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Belated updates

It’s definitely been one of those years, hasn’t it? Best Beloved and I had made lots of plans to do lots of things during 2020, and none of them—well, almost none of them—have happened. The Coronavirus pandemic has seen to that.

Personal medical issues had also seen to a lot of them, before the pandemic really hit. Happily, while not completely resolved, I am back to almost full health now. Longer term, who knows?

Earlier in the year I wrote about making changes here. I still want to make those changes, but I’m a bit stumped about how to make any progress on them. I will get there, just not in a hurry. Nothing seems at all important any more.

With all the stuff going on, I neglected this blog again. This mild post is by way of recompense. The following are few updates and links to interesting stuff that’s been keeping me sane this past year or so.

First, you may dimly recall I posted about a chap who was walking around the coastline of mainland Britain. I think I’ve since deleted my post, but you’ll be glad to know Quintin Lake has completed his odyssey. He documented his walk with stunning photos. I hope there’s a book or something more than just a web site. Anyway, go and have a look.

I used to watch a fair amount of telly back in the day. I enjoyed a lot of documentaries on science and history, the occasional movie, some comedy shows. Last Christmas, 2019, I recorded a lot of good stuff to catch up on over the festive period. Most of it I still haven’t actually watched. In fact, the PVR has hardly been turned on during the past year. I am wondering whether I really need television at all. If the set broke right now, I doubt I would bother to investigate a replacement. The space gained in the corner of the living room could gainfully be used to store more books!

YouTube, however, has seen me visit almost daily. I love messing with their algorithms, but that’s another story. The following are just some of the channels I find I have subscribed to and follow enthusiastically.

Bad Obsession Motorsport have been on my radar for some years now. I found the post I made back in 2014: Project Binky. I was enthralled by the engineering, the humour, and the very notion of cramming a Japanese four-wheel drive transmission and engine into a Mini. You will be unsurprised that Project Binky is still unfinished, though it is very close to completion. Go and have a look at the BOM channel. The latest escapades include reworking an old mobile library truck to make a car transporter, and haring round various racing circuits in a tiny city car. You won’t be disappointed.

With the petrol fumes still hanging in the air, another motoring related channel is Hubnut. Ian Seabrook is a former motoring magazine writer and editor who has a deep and abiding love of the mediocre cars of the 20th century. The channel covers his adventures in mediocrity, test driving all kinds of cars, the comings and goings on his “fleet”, “tinkering” and sometimes not breaking his cars, his travels—most recently a lengthy pre-Covid trip to New Zealand and Australia where he drove, unsurprisingly, some fascinating vehicles—and life in general.

Changing gear, literally and metaphorically, take a look at Nicola White’s Thames Mudlarking channel Tideline Art. Lots of mud, lots of history, and some explorations of the Medway estuary thrown in.

Still in a watery theme, Cruising The Cut is a channel I happened upon, when the YouTube algorithms did something right. To quote his own About page:

Cruising The Cut is a video blog by a man who sold up, quit his job and bought a narrowboat then went cruising around the UK canal network. It features life on board, beautiful scenery and places to visit plus tips and tricks.

That sums it up nicely. About twenty years ago, Best Beloved and I went on a week’s canal cruise and really enjoyed it. I thought I might be able to take to the slower pace of life, and the various limitations living on a narrow boat would bring. Watching Cruising The Cut, however, has convinced me the life wouldn’t be for me—at least, not permanently.

Finally, a channel that makes you wonder how on earth I stumbled across it—Caenhill Countryside Centre. I’ll be honest, and say it came via Twitter. An account I follow retweeted a short video entitled “the Morning Rush Hour” which consisted of huge numbers of poultry, ducks, geese, sheep, turkeys, goats, cats, an emu or two and a couple of pigs literally rushing through a barn door to be fed first thing of a morning. It was a feathery madness, with a star goose called Cuthbert. All the animals have names, and it transpired many are rescue animals being cared for by the farmer, who also really enjoys giving his animals voices so they can engage in conversation. I know, it sounds mad, but it’s endearing in an odd kind of way. More than that, Caenhill Countryside Centre is a working farm near Devizes in Wiltshire, but also a charity that helps young people learn about the countryside. They have just won an award for their social media and internet work over the past year, where they have been bringing fun and education to the world via all forms of social media. During the pandemic lockdowns, struggling themselves to make ends meet as their main forms of income were being cut back and nobody could visit the farm, Chris, Carline and Kara kept things going and kept entertaining the world. Sadly, we learned this week that Cuthbert the Goose, and Chris the Farmer’s best friend (his own words) had died after a lengthy illness over the summer. We will miss Cuthbert, but he did manage to father a couple of right tearaways, Giggle and Benedict, who are becoming stars in their own rights.

Well, there we are. The future of this blog is still in the balance, ideas are still being mulled, perhaps something will happen before the year is out. Wherever you are, please look after yourselves, your families and friends, and stay safe.

