Friday, May 31, 2013

An Ounce Of Brass

Although I've known for a while now that the main focal point of the layout will be the dark satanic mill I haven't got much further along with constructing it than a simple corrugated card mockup (which you've seen in numerous photos recently). I'd already decided that I was going to use the factory kit and I've had all the parts printed out for a week or two. The problem was the windows.

The kit includes a sheet of window frames that you are supposed to print onto transparent plastic or tissue paper. The problem is that being such a prominent structure on the layout I thought I needed something a bit more than this. Fortunately Brassmasters do a range of etched brass windows which are specifically designed to fit kits, so I ordered enough for the factory and the small station in case I added that to the layout. Well my order arrived yesterday -- a very satisfying ounce of etched brass (and I really do mean an ounce as I used the kitchen scales to weigh them).

Most of the windows are in two parts allowing you to model open windows, should you so wish (I won't be), so I now need to assemble, prime and paint all that brass, but at least I'm now one step closer to being able to construct a dark satanic mill.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Little Details

So far the construction of Jerusalem has mostly involved thinking about the larger items; buildings, scenery, etc. While these are clearly important I'm fairly certain that it will be the little details that make the model come alive -- and I'm not just talking about people.

Since I settled on a track plan I've known that there will be a point leading to the factory siding right at the front of the baseboard. As I'm modelling a sleepy little single track branchline I've decided that this will be modelled as being manually operated, and so I'll need a point lever.

I did think about trying to model a point lever myself (I was thinking some matches for the sleepers and a bit of stiff wire for the handle) but in the end I've opted for a nice, accurate, whitemetal part from Knightwing International. I used a photo I took at Model Rail Live showing one of the levers at the entrance to Barrow Hill Roundhouse for reference when painting. I've removed the modelled connecting rod as I'm intending to make that move when the point operates for a little more realism.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Penistone Wagon and Wheel Works

As I've mentioned before I've made a couple of trips to the local DIY store recently to buy materials to construct the baseboard and back scene. The shop is housed in a small corner of an old works, and while many of the buildings have changed over the years and the access road has been tarmaced/concreted over there are still signs of its past, including what look like narrow gauge rail tracks (they are next to the cars in the first photo).

From an intial inspection they appear to simply start and stop at the ends of the passage shown in the photo, and so I don't think they are part of a railway as such. A quick look at some old maps though showed that the works was originally built as a wagon and wheel works.

The works first appears on a 1905 map showing just a single building accessed by five short tracks. Interestingly they are crossed at right angles by two lines, which don't seem to represent a road or anything. By 1931, when the second map was published, more buildings had been constructed and more track laid into the works but the same parallel lines are visible and it is now clear that they are in the same position as the rails left over today. By 1971, when the third map was published, the works was no longer associated with the railway and the tracks had been removed, but the two parallel lines remain.

Unfortunately I can't find any useful old photos of the works. In fact the only photo I've managed to find is this small corner section of an aerial photo taken on the 14th of July 1926. The photographer was actually focusing on the steel works, but you can at least see that there were a lot of wagons lined up by the works buildings.

Without any other information, I'm tempted to suggest that the rails might have been for some form of travelling crane which could have been moved to access any of the tracks passing through the works. If anyone has any other information or photos of the works please do leave a comment.

I find it interesting that Penistone used to have a wagon works and now most of the items I have for sale through Penistone Railway Works are wagons of one form or another. Coincidence?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Skies The Limit

After a little bit of planning I've managed to successfully fit the panel that will eventually form the sky, and hence the limit of my little world. Another quick trip to the local DIY store and I was in possession of a piece of bendy board of roughly the right size. It was difficult to measure the length of the curving back scene accurately so I over estimated it slightly.

As you can just about see it is attached to the baseboard using three upright posts behind the board and one small block in front (which will be hidden under the scenery). The four posts are screwed and glued to the baseboard but the sky then just slides between the two middle posts with the two edge posts forcing it to curve. This arrangement means that the sky can be easily removed which might be useful but we'll see how it goes when I start to build up the scenery. I included the second photo as this gives you an idea of why the back scene is quite tall (it's 30cm above baseboard level) in that it allows me to get down quite low to the track and still see sky rather than my study, which I'm hoping will make it feel quite immersive once the scenery is in place.

