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With these strange times that we have been experiencing for the last six months, we have all become a bit cooped up in our abodes. Whilst the lack of model railway exhibitions is hardly going to make the six o’clock news (can you imagine!), I for one have missed both the inspiration and the camaraderie they offer.
We have not seen a plethora of on line exhibitions so it is welcome news to see the Scalefour Society making the effort to arrange one in place of their annual exhibition. This will “take place” on Saturday 26th September between 10:30 – 5:30 although it seems much of the content will be available thereafter online. Here is a trailer for it:
In addition to seeing familiar faces again, I was particularly struck by the possibility of seeing a number of “home layouts” that we don’t ordinarily get to see – and some big ones at that!
Some seems to be by video and others by an interactive youtube link so that you can chat to the team/person. This is the listing of what is proposed.
Boston Frodsham by Mike Knowles
Bristol Barrow Road by Robin Whittle
Central Cheshire Lines by John Sherratt
De Graafstroom (P87) by Vincent de Bode
Drighlington and Adwalton by Steve Hall
Eridge by the Kent Area Group
Faringdon by Rex Davidson and Stephen Williams
North Elmham by the North Norfolk Area Group
Obbekaer (P87) by Geraint Hughes
Pwllheli by Jonathan Buckie
Southwark Bridge by Mike Day
United Mills by Ray Nolton
Adrian Musgrave – Signals
Alistair Ford – Timber Buildings on Black Gill
Brian Hingston – Coaches
Chris McCarthy – Baseboards
Dave Keeler – Wagon Construction
David Brandreth – Resistance Soldering
Jim Smith Wright – Soldering White Metal
John Farmer – Scenics
Mick Moignard – DCC Sound
Nick Rogers – Wagons
Rod Cameron – Lewis Project
Stuart Holt – Tree making
Martin Nield – Authentic Model Railway Operation
Jim Summers – ‘Earning a Living’
I can see that chunks of the readership of this blog are dispersed in far flung places – take some time to see some really good 4mm without burning your air miles. The details to the log in can be found here:
So I know what I will be doing with much of the 26 September…………………. I will even make sure I have done some on-line shopping at about the same time so that Scaleforum hits my pocket in the same manner as usual!!
This day, 150 years ago, was a significant one for the highlands and the western isles. It marked the opening of the first railway to reach the Atlantic north of Helensburgh. To understand how significant this was, take a look at a map and and see what proportion of the country this represents – its almost a third of the country.
The line at the time was called the Dingwall and Skye Railway but nowadays we know it a little better as the line to Kyle of Lochalsh. Given it is the primary inspiration for my layouts, I think this anniversary needs to be marked with a blog post!
The original name of the line gives away the objective of the promoters – to bring communication to the western side of Scotland, in particular the islands such as the Isle of Skye. Given that even in the 19th century the centre of the country was very sparsely inhabited, the population was concentrated on the coastal fringes and on the islands. Prior to the arrival of the railway, to ship goods or travel to the islands from the lowlands would take days. These poor communications inhibited the development of these parts and the arrive of the railway was a major spur to the prosperity of the region.
Despite the value to the region, the line was not constructed with the support of the government, instead it come about entirely with private finance. Given the sparseness of population, this was a brave venture and the promoters did not have sufficient money to reach their ultimate destination – the Atlantic seaboard. Instead they only just managed to reach a long finger of a sea-loch, Loch Carron. This was only intended to be a temporary solution to allow some income to be generated before the final push for the eventual terminus to be made. As with the best of plans, it too a long time for this ambition to be realised as the line to the present terminus at Kyle of Lochalsh did not come to be for a further 27 years.
The line started from the route up the east cost of the northern part of Scotland from Ross & Cromarty’s county town, Dingwall. It was intended to run through a fairly significant spa town, Strathpeffer, but this plan was foiled by an obstinate landowner. Perversely, therefore, the line bypassed the most significant town on the route, which hardly helped its finances! Whilst the line then travelled through sparse countryside with few centres of population, there were a series of roadheads where glens branch off. A feature of the line until the 1980s were buses coming to meet each train to provide links to the other parts of the west.
The line is a remarkable survivor as it was chalked up for closure on several occasions. Its most significant saviour was the oil industry in the mid 1970s, when the country’s biggest dry dock was built not far away at Loch Kishorn and the prospect of increased traffic persuaded the government to refuse a closure request. This prompted the railway to make efficiency savings; for example the line was the first example to use a radio signalling system 40 years ago.
