All posts by Heather Kavanagh

A day—or two—out

When you work for yourself, and your other half is retired, it’s very easy to forget to take holidays. Well, I find it easy to forget. To overcome this problem, we’ve decided to try to take short breaks that happen to coincide with model railway meetings of one kind or another. The precedent has been set by our annual jaunt to Telford for the Gauge O Guild exhibition.

This past weekend we wandered up to the West Midlands. We stayed in Oldbury, in one of those identikit hotels, on a short visit that encompassed the ScaleSeven Group’s AGM at the nearby Warley Model Railway Club’s premises. We travelled up from darn sarf on Friday, had the AGM on Saturday (feeling relaxed and refreshed by not having made the journey on the day), and pottered back home on the Sunday.

With time in hand, we made a slight detour to a local attraction before heading home.

Blakesley Hall, according to Wikipedia, “is a Tudor hall on Blakesley Road in Yardley, Birmingham, England. It is one of the oldest buildings in Birmingham and is a typical example of Tudor architecture with the use of darkened timber and wattle-and-daub infill, with an external lime render which is painted white. The extensive use of close studding and herringbone patterns on all sides of the house make this a home that was designed to show the wealth and status of the owner.”

The house and gardens are run by the Birmingham Museums. Originally a farmhouse set in its own land, the hall is now surrounded by 1930s housing estates. Nevertheless, once you enter the property, it is a tiny oasis of calm in the bustle of a suburban environment.

There is a modern entry block, with the gift shop, toilets and a tea room. On the day we visited, there was a display of various birds of prey. Volunteers were on hand to guide round the house, explaining about the building and its contents, and the histories of its various owners.

If you find yourself in the Birmingham area and have a couple of hours to spare, visit Blakesley Hall. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, and you might too.

You can see some more of the images I took on our visit on my Flickr page.

British Railways Co-Co 10001

I’ve always had a particular fondness for the pioneer British mainline diesels. Actually, let’s put it another way: I’ve always had a particular fondness for one-offs, oddities and prototypes. The latest commission to leave the workbench definitely falls into the latter category.

In 1946, the London, Midland & Scottish Railway—at the time the largest company in the world—was looking to the future. Britain’s railways had effectively been ground into the dust as everyone and everything focused on winning a world war. The board of the railway agreed to invest cash in a speculative test of two diesel electric locomotives. Designs were drawn up in the Derby Works drawing office, and a partnership formed with English Electric, whose experience would furnish the power plant, electrical and control equipment. While diesels were commonplace in the United States, and much of that country’s experience was called upon, a design was created that set the standard for UK mainline diesel locos for many decades to come.

Finished in a striking black and silver livery, the first loco to emerge from the works was 10000. It’s sibling was held back to ensure the LMS could extract as much publicity for its new machines as possible—just as Britain’s railways were nationalised. 10000, in fact, was unveiled to the public and press in early December 1947. After a few test runs and jaunts for the press, the unfinished loco returned to Derby for completion and certain improvements. Meanwhile, in early 1948, 10001 appeared with slightly less fanfare.

Both locos continued to be updated and modified throughout their careers. They worked the Midland Region routes on a variety of trains, both singly and as a pair (termed working “in multiple”, where one driver could operate both units from a single cab). In the early 1950s, both locos were despatched to the Southern Region, where they were again tested on various trains. By the late 1950s, diesel traction was becoming more commonplace and eventually, being prototypes and non-standard, both locomotives were withdrawn. 10000 was scrapped in 1963, while 10001 lingered at the Derby works until 1966.

The model represents 10001 as it was delivered to British Railways in 1948. It has been built, to a scale of 7mm to the foot (1/43rd), using reference materials published by Wild Swan and a kit from Just Like The Real Thing. A cosmetic diesel engine has been installed, and the cabs have been detailed and painted as accurately as possible. Various other details have been added to make this model as true to the original as I could make it, though there have been some inevitable compromises made along the way. The model was commissioned by a client to match with his existing model of 10000. The latter model has also been remotored and given updated electronics, and both models have been tested together as a pair.

Oddly, I have another model of 10001 under construction. This time, it’s as the loco appeared in 1953, so there will be some subtle external differences, although still in the striking black and silver livery.

