Category Archives: Craft

The Joy of 1366!

Once in a while, you come across a really interesting discussion on the net, and very recently I stumbled across a lovely thread on the RMWeb forum, where one of the members is recording part his recent switch to 0 gauge (7mm:1ft, or 1:43.5 ratio). Because he is sharing his progress, his trials and tribulations as well as his success, there has been a lot of great support and advice offered, as well as humour and friendship. It is a great advert for the web, but I was particularly taken with this post, where Chris describes the “learning opportunities” provided by a kit for a GWR 1366 small pannier tank. To quote him directly:

The 1366 was a steep learning curve/baptism of fire. It would have been very easy to have given up at multiple stages but perseverance and determination generally won over lack of skill and the right tools. I have invested in a few more tools but what I have is still just a step up from basic. This does mean I have to think carefully about the solutions I come up with – those with fully fitted workshops will no doubt be able to turn out more elegant things quicker but it’s not a race.
I’ve said this before but the 1366 has done more to move my skills on than a simple straightforward kit. It has sorely tested my resolve and, despite the current trial separation, will be completed once the confidence has been restored with a few completed projects under my belt.
The main things I’ve learned though are that it’s fairly hard to hurt brass and NS with solder. If something doesn’t work take it apart, clean up the bits and have another go. Keeping the areas to be soldered together clean and well fluxed is important. Most important of all is that you won’t gain skills over night: they come from having a go and keeping trying until you find what works for you. What works will be different for everyone and personal preference comes in.

“Most important of all is that you won’t gain skills over night: they come from having a go and keeping trying until you find what works for you.”

Wonderful.

Simon

Honest Choices

During a discussion on the cost of track, I came across this commonly uttered phrase on a well-known UK-based model railway bulletin board:

I think hand track laying is one of those talents which is limited to those that can.

That’s one of the most depressing things I see and hear, not just about track, nor the hobby, but anything.

Yes, the are a few people who have that something extra, an insight, natural pitch, whatever, which set them apart, but for every singer with perfect pitch there are hundreds if not thousands who have worked hard and trained hard and then finely honed their abilities until it becomes a skill – as Gareth Malone demonstrated on BBC’s “The Choir”. Assuming that you don’t have a “special ability” without trying to find out, or assuming that without a natural “talent” it isn’t worth the effort of learning, is simply giving up without trying: “If you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford.

I am not saying that anyone has to hand lay track, just that like anything else which is not dead easy (and laying flex track well is not dead easy, as it requires a little care and application) it requires time, patience and practice, and it can be improved upon cosmetically by the addition of jointbars, etc. We do not always have the time to put into this, which is where good flex track comes into its own: for most modellers, this is a trade-off against time they are more than willing to make, especially when the cost is not much different. Similarly for turnouts: the reliability of many brands is very good, and what is more some of them even look vaguely like the real thing. Unfortunately the agreed “universal” standards for the most popular scales have somewhat large flangeways, which stand out clearly to anyone who has studied real track: not just at the common crossing, but also the guard/check rails and the amount of clearance required at the point toes.

It all depends on where you place yourself on the building—operating continuum, and where you get your personal enjoyment of the hobby.

Happiness in The Hobby – just like everything in life – is all about the choices we make, the priorities we have, and the resources we have available. We each have our own combination of these, and being honest with ourselves about the decisions we make. Nothing wrong with that, but there’s no need to hide behind a self-deception of “I haven’t the ability”.

Setting out one’s stall

My friend Steve Cook has started a blog on modelling the Culm Valley Light Railway (see links to the side). This offers much promise, as Steve is a careful workman and a great advert for craftsmanship (I hope he isn’t blushing!) as you see already with his first few posts.

What I really liked, though, was his simple and clear statement about his aims, objectives and standards. Something from which we can all learn.

 

Happy Christmas one and all.

 

Simon

OCE – Three Steps Closer to Perfection

Have a look at this simple, beautiful picture:

wpid-x80w-lynnvalley-4sd.jpg
Picture reproduced by kind permission of Trevor Marshall
Just a train running through some woodland, next to a river, right? Yes. And also, no.

Yes: it is a train; there is woodland; and there is a river.

No: it is not just that; it is not even a simple case of the whole being more than the sum of the parts. There is more to it than that. But not too much more, and best of all, these are basic principles, attitudes and activities which can be applied to any creative activity, but which lie at the core of “finescale with feeling”.