The line survives to today in its extended form to Kyle of Lochalsh and (touch wood) seems to be safe for a long term future. Ok, it has a lot less charm as a railway than it used to but the scenery is still second to none and you still have the romance of heading to the wild west of Scotland – it justifies being seen as one of the worlds great railway journeys! If you have never done it, then it really needs to make your bucket list!
If you want to enjoy the charm of the line in the era that Porthcullin is set, this is a link to a fabulous video created by Ross & Cromarty council in 1972. This was deliberately rose tinted as it was a promotional tool to seek to convince the then government not to allow its closure – indeed, it was shown to parliament at the time and may even have had a hand in the saving of the line. After all, you don’t just arrive at magic, it has to be conjured…….
As an alternative, if you do want to find out more about the line there are a number of good books on the line; including one by my father I mentioned here.
Readers of this blog will recall that my father has a significant interest in breakdown cranes; he has published a series of books on them and is the honoury president of the Breakdown Crane Association. As a result of this, a few years ago, he took a call from Bachmann when they started to research the possibility of filling a gap in the ready to run scene for a accurate breakdown crane. He delighted in being sworn to secrecy on this until the model was announced and now, some five years later, it has finally arrived on the shelves.
So after a somewhat unsatisfactory retail experience with Rails of Sheffield (which I won’t be repeating, there are plenty of other retailers out there), an example of a Ransomes & Rapier 45 ton crane arrived not much more than a couple of hours spare so that it could be parcelled up in its Christmas wrapping for my father. Now that it has reemerged, it is time to take a look at it.
The prototypes originate from the early years of the last world war and were initiated by the British Government; in part in anticipation of a lot of emergency repairs being required following enemy action and also for use on the continent once a toehold had been achieved. Initially a total of six were made, going to the SR and GWR but subsequently a further order of nine were made, mostly for the military but with a couple for the LNER and another for the SR. The example I bought being from the latter batch, being initially based in Gorton on the ex GCR system.
There were detail differences, with many of the railway company vehicles utilising standard components from their eventual owners. The valve chests for the cylinders moved to the exterior in the later batches and the operation of the loading of the relieving bogies became hydraulic latterly. The biggest changes, however, related to the match wagons where there was both variety of arrangements of tool boxes at the time of building and generations of modifications thereafter.
The cranes lasted until the mid 1980’s and a number of them survive in preservation, so if you want to see the real thing you might want to head to the Midhants Railway (on which the prototype photographs were taken and reproduced with kind permission of Carl Watson), the Bluebell Railway, the Great Central Railway, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway or the Swanage Railway. Below is a link to a video of the Midhants crane in action:
The first thing you notice with the model is that it is some way from the toy train end of the model train market. The prototype is smothered in detail; with the fine bracing between the sides of the jib, the gear trains, axleboxes and flywheels all being a bit out of the ordinary for the ready to run market. Bachmann have had a really good go at this and for the greater part they have got it right – very few could model a crane as well as this. There are, however, several compromises made to enable them to be operable. This particularly shows at the bearing points at the head of the jib (exposed metal when they shouldn’t be visible) and on the crankpin nuts to the flywheels (way too big and hexagonal). I understand why this was done, but it sticks out to my eyes! Some touching in of paintwork will help (but not be perfect) and the replacement of nuts with something more subtle should be possible.
The detail is very delicate and the model needs to be handled very carefully as a result. Even the most careful (and I don’t count myself in this group) are unlikely to keep all the detail in place on any model that does not merely sit in the display cabinet. With a recommended retail price of £250, substantially more than any other product that is not filled with motors & electronics, it is doubtful that too many will end up in the hands of children – maybe that is just as well!
The model I bought, the early BR model in black – Bachmann ref SKU: 38-802, has a match truck without tool boxes. This is correct for the specific crane post the early 1950s but what is not is the missing insides to the splashers. This seems to be a compromise to accommodate OO wheelsets without making the splashers excessively deep. It is easy enough to fill in the open spaces if you model in one of the wider gauges and it will make a big difference.
The painting and livery is particularly fine on the model. Even better there are some exquisitely delicate etched plates that can be applied on top of some of the plates. I suspect I see the shadow of Mr Hanson on them.