British Railways Diesel Electric Co-Co 10001 (redux)

The so-called LMS Twins, a pair of 1,600hp diesel electric locomotives that had been designed and built at the British Railways Locomotive Works at Derby in 1947–48, were proper prototypes. They were both right at the leading edge of railway design of the time, and needed to be thoroughly tested. By 1953, both locos had been updated and modified, and were moved to the Southern Region for more testing. They were joined by their larger cousins, 10201, 10202 and 10203, designed by the former CME of the Southern Railway, OVS Bulleid.

By the end of the 1950s, diesel traction was entering the BR fleet in numbers, and the prototype diesels were moved back to Derby make it easier for maintenance. Relegated to secondary duties, and painted in less flamboyant liveries, all five prototypes were eventually withdrawn and scrapped. 10001 lingered at Derby until 1966. Sadly, none of these locos was considered worthy of adding the national collection. There is an organisation trying to build a recreation 10000, the pioneer loco from 1947.

This commission build was to make a representation of 10001 as it appeared in 1953. Various updates and modifications were made to the Just Like The Real Thing kit, such as revised roof grilles and the air horn brackets this loco featured until 1954. The client requested a light weathering, so I’ve aimed for grubby but cared for. The bogies showed the grime a lot, being finished in an aluminium silver paint, so I’ve concentrated dirt round there.

This is my second 10001 build. The previous one represented the loco in its as-built 1948 condition.

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.

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” /]

 

Feeling at home

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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.

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

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

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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).

Where does the time go?

Hello, remember me? I know. It’s been a long time, but I don’t always have time to keep the blog updated. When I worked at a desk, pushing pixels about all day, then it was easier. Now, I’m pushing bits of metal and plastic about at a workbench, and I rarely sit at the desk even to deal with my email!

So, what’s been happening since my last post? Quite a bit, really. I’ve almost completed two commissions, spent a weekend at a big model railway exhibition up in the Midlands—and came back home with three new commissions to add to the pile—and spent a bit of time sorting the house out.

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On the modelling front, I’ve been doing some personal stuff to do with my ongoing—lifetime? It seems like it!—Battle of Britain project. Airfix has been helping out in this 75th anniversary year by producing some useful vehicle kits (and a slew of new aircraft kits) in the correct scale, one of them being the towed oil bowser here. The tractor is from Flightpath, and was a fiddly but ultimately satisfying cast and etched kit of a Fordson tractor. I now notice Flightpath has introduced the bowser as well, complete with the tractor.

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A couple of kits that have been lurking around the bench for several years also saw some progress. The Albion refueller on the left is typical RAF airfield fodder from the early Second World War; the Crossley breakdown and workshop lorry is less so, but still makes a nice model. The difference between 1/72nd and 1/76th scales becomes apparent here, as the Crossley is the latter, which makes it slightly under scale compared to the Albion.

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Meanwhile, the L&YR Aspinall saddle tank was lettered up, by client request. I delivered it in this shiny form at Telford earlier this month, at the Gauge 0 Guild convention. I looked away and when I looked back it had been weathered by my fellow weekend demonstrator, who goes by the name “Dodgy” Manton. I ought to have taken a picture! A fine job he did, as well.

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This beast is a GWR 5200 Class 2-8-0T, which has been passed to me as a “finish it for me” commission. This is as far as my client got, so I really don’t have a lot to do to complete it.

(Famous last words…)

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At the other end of the GWR spectrum, another broad gauge 6-wheeler has rolled out of the works. It needs a little weathering, but is otherwise complete. My next build for this client is something a little larger, so watch this space.

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Another commission nearing completion is this WD 2-8-0. It’s a big old model, and is just waiting for me to pluck up the courage to make it look dirty. This type of loco was pretty famous for being anything but clean when in service, so I need to break out the weathering and get it looking used.

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Finally, a fairly ropey photo of an ex-GWR Crocodile G trolley wagon, which I built up from a kit I’ve had in the personal stash for several years. I realised I needed some completed models I could show when demonstrating at exhibitions, preferably ones which were going to hang around for a while and not be passed on to their proper owners as soon as they are finished! I have several wagon and coach models I plan to try and complete for showing off purposes, and pragmatically I have opted to build them to 0 Gauge fine scale rather than ScaleSeven, in case someone makes me an offer to buy.

As I have two almost complete builds now, I am considering which models come next in the pecking order. Currently on the bench is an early diesel loco, and I ought to consider beginning construction of three coaches that have also appeared. As I type, I have something like a year’s work, which is satisfying and scary at the same time.

In case it wasn’t obvious, I am a professional modelmaker, specialising in 7mm scale (0 gauge) models. I try to keep the showcase section of my web site updated regularly.

There are lots of small worlds out there

Model villages. We’re not talking about Legoland here, though that does kind of count I suppose. It does indeed appear I am not alone in my fascination for recreating the real world in miniature form. This chap, Tim Dunn, has taken his childhood fascination to an extra level and is busy documenting and recording—even saving parts of—model villages and towns of all kinds.

I salute him.

