For looking and displaying, not operating…

My very good friend Mike Cougill is currently musing on how little “layout” one needs over on his blog.

Another very good friend, Chris Mears, has commented:
“Reading this and thinking about staging and backdrops made me think about a social construct the hobby perpetuates: that of inadequacy. We never have enough space in length of run for our trains, depth to model the whole scene, so sometimes these aids aren’t as much theatrical but concessions making up for what we want but can’t have.”

This reminded me of something I threw together more years ago than I care to remember in 1:32 scale. One of the magazines had a “100 square inches” competition. I didn’t enter, but a piece of particle board 12” long and 8½” wide was sorted out from the pile of bits of wood, and another piece screwed to the back of it. To this latter piece was affixed some vacuum-formed brick sheet (SEFinecast) with capping bricks from styrene strip. Painting was a base coat of a brick-like reddish colour with ultramarine blue for the capping, some additional dry brushing and once it had dried, thinned-down off-white applied wet at an angle (see Martyn Welch’s book on weathering) created the mortar lines. A bit of home-built track – lime wood sleepers, plastic chairs and rail, the latter two components from Cliff Barker’s range of code 180 rail, rounded off with some Woodland’s Scenics fine cinders ballast as ground cover. I spent longer waiting for glue and paint to dry than I did making it.

It served as a display track for a mineral wagon I had upgraded from an RTR model. I still have it somewhere…

Don’t exclude your family from your hobby…

…even if they don’t share it!

The latest issue of Model Railroad Planning came out a couple of days ago. I always enjoy reading it, even if I don’t agree with everything in it, as it gets a bit more behind the scenes and addresses some of the issues that typical monthly periodicals are less inclined to give editorial space to. I have found 3 articles particularly interesting, amongst a good sprinkling of great pieces, including one from England!

There is an interesting piece from Malcolm West about moving up from N to H0, but which is really about how little one really needs for a satisfying model railway layout, as he is discovering.

Lance Mindheim is is his usual thought-provoking self, too, when addressing complexity and differentiating between planning (your strategic objectives) and design (curves, track arrangements, etc). As he says, “putting planning… …ahead of design greatly increases the odds of ending up with a [layout].” No answers, but plenty of questions for you to answers, with a handful of pointers and observations: vintage Lance!

But the clear leader of the pack for me is René Gourley’s article about making his railway-room a family-friendly room. If you follow his blog, you may have seen my comments already, but he brought home some lessons I have learned, but he has provided an eloquent exposition of how to make sure you aren’t excluding your family from yourself.

You see, I have had over the years experience of various spaces for my hobby: my bedroom, an attic (via a fold-down ladder), just the corner of a room, a spare room big enough to store a modelling bench and books, store, etc, but not a layout, a garage which although built into the house, had no internal door, and latterly a log cabin, which I began building in September 2021 and finished about a year later. The attic, garage and log cabin were (and are) all big enough to house a layout, books, parts, machine tools and a modelling bench, but I will be completely honest here: they all failed. In the case of the log cabin, this is still failing. For two simple reasons. Firstly, it’s remote: not part of the house. Secondly, no one else visits me. Why would they: it’s remote, and designated as my hobby space? The attic (when I was a teenager) meant scrambling up an aluminium ladder, to experience restricted head room, and extremes of whatever the weather had going on outside, the garage meant leaving the house via the front door, opening the garage door and then opening the internal partition door I had installed. And the log cabin requires leaving via the back door, crossing the yard, and going half way down the garden. Hardly encouraging!

René talks about making his basement space accommodating to family, as well as serving as his railway room, modelling bench, modelling storage, desk for working from home, and also as a guest room for visitors. Progress on his layout was halted whilst doing this, but it was worth it. Very worth it. I am likely to be moving house this summer: I am would consider space for building another cabin, or an attic, or a garage, for housing a layout and the lathe, but an absolute must is to be able to do basic modelling in the house, in a room where other members of the family are welcome to visit. Ideally, it would house a layout, too, but that’s not so important, as it turns out.

Lydham Heath at Ludlow, September 3rd

I am taking Lydham Heath to the small show put on near Ludlow on the first Saturday of September, the venue is the Mascall Centre in Lower Gladeford, SY8 1RZ. The show is open from 10 till 4.

As I have an impending house move and need to consider downsizing, then Lydham Heath is available for sale, complete with two locos, a coach, and a handful of wagons (representing the stock which came with the layout when I bought it) plus a couple of 3D printed bodies: one for another coach and one for a wooden bodied van. Seriously interested parties are invited to contact me, and could even leave the exhibition with an S scale layout of their own!