It looks realistic to get P4 wheels into the crane underframe and definitely so for the runners/match wagon. I would, however, be concerned as to whether a four axle vehicle could survive all but perfect track in P4 and how many of us have that? I suspect that it will all be very tight too, so some pretty large radius curves would be needed if a P4 model can get around them. Of course I will have a go, but it is not high on the to do list at the moment!
I think it is only a matter of time before someone looks at trying to motorise the crane. I think I will say good luck to them! Getting micromotors in might be possible for at least movement along the track but that still leaves slewing of the crane deck, raising of the jib and raising of the hook to go – getting another three in looks pretty difficult to me! The model does include internal hand operated mechanisms for the latter two movements – there are access panels that pop out to reveal a socket to receive a hand wheel. Thus, it is realistic to stage scenes, but not (in my eyes anyway – I really do look forward to someone having a go!) to make a fully operating model.
What is a must though is to add the paraphernalia of clutter the real cranes acquired in operation. Photographs show that they typically attracted lumber sections, jacks, chains and tarpaulins as if they were magnets. Cranes, not being front line stock in the public eye, tended not to suffer repaints very frequently and as they stood outside, they did weather and pick up corrosion spots. So any self respecting modeller needs to do something about how clean they look.
Although there is a very long in the tooth model crane from Hornby, it is somewhat of an uncomfortable marriage of several different cranes (the really old Hornby Doublo diecast version is better but quite crude), so does not cut the mustard. There are a limited number of kits for other cranes – notably the D&S Models Cowen Sheldon 15 ton breakdown crane (an example of one might grace these pages eventually!) but these are full on kits. Thus Bachmanns cranes are not only attractive models in their own right but they have a field fairly clear of competitors.
If you want the book on the prototype you need volume 2 of my father’s book – at present it is out of print but it is hoped with a bit of pressure on the publishers, Crecy, they can be persuaded to do a further print run.
The Bachmann crane is presently available in an SR livery, a GWR livery and then a pair of BR liveries – the 1950s livery shown above and a later gulf red livery. An example of the latter is below:
Compliments of the season to you all and picture of Rudolf battling through the snow to deliver all the Christmas packages – well sort of!
I suspect this was taken near Altnabreac in 1895 as there are a series of photographs from there t this time, others of which I have posted before. The photograph is in the NRM’s collection but given its date will be out of copyright,.
A while back I outlined the struggle (that may have been largely in my head!) with wiring the single slip into the MPD. After some frantic reappraisal of this as the layout was being set up at Scaleforum (thanks Chris!), it was fully operational.
Given this is a further blog post on this slip, you can tell there is a but……….. In this case it was that route setting the turnout such that it was electrically correct was not intuitive. The difficulty lay in the straight through route – to set it electrically for the route through on the main required a different arrangement of the switches to that for the straight run from the loop to the MPD. This was even though the physical route setting could be exactly the same, so it become quite confusing! Not having a power district breaker meant that the layout locked down rather too frequently as a result.
Although I don’t see it myself, the guys think that one of my main operating crew has a bit of a reputation for being a moaner when things aren’t as easy as they could be…… With this in mind, it is clear that I have to do something about this to keep the peace. In addition to the use of LED route identification lights on the control panel, I have found a third way of powering the crossings on the slip. Its this
This is a frog juicer (apologies for the Americanism!) and is simply a device that detects a short-circuit when a vehicle hits the crossing. Instead of tripping out (as a power district breaker would), it swaps the polarity. This happens faster than a circuit breaker can trip or the locomotive motor react so can be relied upon to switch the crossing without any visible effect on operation.
The net impact of this is that my slip only needs to be set for the route that is being used. The crossings will not be changed by this route setting, instead as the first wheel touches each crossing it gets switched to the correct polarity.
Well the layout made it to and from Scaleforum – possibly I did too!
Last Friday, the inside of the hire van looked like this. Whilst the cases worked a treat, the dismantling of the layout from being set up on my own took a long time – much longer than I had hoped or expected.
Once at the venue, I was able to press gang some “volunteers” to erect the layout and this was much easier.
Getting the beams levelled up was speedy even though none of my press team had any experience of my logic! Indeed, with their help, it assembled itself quicker than Portchullin does although the jury is out in my mind as to whether this is simply because it as yet has rather less on it!