Friday, May 24, 2013


Don't worry the wine hasn't gone off and the beer is still drinkable! The cork in question is actual a large 3mm sheet. It's traditional to use cork underlay to raise the track off the baseboard, mostly as it helps to reduce the noise generated on hollow baseboards. As I'm not using a hollow baseboard I could probably have managed without the cork, but I wanted a surface that was easy to pin the track to and which could be carved easily if required. So I simply covered the entire surface with cork glued down with PVA glue, turning the baseboard into a large noticeboard!

As you can see I've made the most of the cork, by pinning two polystyrene formers to it to raise the track on the left. These are 4% incline starters from Woodland Scenics pinned using foam nails (also from Woodland Scenics). I've also added a manual control lever for the point leading to the factory siding.

The manual lever was very simple to make, fit and operate. Essentially it's a piece of wooden doweling, at one end there is a metal spike (actually a staple) which is fixed to the point and at the other end a thicker dowel is attached to act as a handle. This contraption is then buried in a slot in the cork. To operate the point you simply push/pull the handle. Simple. I've covered the channel in tin foil so that when I add scenery, paint etc. the mechanism shouldn't get gunked up and should continue to work.

The next step is to fix the back scene in place so that I can build the scenery up against it. I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to fix it in place yet, but I'm sure there will be another post once I've got it sorted.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Welcome To... Jerusalem

Having decided on the track plan, and the layout of some buildings and scenery, settling on a name for the layout was easy. I'm intending to model a dark satanic mill nestling among England's green and pleasant land through which a chariot of fire, otherwise known as a steam engine, will pass at which point the only option is to name the layout... Jerusalem!

While you've already seen a real-life mockup, here is a satellite style view showing a few more of the planned details.

The structures are all shown in brown (from the left: factory, station, bridge) with the road surface in grey (I'm not quite sure how the road surface will wrap around the station and platform yet). The grey line running across the layout shows the horizon (i.e. where the vertical sheet for the sky will fit) and as you can see the tunnel mouth (on the left) will be in front of this to allow hillside above the tunnel, while the road bridge will sit snugly against the horizon. The numbers on the track represent the height, in cm, that section is raised above the baseboard. While a maximum height of 2.5cm might not sound like much it represents a 4% slope which is quite steep for a model railway, and way steeper than any real UK railway.

I'm sure this plan will evolve as I start to build the landscape but I think it's a good point to start from.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mockup Time

So having built a baseboard the next step was to finalize the track plan. Unfortunately I discovered two problems. Firstly the track plan I'd devised on the computer (using AnyRail) didn't really inspire me when I actually tried it out; the layout looked very unnatural and didn't give me much in the way of scope for scenery. The second problem, however, was more of an issue as the baseboard was way too flexible. If you remember I'd built the top from what I think was the back of a flat-pack wardrobe. As anyone who has ever built flat-pack furniture will know this material is quite strong (cutting or nailing it is difficult) but is fairly flexible. I'd hoped that because I was only using a small piece and was bracing it in the middle that it would be okay. I was wrong. Just the act of the train running over the track was enough to make it flex. While adding scenery would probably have strengthened it slightly I was worried that it would still flex causing cracks to appear in hillsides etc. So I've buried the baseboard at the back of the garage and started again.

This time I figured out the track plan before making the baseboard and checked that I was happy with it. Adding space for scenery around the track led me to the right size for the baseboard, which is 74cm x 54cm. I've also decided that currently I don't have any need for anything under the baseboard, so instead of building a frame I've opted for a single piece of MDF (I'm lucky in that there is a very friendly DIY and wood cutting shop two minutes walk from the house, so it took me about 15 minutes to walk round, wait while it was cut and then walk home with it).

So having settled on a track plan and bought the baseboard here are a couple of mockup photos showing what I'm aiming for.