On a personal note, you will have noticed my blogging has been quiet of late. The state of the world, you’d think, would give me plenty to rant about. You would be correct, of course, but for the sake of my mental and physical health I am trying my best to keep the world at arm’s length. You should hear what I bellow at the television “news”, mind you! I also have had one or two issues with the WordPress installation, and I may need to think about extending my allocated server space. With plenty of other things on my plate, I’m afraid this blog has been rather neglected.

I am a professional modelmaker. I take commissions for, in the main, 7mm scale model railway subjects. I have a full order book for the rest of 2017, and I’m already taking commissions for 2018. You can see some examples of my work on my web site.

The Things You Find

I periodically attempt a tidying up and clearing out session. In spite of our modern digital world, “important” paperwork just seems to multiply. I am the worst kind of person to make decisions about what can safely be discarded, and so the piles grow.

While on one of my periodical sifting sessions, I uncovered some funny things I had kept for some reason. Funny, in this case, means amusing.

First was a parody of the small print you sometimes find at the bottom of corporate emails.


This email is intended for the use of the individual addressee(s) named above and may contain information that is confidential, privileged or unsuitable for overly sensitive persons of low self-esteem, no sense of humour or irrational religious beliefs.

If you are not the intended recipient, any dissemination, distribution or copying of this email is not authorised (either explicitly or implicitly) and constitutes an irritating social faux pas.

Unless the word absquatulation has been used in its correct context somewhere other than this warning, it does not have any legal or grammatical use and may be ignored.

No animals were harmed in the transmission of this email, although the yorkie next door is living on borrowed time, let me tell you.

Those of you with an overwhelming fear of the unknown will be gratified to learn that there is no hidden message revealed by reading this warning backwards, so just ignore that alert notice from Microsoft. However, by pouring a complete circle of salt around yourself and your computer or handheld device you can ensure no harm befalls you or your pets.

If you have received this email in error, please place it in a warm oven for 40 minutes and add some nutmeg and egg whites. Whisk briefly and let it stand for two hours before icing.


When I mention the foregoing paper had a time stamp of April 2000 on it, you will begin to realise the extent of my paper hoarding powers!

Next, some ways to maintain a healthy level of insanity—probably more relevant today, considering the way our world seems to be heading.


  1. At lunchtime, sit in your parked car with sunglasses on and all the hairdryer at passing cars. See if they slowdown.
  2. Page yourself over the intercom. Don’t disguise your voice.
  3. Every time someone asks you to do something, ask if they want fries with that.
  4. Put your garbage can on your desk and label it “IN”.
  5. Put the caffeine in the coffee maker for three weeks. Once everyone has got over the caffeine addiction switch to espresso.
  6. Finish all your sentences with “in accordance with the prophecy”.
  7. Dont use any punctuation
  8. As often as possible, skip rather than walk.
  9. Ask people what sex they are. Laugh hysterically after they answer.
  10. Specify that your drive-through order is “to go”.
  11. Sing along at the opera.
  12. Go to a poetry recital and ask why the poems don’t rhyme.
  13. Put mosquito netting around your work area and play tropical sounds all day.
  14. Five days in advance, tell your friends you can’t attend the party because you’re not in the mood.
  15. Have your co-workers address you by your wrestling name—rockhard.
  16. When the money comes out of the ATM scream “I won! I won!”.
  17. When leaving the zoo, start running towards the car park yelling “Run for your lives, they’re loose!”.
  18. Tell your children over dinner, “Due to the economy, we are going to have to let one of you go”.

I hope you enjoyed those. I don’t recall exactly where they came from, especially after all these years, so feel free to plagiarise them to your heart’s content.

In other news, after a slightly rocky upgrade of this blog software earlier, which has left some of the plugins in a precarious situation, I am starting to look at alternatives to WordPress. The WordPress iOS app is also a pile of doodah, too. I can work locally, but it always seems to fail to connect to the server and save the work. This blog was written on the iThing, but it didn’t appear in the drafts on the main computer when logged in. So, I had to cut and paste across a couple of apps just to get here.

Anyway, while I investigate and ponder changes, it’s probably going to be business as usual here until I can set things up—assuming I manage to without too many tears!