Catching up

Hello. It’s been a while, hasn’t it. Sorry about that, but I’ve been busy. Larking about updating blogs has been fairly low on the agenda. I have been updating the social media stuff, but this blog needs a little more time and thinking about.

So, what have I been up to?

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Well, Just Like The Real Thing asked me if I’d like to demonstrate building their kits at one of the biggest O Gauge shows in the country. With all expenses paid, who could refuse an offer like that? At the same time, they were to reveal a new diesel loco kit, and I got to build the show stand version, which you can see above.

The weekend was quite successful. I think I picked up a couple of new clients—which was part of the exercise—and had a good old chat with friends old and new. I think we may do it again.

WD tender

I set about this tender, which matches an Austerity 2-8-0 which I have yet to begin. This build was an exercise in refreshing my head after some tussles with the coach kit lurking behind it. There are still unresolved issues with that build, but I think I can see a way forward.

BG van

Fun and games have also ensued with a GWR broad gauge passenger luggage van build. This is proper old school modelling, as it used to be back in the 1970s and 1980s. The basic body shell is provided by the Broad Gauge Society, but the underframe, suspension, door handles, couplings and plenty more, have to be sourced from various suppliers. The underframe has been built, dismantled and rebuilt several times, and I think I’m almost happy with it now. I’ve finally got the body parts soldered together, and some thoughts are forming about how to tackle the roof. The client is happy, and seems intent on sending some more kits my way—so I think it’s time I set up a dedicated broad gauge test track to make sure things are running nicely.

On a similar tack, and a similar vintage to the broad gauge vehicles, I was commissioned to “breathe my magic” on three Slater’s GWR 4-wheeled coaches. They had been acquired second-hand, and came in various stages of completion. One was unbuilt, one was mostly built, and one was, quite frankly, a basket case.

Deans (1 of 4)

Deans (2 of 4)

This is the unbuilt kit, or rather was the unbuilt kit. I’ve made up the underframe and begun the body work. It’s helped me understand how the kits go together so I can disassemble the basket case and make it properly.

Deans (4 of 4) Deans (3 of 4)

This is various parts of the basket case. I’ve stripped the model down, stripped some frankly appalling paint off the body, and retrieved most of the underframe components for cleaning up and repairing. The plan is to get all three models to more or less the same state of build so they can be painted as a batch.

That’s just some of the work I’ve been up to lately. I haven’t mentioned the diesel and electric locos being worked on, or the ready-to-run diesels waiting for the client to source detailing parts, or the steadily growing waiting list of commissions that should see me busy well into 2015!

In the meanwhile I’ve found time to revamp the web site, although it needs some work to make it play properly with mobile devices. You can keep up with me on Twitter (@snaptophobic), and I am a regular poster on the Western Thunder forum.

On the home straight

The Mark 1 coach build is nearing completion. As I type the sides have been given a top coat of varnish to seal the transfers in place and protect them and the paintwork from handling.

Placing the transfers has taken me a couple of days to complete. The chosen livery has two colours, and the demarcation between them has fine black and gold lining. The way the colours split means two parallel rows of lining on each side, so eight sets of lining to do in total for this build.

I used waterslide transfers from a company called Fox Transfers. If you’ve ever built an Airfix kit, you’ll know what I mean by “waterslide”. You trim out the transfer you want and immerse it in water for some seconds, and then it slides from the backing paper into place on the model. The caveat with Fox’s product is it really does like warm water, and the problem then becomes how to keep water at a suitable temperature over an extended period. My solution involves an aluminium baking tray and a tea light!

The lining transfers take time, because you can’t simply immerse an entire length and expect to slide it off in place. Tangles and tears are guaranteed, so the method I use is to trim the lining down to manageable lengths, no more than about 40mm, and place them carefully along the coach side. It takes longer, needs a deal of patience (and a powerful magnifying lamp in my case), but the results speak for themselves. This technique also works across door and panel joins, rather than trying to push the transfer down into the gaps.

Once the lining was done, it was time for the running numbers. Again, Fox Transfers came into their own. I used a fine brush to guide each individual number into place, before gently dabbing excess water away with a cotton bud.

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Thoughts are now turning to weathering the models. My client requested a “slightly tired” finish, so I’ve been studying as many photos as I can lay my hands on to get a feel for how mainline coaching stock weathered in service. This is also an excuse for legitimately lounging about with a hot mug of tea, perusing lots of books!

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The publication of choice is currently Martyn Welch’s The Art of Weathering, published by Wild Swan. An excellent primer in the various techniques and tools required to achieve a realistic finish to scale models.

Currently, I am considering weathering the sides before I finally assemble the models. I can do the same for the roofs, ends and underframes. Once assembled, a unifying dusting can be applied if required.

I hope to document the process, so watch out for further posts.

I am a professional model-maker. I make models of all kinds, at all scales, and to all requirements. I currently have three more 7mm scale coaches and a 7mm scale locomotive in the queue for my workbench. Have a look at what I do over at my web site. You can also find me on Facebook: search for Heather Kay Modelmaker.