The layout’s size quite quickly became apparent; especially its depth – as can be seen here with Chris in the background for a sense of sale! Please don’t tell my wife this is actually quite big, I have been telling her it is pretty normally sized!
I did not manage to get front side all that often so I have only fairly limited numbers of photographs. Fortunately Samuel Bennett has come to my rescue and has provided a number of photographs to show what it looked like to the visitor.
We only had three correct Highland locos chipped up (and one of these decided to sulk after a couple of hours!) so we did break out the blue diesels to make sure we had a fully operational layout. Above there are a few of the locos awaiting chipping on shed and below we have the scene 50 years later!
……..and below is simply confused!
Although the layout did not operate perfectly, it did behave much better than I (and my operating team) had feared! The two page list of faults and issues to resolve with the trackwork, wiring or stock is a fraction of the list that would have existed after Portchullin’s first outing (if I ever had one!).
The signals received a lot of comment, even if there was one missing because I managed to damage it as I was packing the layout. There’ll be another post on these soon.
A little bit like buses, you wait for a long time for some interesting articles on the Highland Railway and all of a sudden we get two or three come along in the same issue – in this case the July edition of the Railway Modeller. It is a veritable Highland-fest and is well worth buying as a result (no apologies for bias offered!).
First up the layout of the month is Howard Geddes’ Blair Atholl and Druimuachdar. His layout is a representation of Blair Atholl station along with its approach from the south and the line over the big hill (Druimuachdar as Howard describes it or present day Drumochter). It is liberally illustrated with photographs of the layout and numerous Highland locos – these cover many of the Highland’s locos and also those of the LMS era. Howard has written notes for each of the photographs to illustrate the historical context of the train, the loco of the scene to make this a bit more interesting than the average article in the model railway press.
So to emulate Howard, I can tell you that this is a Loch Class, number 127 Loch Garry taking water in front of Blair Atholl’s shed. When built, these were the front line express engines but on the building of later locomotives, they were relegated to slightly less important tasks. So this may well have come off a Blair Atholl local (the all stations stopping services from Perth terminated at Blair) or has just returned from piloting a train up the hill.
The other article of interest for the modeller of the Highland was by Peter Fletcher and was a review of his locomotive fleet for his EM gauge layout Croich (which is based on Tain shed). As he says himself, the layout is really a vehicle to show off his loco fleet and it is fair to say it is fairly extensive and covers the majority of the Highland types in existence in 1920. The article also includes a reprint of a drawing for the small ben class of loco; hopefully a few people may be provoked into
Perhaps the most pleasant part of the two articles is how all but a couple of the locomotives have actually been built! Oh that we see a bit more of this in the mainstream model railway press!
I don’t have any pictures of Peter’s layout so you will need to refer to July’s edition of the Railway Modeller or the March 2018 for the whole layout. Howard has however provided me with a number of photographs of Blair Atholl that weren’t in the magazine to act as a tempter………..
Wee Ben, no 14413, Ben Alligan crossing Howard’s model of Altnaslanach Viaduct (from just north of Moy, and still there albeit in structural terms now merely decoration to a steel replacement that is inserted within it). It is the Highland’s locos in the LMS first livery that float my boat, so this is as good as it gets for me!
HR’s no 99 Glentromie, one of David Jones’ Strath class with some sheep and cattle wagons at the head of a mix freight train.
The premier locomotives on the Highland mainline between 1928 and the arrival of the Black 5s in 1934 were the Hughes Crab class – a locomotive that I find the brutishness of which very appealing (I have a couple in progress). Here we have them hauling a freight train through the Druimuachdar portion of Howard’s layout – representing the summit of the line going through the wildness of the Grampian Mountains. I was looking down on the scene only a fortnight ago from one of the adjacent munros looking at the really short HST sets now in use on the mainline!
The Hughes crabs again on a more normal passenger travelling in the opposite (northwards) direction.
A vista across the MPD area of Blair Atholl with Loch Garry now taking a breather waiting for its next roster.
The final of the three buses is the announcement of the release of a Highland signal cabin by Peco, as per my previous post.
I had not expected to ever say this, but I can write a post on Highland Miscellany about a forthcoming Highland Railway product from one of the mainstream manufacturers!