A journey into sound

When I was very young, my parents owned a reel-to-reel tape recorder. It had multiple speed playback and twin tracks. My sister and I played with this thing for hours, making funny noises, over-dubbing sounds, and generally having a high old time.

I was hooked. As they often say, “the colours are better on radio”. Theatre of the mind, where your imagination fills in the images from the sounds alone. I have a particular fondness for sound effects records, and ambient sounds of real places in particular. It’s just another of those myriad creative pastimes I’ve developed through my life.

Have a search around the interweb and you’ll find numerous projects which aim to capture for posterity sounds of the every day mundanities of life. Things like birdsong in an urban environment, the sound of a stream trickling through a culvert, the 8.15 to Harpenden… that kind of thing. A favourite is the London Sound Survey. Sound, for many, is something we don’t often think about, and with most of us plugged into headphones or earbuds, blocking out the world around us, it’s easy to lose that audible connection with our surroundings.

Anyway, last year, Best Beloved and I invested in a modern digital audio recorder. We’ve owned various analogue and digital recorders over the years, but most were strictly linear in form. You recorded the sound, you played the recording back, and if you wanted to get the sound into another format you had to transfer it real time. No accessing a digital file in those days. Now, with the new toy, we could make a recording, and get it into the computer for editing with a few clicks of a mouse.

Long story short, we are steadily building a library of some commonplace sounds of our modern world—and some of our not-so-modern world. To that end, I’ve set up a SoundCloud account where we can share the edited recordings with the world. The first playlist I’ve created is of recordings made on the Severn Valley Railway, Shropshire, last year. For best results, play back through good speakers, or a good set of headphones.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/playlists/259485122″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

 

A week later!

Telford was an excellent exhibition, a credit to the organisers and managing crew. I spent the weekend talking, buying, and ending up tired out! I handed finished models to clients, and collected some new commissioned work. I think it was a good show.

Lots of nice textures and colours were about. I wonder if all the cast plates were made on the site?

As is now our habit, we stayed in the Telford area for a couple of days after the exhibition. Our plans were flexible, with museums and the Severn Valley Railway high on the agenda. Monday saw us visit the Blists Hill Victorian Town. The link explains what the place is all about, and it proved a pleasant afternoon of wandering about. I spent much of the time cursing my DSLR, which is really cursing myself for being thick. I really need to get out with the beast more often and learn how to drive it properly again.

It would have been lovely to have seen more activity around the town. It was rather as if the inhabitants had all gone on a charabanc trip to the seaside and left everything unlocked.

Our last day we went to Bridgnorth and visited the SVR. We took the digital sound recording gear, in the hopes of more excellent recordings such as we had last year. Sadly, I hadn’t slept at all well the previous night, so our visit was somewhat curtailed. I still haven’t had a chance to edit the recordings we made. In fact, I’ve not even listened back to them, which is quite telling on what I think about them.

So, that’s the Big Exhibition over for another year. Back at home, I spent the rest of the week nursing a toothache and setting out plans for the year ahead. I have, it seems, a lot of work to be getting on with!

That time again!

It’s September, so that means it’s Guildex, the annual shindig of the Gauge O Guild at Telford. This year is a big one, because the Guild is celebrating their 60th birthday. For the past couple of years I have been a guest demonstrator as part of the Just Like The Real team. This year, I’m attending as a paying punter, for various reasons.

I do enjoy demonstrating at exhibitions. (By “demonstrating” I mean showing how I do things, rather than waving placards and shouting slogans!) Best Beloved and I were very regular exhibitors at model railway shows for many years, but we stepped back a little from the limelight when we did 14 exhibitions in a year. That’s a lot of weekends, when you think about it. We found we didn’t have time to prepare and repair the models before the next show was on us, so we called it a day.

Since I’ve been trying to build the modelmaking business, I’ve been keen to attend as many shows as I can. Most often I’m as a paying customer, but it is nice to be asked to be an exhibitor—if only because the parking gets a bit easier!

So, this year, I’m a visitor. As a Guild member, I’ve got a ticket for a measly fiver that lets me and Best Beloved visit the show on both days. As a wandering entity, I will be able to talk to more people, see more of the show, and generally cover more ground than when I’m tied to a demonstration table. Well, that’s the plan.

A 1/43rd scale MMP kit, built with modifications to include electric train heating and air braking equipment.