Essentially it's a simple loop (so I can just watch trains go by) but is meant to represent a short piece of a sleepy branch line which also serves a local factory. On the left the train will emerge from a tunnel part way up a hillside before running down to the mill and finally passing under the road bridge and out of sight. I might also add a small station before the road bridge, but this will depend on how things look as I start to add scenery as I don't want to try cramming in too many buildings. Behind the scenes I've added a siding to allow me to store a second train, and at some point that might actually turn into a cassette based fiddle yard, but as I currently only own one N gauge locomotive the siding isn't likely to see much use. The power feed is currently in the wrong position, but will eventually be placed in the short section between the two points as placing it there will allow me to shuttle a train between the sidings while isolating the rest of the loop.

While the baseboard I built turned out to be useless I have now at least arrived at a track plan that I'm happy with, I even have a name for the layout, but that can wait for a future post (although given the description in this post you might be able to guess it already).

Friday, May 17, 2013

Static Grass

Now that I'm getting closer to the point where I will want to add landscape around the tracks I thought it worth practising a few techniques to make sure I know how they work. First up, static grass.

In theory static grass allows you to model large areas of grass quickly using short thread like particles to represent each blade of grass. You can just sprinkle static grass onto glue, but for the best results you need to make use of static electricity. In the same way that you can make the hairs on your arm stand on end using a balloon you've rubbed on your clothing, you can make the individual threads stand on end rather than lay flat in the glue.

Of course a balloon isn't necessarily very convenient for creating the static charge. While there are very expensive static grass applicators there is a cheaper alternative. Essentially you combine an electric fly swatter with a tea strainer! Apparently it's quite easy to do this yourself but I bought mine for £12 on eBay.

You simply clip the wire to the surface you want to add grass to, place the static grass in the tea strainer and then gently shake it over the surface. You have to get quite close to the surface to get the static field strong enough, but not so close that you bring the grounding wire and the strainer into contact, as this results in a flash of light and a bang as the circuit is completed and the large amount of electricity, usually used to kill a fly, is discharged!

From my simple tests it does appear to work quite well, although I found I needed a couple of applications to get a good covering, but on an actual model you would probably want to use a couple of different shades of green so this isn't an issue. The main problem at the moment is that the grass I have I bought when I thought I was going to be modelling in OO gauge, and it produces grass that stands between two and three millimetres tall, or in N scale between 12 and 18 inches. While this might be fine for tall unkempt weeds it certainly won't help if I want to model a garden lawn and certainly not a bowling green!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Frank Hornby's 150th Birthday

I didn't know until this morning, but today would have been Frank Hornby's 150th birthday. Not only was Hornby the founder of Britain's largest model railway company, but he also invented Mecanno. And here is the reason I found out.... a Google doodle.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Starting At The Bottom

Having made the decision to move to N gauge I now have nothing stopping me from making a proper start on building a model railway. Laying out temporary track on my desk is fine for a bit of light amusement but it doesn't allow me to build scenery etc. I've now taken the first step by building a simple 3"x2" baseboard.

Given that I haven't built anything substantial from wood since I was in high school I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, especially as it didn't cost me anything other than time to build. When we bought our house there were a number of bits of wood and board left in both the loft and the garage which were mostly ideal for building a baseboard.

The frame is simple glued and screwed together with the top pinned and glued to it. The top is made from what I'm guessing is the back of a flat-pack wardrobe. Unfortunately the pieces weren't wide enough to cover the entire frame so I've had to use two pieces glued along the join. This seems to have worked alright, and will hopefully hold up under the added weight of the scenery. The most important point is that I managed to keep the frame square so not only does it fit on my desk (just) but it also sits flat without rocking.

At the end of the day if it turns out to be the wrong size or not strong enough it doesn't really matter as it didn't cost me anything and any scenery I build on it will be a useful learning experience even if I do end up starting over again at some future point. I still have to decide on a track plan before I can do much else but hopefully progress will be slightly more rapid than it has in the past.