In this case this is going to be from Peco and it is based on the cabin at Helmsdale (Helmsdale South). This is still existent and has been out of use for some time but has been recently refurbished. It is in 4mm only at present (but who knows about the future?) and seems to represent its present condition. As I understand it, it is going to be a laser cut kit and is due to be released later this year.
When it comes out, I will certainly buy one and review it here but in the meantime here are some photographs of the initial prototype courtesy of Paul Marshall Potter.
And here are a few pictures of the real thing from a few years back.
Following the tragic events in Sri Lanka recently, I pondered whether I would complete the intended final post of the series I had in mind. I have concluded that I would primarily because the experience that I had of Sri Lanka and its people was so friendly and felt so safe. So this post is my small bit of illustrating that Sri Lanka is not the country that was illustrated by the acts of a few deranged members of the population.
One of the joys of Sri Lanka’s railways is the retention of widespread railway relics from times past – in particular the signalling. Whilst there are modernised sections, substantial sections are still firmly in the first half of last century with full semaphore signals, tablets and block sections. Although a few arms have been removed, the bulk of the installations are still in situ and largely in use; so it is a bit of a cornucopia of signalling. Here are a few of the signals that I saw:
The signalling that I saw was all Saxby and Farmer – I only saw a couple of the lines in the country so it may be that there are other suppliers in evidence. The ground signals were quite similar to the McKenzie & Holland equivalents and tended to come in batches – looking like sentinels from an episode of Dr Who!
I thought the signal boxes looked decidedly home counties, although the rather shocking salmon pink wouldn’t have been found in Hertfordshire or Surrey I hazard!
With the exception of the signalman’s attire, the inside of the signal box was instantly recognisable to any UK railwayman of the last century of a half (well perhaps any UK railwayman of the last 40 years would be surprised to see so few white levers………).
This is the inside of Kandy’s signal box. Kandy is largely a terminus with the line from the Highlands and Columbo meeting here, along with a branch. With five platform faces and only moderate amounts of sidings, it struck me as a perfect modelling track plan if anyone wants to have a go! Here is the view from the steps of the box, along with the signalling diagram.
The approach to Kandy was in the process of being doubled when I visited, so I suspect that it will be resignalled with colour lights when this is done – so you had best get there soon if you want to see it like this………….
With plenty of justification, the most well known line in Sri Lanka is up into the hill country – from Kandy to either Elle or Badulla. The line was constructed during the colonial era to reach what was then Sri Lanka’s most important economic asset, tea. The hill country being famous for tea plantations – and there really are a lot of them! The views below genuinely representative of long stretches of the line.
The line twists and winds through the hills often crossing from one side of the hill side to the other through a large number of tunnels. At one portion, the line really was travelling along the top of a mountain ridge with steep slopes falling away to both sides.
Sometimes tea pickets were visible and so too were tea factories, such as these ones.
There was a fairly significant amount of traffic on the line; we crossed or overtook around seven trains. Some were headed by relatively modern sets such as the class S12 multiple unit set built in China that is in the video at the base of the post but there were also much older diesel units such as this class M5 dating from 1979 (and far from the oldest loco’s on the island!).
Besides the stunning scenery, probably the biggest thrill is the rather old fashioned (to a westerner anyway) attitude to riding on the trains. Getting the best view of the line by literally hanging on like this was quite normal and I did it for hours. Doing that in the UK would quite quickly get me a visit from the British Transport Police and a potentially a bit of a write up in the local paper!
Obviously, being in south asia, rules are largely there for breaking such as not bothering with the footbridge (or indeed road home). This lot were getting the station staff quite agitated, the reason being a train was already visible in the near distance!
Sri Lankan railway staff are clearly very proud of their railway; the fella below was not unrepresentative of the station masters that lined every station – very dapper!
The hill country is relatively cool (being why the colonials decamped there in the summer months) but the line drops significantly by the time it reaches Kandy. So much so, tea plantations give way to paddy fields and farm land – all still very lush, Sri Lanka being an island is notably more green than, say, nearby India.
The train journey is hardly fast = my journey (from Elle to Kandy, so not quite the end of the line) took seven and a half hours which is about twice the duration of the equivalent bus journey. But then, I would not have experienced one of the best train rides I have even had and all that for a heady £1.40 – plus I could have halved the cost if I had gone third class!
The modern DMUs are not nearly as exciting as the proper diesels (which do still appear on some trains, notably the overnight sleeper) and I wonder what it was like in the steam era?