JLTRT 7mm scale kit of a Collett 57ft Bow-ended E127 1st/3rd composite coach.

It also means I can meet clients and hand over completed models, like the ones above, as well as discuss new commissions and collect more boxes!

We don’t generally do holidays, but we treat this annual expedition to Shropshire as a short break. We will stay on for a couple of days, and do some sight-seeing. It’s a nice part of the world, and worth visiting without the attraction of a model railway exhibition. Of course, it means I’m currently in the panic stage, worrying about booking into the hotel, finding parking at the exhibition venue, whether we’ve forgotten something and so on. I’ve made a check list, but I bet there’s something obvious I shall forget, probably because I didn’t put it on the list!

Feeling at home

IMG_3644

There he is, reclining across my test track, near an open window. Billy-puss has now been living with us for just over two months, and he has definitely decided this is his forever home.

IMG_3372

Billy-puss, the helping cat. Helping to distract me from paying work would be more accurate!

IMG_3531

Billy-puss, the supervisor. He likes to stamp his approval, and here he is making sure I was weatherproofing the Big Shed properly.

IMG_0173

Just a perfect Billy-puss size. Sadly, he soon discovered this gap on the workbench shelving was earmarked for non-furry things.

IMG_0172

Billy-puss investigating the cause of a loud crash at the front door the other day. A bumper issue of the Gauge O Guild Gazette, filled with AGM and exhibition news, made a serious dent in the mat!

IMG_3551

When you can’t find him, it’s more than likely Billy-puss is snuggled up in the alcove under our coffee table. He will happily spend most of the day in there. It’s out of the way and, more importantly at this time of year, reasonably cool.

IMG_0180

Cuddles are definitely a thing. He does like to be groomed—and with long hair we’ve very nearly got enough fluff collected to make a pair of gloves.

Best Beloved and I are very happy that Billy has decided he likes living here. He has more than filled the gaping hole left by Sophie. Let’s hope Billy Whizz will be with us for many years to come.

More Collett Coaches

One of my earliest commissions, some years ago now, was to build three Collett coaches from Just Like The Real Thing kits. Who would believe another different client would commission three almost identical coaches a year or so later!

JLTRT 7mm scale kit of a Collett 57ft Bow-ended E127 1st/3rd composite coach.
JLTRT 7mm scale kit of a Collett 57ft Bow-ended E127 1st/3rd composite coach.
JLTRT 7mm scale kit of a Collett 57ft Bow-ended C54 All Third coach.
JLTRT 7mm scale kit of a Collett 57ft Bow-ended C54 All Third coach.
JLTRT 7mm scale kit of a Collett 57ft Bow-ended D94 Brake Third coach.
JLTRT 7mm scale kit of a Collett 57ft Bow-ended D94 Brake Third coach.

These models are all to 1/43rd scale, 7mm to 1ft, and Finescale O Gauge. As they will run as a semi-permanent set, the client requested Kadee knuckle couplings between the vehicles, leaving the standard screw-link couplings at the outer ends. The livery is the first British Railways “blood and custard”, which was applied to gangwayed passenger stock from 1948 until 1956. Although virtually impossible to see, the interiors have been fitted out as authentically as possible, and the guard’s compartment is fully detailed as well.

In case you missed it—although it would be hard to do!—I am a professional modelmaker. I take commissions to build chiefly UK-outline railway subjects to 7mm scale. You can see more about my work on my web site, or follow me on Twitter (@HKModelmaker).

BR Mk1 RMB

The workshop has seen a few builds come to a conclusion—or near conclusion in one case—in the past couple of weeks. Sometimes I find commissioned work gets bogged down for various reasons, and oddly this seems to get worse the closer to completion a model gets. I can’t explain why, but it’s probably to do with lots of little bits and pieces, sub-assemblies and paint jobs all taking their time to come together.

Just completed, aside from one or two quality control issues that appeared after the appointment with the official photographer, is an etched brass kit of a Mk1 RMB (Restaurant Miniature Buffet). This has been a rather protracted build, due in part to ineptitude on my side, and it being a complex kit of several thousand components.

A 1/43rd scale MMP kit, built with modifications to include electric train heating and air braking equipment.