If you are the kind of person who thinks a layout built by a leading railway modeller renowned for his expertise in modelling scenery but actually a really good all-round modeller (Barry Norman), with stock built by him and another great modeller (Tankie and the brake van were built by Laurie Griffin) should exchange hands for a handful of beer tokens, then probably best not to enquire after the price…

Authenticity and “Finescale Renegades”

Saw this on a forum, from a modeller whose work I do admire:

Finescale 00 used to be a thing. For some of us it still is. It’s a state of mind as well as a set of measurements.

I always thought that a finescale version of 00 was EM, given that “finescale”* is a state of mind about getting things closer to the prototype, and a track gauge that is 96.7% of the prototype measurement is closer than one which is  87.7%. I mean, would you accept such a measurement error as big as 97% in any other respect of the prototype, leave alone 88%? I say this not to start a gauge war, but to make the point about the degree of error involved in modelling the track – the one thing that above all else differentiates this hobby from other modelling disciplines. Those who advocate narrowing the gauge to 16.2mm only exacerbate the issue…

”Finescale 00” is an attempt to make the best of a bad job without having to re-wheel steam locos. Given the profile of modern RTR wheels, some diesels and most rolling stock can be regauged to EM by moving the wheels out (and older stock probably needs it replacing with something concentric anyway!) so it boils down to steam locos and track. Since you have to build your own track for this standard, that leaves the locos, and if there are kit-built locos, which can be built to other standards, it just boils down to RTR steam. That and the fact that when you started out, you chose this standard and now have an awful lot of model railway, and getting it changed is not going to happen.

Don’t get me wrong: I realise that we all have choices to make over these things, and I am all for improving the running by tightening up the tolerances (i.e. “flangeways”, flanges and B2B) of any set of integrated track and wheel standards, but I can’t see how something so far off scale dimensions can be called “finescale”, and given the definition of finescale as a mindset about getting closer to scale, and the measurement error in the track gauge, well, how is 00 ever going to be finescale? Finer, yes. But finescale? I think not. YMMV, of course; that’s my personal view.

* See “Proprietary to Scale”, C J Freezer, Railway Modeller, January 1974, for this – indeed the only to my knowledge – definition of “fine scale”, where he makes the point that “scale model” was first applied to differentiate away from “toy trains” and meant (in his words) “authentic”. I think realistic might have been a better choice: “like the real thing”. His point was that unless you accepted this definition, then “fine scale” was meaningless, but (in précis) actually means “even less like a toy”. This was down to Greenly, who advocated a larger scale than that used for the track to accommodate the crude wheel standards in use for tinplate trains. Because modelling railways is about more than individual models, most people prefer to start with something already made, and ”improve it” rather than starting wholly from scratch and enjoying the journey, and ”purchasing” is frequently used to mean ”modelling”.

If you define “finescale” as “improving the running of 00 without changing the gauge, but otherwise working to EM standards”, then that works, but how could that definition be applied to, say, military modelling?


I have tried to leave a comment on a friend’s blog, but Google (who own Blogger) appears to want none of it, unless I allow them more access to my on-line activity than I wish to (you can have it, guys, but if you value it so much, pay me for it!). On another blog, a friend is finding that the ”improvements” to WordPress (which i am using here) are not so much ”feature-laden” as ”feature-heavy” to the point of toppling over. He was happy with Blogger, until Google started messing around with it, so he moved to WordPress, and now they have given him more complexity which he didn’t want and taken away the simplicity he craved and originally had, all without asking him because, hey, more is more, yes? No, less is more. More is less…

Anyway,I was struck by the simplicity and vital importance of this remark:
“I know you can’t go cheap with turnouts”

So true, also for benchwork. Especially so if in staging under the rest of the layout!

Virtually everything else on a layout can be upgrade over time as money (if that is what is needed) is an issue, but poor benchwork from lack of investment in a few simple tools and by buying poor materials, and poor track work, from poor quality workmanship or buying poor quality ready made components (bearing in mind the improvements over time in such things as wheel manufacturing) will only result in regret. Anything else can be replaced: equipment, scenics, structures, control systems, even wiring.

Money invested wisely now is sound investment in the future happiness of the hobby!

(Actually, I generally think that other than as temporary stand-ins for basic scenics and placeholders for structures, where hardshell+zip and cardboard boxes will suffice, respectively, buying anything that is sub-standard is a complete waste of money: fewer models of high quality is a better place to start!)

Let it be,