photo finisher. Photography is a very reactive thing to do as you have to make the best of what is in front of you. Finishing even more so as you have to make the best of what someone else thought was the best they could do. I am no photographer I can assure you but given that I have finished literally hundreds of thousands of images that are taken by professional photographers I do at least know the theory.

Owning an expensive camera will most likely make your pictures better but it will not make you a photographer, just as owning a pencil will not make you an illustrator but there are a few things that you can do that will help you when taking pictures of models. Photography of models kind of crosses the boundary of the 2 disciplines as you have control over the subject and the camera. Lets start with what not to do.


The above image has several areas that are open to improvement. It’s too saturated, and its over sharpened, it looks too Photoshopped. Also it has too much magenta in it, the wall is a grey/blue in reality not purple. The loco is framed too high and there is a horrible tangent between the roof of the loco and the building behind it.


First things first, All images NEED to be finished, what the camera gives you will never be the best it can be. Theres a lot of ways to finish an image in Photoshop but most of them are quick wins and actually go some way to destroying the image. Things like auto levels, brightness/contrast, sharpening, hue/saturation all do the job but badly. The truth is you only need to learn how to use curves as this will do all of those things with far more control and less damage. Basically curves is a line between black and white that can be bent. The other methods are more like a slider on a scale. In curves your white point will be top right, your black point bottom left. Once these are set they will not change so no matter how much you play with the curves your blacks will always be black and your whites will always be white. You can choose to lighten the image in a particular tonal area, such as towards the dark end to bring up the detail in an underframe and it wont effect the highlights. Moving the brightness up moves the whole image and you gain detail in the darks but lose detail in the lights. You can also select channels and adjust them in the same way, focusing on a particular colour in a particular tonal range. Making the curve into an S shape will adjust the contrast again without losing the blacks and whites. It’s very powerful and once learnt (aside from the camera doing something odd) it’s all you really need to know.


Sharpening is best avoided – get the image sharply focussed before you take it not after. However there is a way to improve a slightly soft image without it looking too Photoshopped. Using the sharpen tools in a colour image will sharpen the colours too, this is not what you want to do so the trick is to hop into LAB colour mode (which is immensely powerful but a lot of work to get your head round) select the lightness channel and only sharpen that. Result – a sharper image without affecting the colour


Having worked with an awful lot of professional photographers composition is not something they are all that sophisticated in, usually because it’s not something they have a lot of control over. Many will use the rules of thirds and that’s about it. (the focus of the picture should be 1/3rd of the way into the image). However illustrators are quite sophisticated in this regard as they do have the control they need. Ideas like leaders, lines of action etc are quite normal and can make an illustration almost move. You will be guided through the image exactly as the illustrator wanted you to be and will not even know that you are doing it. Good Illustrators and designers are some of the most manipulative people you will come across in terms of making you do what they want. With a model its more still life than anything, you set the scene and its worth thinking about how everything interacts to get the result you want. In the image above the loco is too high in the frame. If it were lower it would have more mass to it and would convince the viewer that its heavy.


Tangents are a big problem in illustration and to be avoided at all costs. They are a big problem in model photography too but not a lot of people understand them. Referring back to the image of the 31 there is a horrible tangent where the line of the roof between the loco and the building meet. Simply put a tangent is where 2 lines of different things in the image meet. Things like a buffer appearing to join with a signal are common and are things that professionals will look to avoid. It’s what makes the difference between a professional image and one that isn’t. If I had moved the camera down a bit you wouldn’t see the roof of the building, moved it up and the roof would have been distinct so as it is its in just the right place to spoil the image.

Light and doing it badly

Light is where you can really make a difference and a lot of images are lit with little or no thought. (its worth mentioning at this stage that if you want to Photoshop a real sky onto an image of a model its a good idea to make sure they are both lit from the same direction!) This is one area where you can transform an image easily and the best way to do this is to do it deliberately badly.

class-85s-parkedHere we have a fairly typical model image – lit from the direction of the camera but slightly off set. In the real world light is not always where you would like it to be so its worth experimenting with it as a less ideal image can have a better impact

class-85s-in-the-darkThe same image lit from above (where the flood light would be) looks much more interesting even though much of the detail is lost. This sort of image would probably be a reject if taken in the real world but as a model its a bit different or unusual.

Black and White

Theres a right way and a very wrong way to turn a colour image black and white.

overview-1-march-2011greyThis is the wrong way but its the easiest – convert the image to greyscale. The problem is that the definition between colours is lost. I know that sounds odd in a black and white image but certain colours while very different are also similar in tone. Rail blue and Warning Panel Yellow are a good example and will appear very similar when converted to greyscale.

overview-1-march-2011bwThis is the right way and its back to using the Lightness channel in LAB mode. Theres much more definition and tonal variety.

The Photoshop argument

People are either indifferent or heavily against deliberate Photoshopping. Things like adding smoke etc really don’t bother me as the whole process of model railways is trying to fool the viewer into thinking, just for a second, that the object they are looking at is not a foot long piece of plastic but a 100+ tonnes of locomotive. Obviously using Photoshop to fix a bad model is somewhat different. It’s funny how those most vocal against the use of Photoshop usually are the first to defend using the wrong gauge or unrealistic couplings.

Of course if you are going to add a photoshop sky make sure it’s lit from the same direction as the model and if you are going to add a thick exhaust smoke to your steam locos, don’t forget to add it to their shadows too!

Next time you take a model picture think about composition, look out for things like tangents and ask yourself, Can I make this more interesting?

28th April 2013

I few new things to look at this time. I have made a start on the wagons section and added more pictures to the coaches section.

hst-at-BNS-april2012I have also been working on a pair of blue and grey HST power cars, you can see more pictures of one of them in the Locomotives section.