The model represents an RMB, dating from the early 1960s but still running in service in the early 1980s. The kit was adapted to show the modifications and upgrades made to the vehicles over the years. Modifications included strips down the sides of each door, designed to prevent corrosion, and the inclusion of air braking and electric train heating equipment in addition to the vacuum braking and steam heating.

A 1/43rd scale MMP kit, built with modifications to include electric train heating and air braking equipment.

The Diagram 99 Restaurant Miniature Buffet coach was built with Commonwealth bogies, weighed in at 38 tons, and could seat 44 passengers in two saloons either side of the bar area. The smaller saloon was designated as non-smoking from new. This particular vehicle was built at BR’s Wolverton Works in north Buckinghamshire in 1960 as part of Lot 30520, and it was originally allocated to the Scottish Region. The model is built to a scale of 1/43rd, 7mm to 1ft, and to ScaleSeven standards. A lot of research was needed to get the underframe details as accurate as possible, enhancing an already comprehensive kit.

A 1/43rd scale MMP kit, built with modifications to include electric train heating and air braking equipment.

This view shows some of the additional braking equipment fitted below the frames. The interior of the coach is also fully modelled—though, sadly, the client didn’t want scale representations of styrofoam cups, stale cheese sandwiches or concrete pork pies!

A 1/43rd scale MMP kit, built with modifications to include electric train heating and air braking equipment.

The buffer beam detailing was interesting and challenging, with the requirement to fit the extra air brake pipework and ETH sockets.

The kit’s designer knows the real thing intimately, and has managed to capture a lot of the subtle detailing of a Mk1 coach in his kit. It is probably safe to say this is about the most accurate Mk1 kit on the market today. As a build, it has been challenging, occasionally frustrating, but ultimately rewarding. There are parts I wish I could have done better, but that seems to always be the way with professional modelmaking.

I build railway models, mainly O Gauge (7mm scale), professionally. You can see more of my work, and read a little about what I do for a living, at my web site. You can follow me on Twitter (search for @HKModelmaker).

And there’s more!

While I had the lightbox out for the diesel photo shoot, I thought it might be fun to take some mini diorama shots of some model aircraft I’ve been building on and off as part of my ongoing Summer 1940 obsession.

Bristol Blenheim MkIVF WR-L, No 248 Squadron Coastal Command, is prepared for another patrol over the North Sea, some time in 1940. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly pickup; Flightpath Fordson tractor; Matador Models Albion AM463 refueller.

Bristol Blenheim MkIVF WR-L, No 248 Squadron Coastal Command, is prepared for another patrol over the North Sea, some time in 1940. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly pickup; Flightpath Fordson tractor; Matador Models Albion AM463 refueller.

Bristol Blenheim MkIVF WR-L, No 248 Squadron Coastal Command, is prepared for another patrol over the North Sea, some time in 1940. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly pickup; Flightpath Fordson tractor; Matador Models Albion AM463 refueller.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley MkV, GE-B of No 58 Squadron Bomber Command, Linton-on-Ouse, North Yorkshire, gets some last minute attention before being bombed up for a night raid. Summer 1940. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly and Bedford ML pickups; Flightpath Fordson tractor.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley MkV, GE-B of No 58 Squadron Bomber Command, Linton-on-Ouse, North Yorkshire, gets some last minute attention before being bombed up for a night raid. Summer 1940. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly and Bedford ML pickups; Flightpath Fordson tractor.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley MkV, GE-B of No 58 Squadron Bomber Command, Linton-on-Ouse, North Yorkshire, gets some last minute attention before being bombed up for a night raid. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly and Bedford ML pickups; Flightpath Fordson tractor.

Traditionally, the Battle of Britain is seen as the mighty Luftwaffe, with four types of bomber and two types of fighter, ranged against the plucky RAF sporting two types of fighter and a few hangers on. My view, and of some historians of the subject, is once you take into account Bomber and Coastal Command numbers, the odds were much more even. So, as kits have become available, I have been adding the other commands to my Royal Air Force collection. In my stash I have a Handley Page Hampden, and I would love a decent Vickers Wellington and Airfix to reissue the Fairey Battle to make my Bomber Command fleet complete.

The only problem with all this model aircraft malarkey is where to store or display them! Outside of cabinets, they’re proper dust magnets!