  1. Observation – This could also be called “attention to detail”, in that it is about identifying the detail points in the prototype: the slope of the embankment (“fill”, if you are North American); the texture of the grass and leaves; the size and shape of the trees; the correct details on the train. If you get this stage wrong, then the result cannot be “closer to the prototype” and I would argue that it is not finescale. To get this right, spend time observing.
  2. Composition – How best to arrange things. Not as simple as it might seem. The prototype often disappoints in this respect: notable painter Constable altered the arrangement of the real world to improve his famous picture, “The Haywain”. Trevor has written some interesting musings on his composition of the Lynn Valley, and of course has put them into practice, too. There is a large element of “love of subject” here, as the aim is to make subtle adjustments to the real scene so that the model displays it all in the best light. This is feeling. To get this right, spend time immersed in information: books, photos, videos, site visits, and then play around with plans, card mock-ups, etc.
  3. Execution – The quality of workmanship. A high degree of skill is required (the hallmark of finescale) but also the care of that workmanship – back to feeling – makes this a believable representation of the real world, even if it isn’t an exact copy of a real place. This is true finescale with feeling. To develop and hone a skill, spend time getting a feel for tools and materials.

None of this comes automatically, except maybe to the very gifted few. Not all of us can reach the high standards displayed by Trevor, but as the major requirement for each of Observation, Composition and Execution is simply time, we can all try at our own pace, and each of these can be practised whenever and wherever desire and opportunity coincide.

At the end of the process, what do we see? Just a train running through some woodland, next to a river...

Solifluction

Like me, the chances are you will have to look that up, but it is a geographical term relating to the effects of thawing and freezing of, for example, soil above permafrost. Each year, the thaw on the surface leads to over saturated soil above the permafrost, and it slips. Then it freezes again, and the cycle repeats. The consequence of all this is to create small steps in hillsides, etc, as show in the (linked) photo below from this very helpful page.

Solifluction in the Cairgorms

What has this to do with model railways? Well, recently there has been some discussion in various places, but particularly on Mike Cougill’s blog, about how great our hobby is from the perspective of personal satisfaction. We don’t just model a locomotive, as would someone building a radio-controlled vehicle, aircraft or boat. We model the whole scene, and also add movement and logical operation. (Nothing moves on a real railway without there being a purpose. This is also true of some layouts, where the builder has taken the trouble to find out about the real railway.) What the hobby teaches us, more than anything else – more than joinery, basic electrics and often some electronics, sculpting (of landforms), architecture, geography, history, economics, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, metal working, use of tools,  and so on – is observation.

Observation of the real thing.

All good models start with an observation of the real thing. Generally speaking, unless you are building a model of something akin to the creations of Roland Emmet, railway modelling is not an abstract art – it is nowhere as difficult as that. As an art, it starts with observation. I learned about bonds used in brickwork from Iain Robinson (who has today introduced me to the word solifluction!), via the Railway Modeller, I have learned a lot about texture and colour from Barry Norman and Gordon Gravett. I have developed a love of history beyond railways thanks to the hobby – school put me off that! I could go on. (I often do, according to some many…)

Sometimes it works the other way round, too. I was motivated to learn about shading and perspective at school in art lessons by being allowed to do a perspective drawing of a railway station, with shading to show the direction of the sun. I also learned about observation from my 5th form (year 11, eleventh grade) art teacher, when trying to paint a tree and failing because I had used brown and not a few shades of grey (fewer than 50, I hasten to add!) In fact, I put my astounding performance* in my art exams at the age of 16 down to the drive to observe, rather than anything else, and that came from the hobby.

So, solifluction is another thing I have learned from the hobby, and I shall keep an eye out for it in future!

If you weren’t, you will now…

Simon

*In case anyone is wondering, the words “astounding performance” were used by my art teacher (not sarcastically), who had “inherited” our class from someone who had left part-way through the year, to describe my achievement against my natural ability. I failed. 

Satisfaction. Guaranteed.

Craftsmanship.

How many trains can I (safely and reliably) drive at once? One.

You may think differently about your own abilities. Self-delusion is a great joy.
Until that train running around the loop unattended, whilst you run a second train, runs into the turntable well due to a mis-set turnout.

If it takes me five years to build the single loco to run that train, and effectively four re-builds during the process, why should I worry? I will be learning and improving all the while. I expect my layout to take between 10 and 20 years to build, after all. In the interim, there is the brass market and RTR diesels to keep me going, plus re-wheeled freight cars. All of these can be upgraded or replaced.

There is no rush to the finishing line, for there is no finishing line! The aim of a pastime is to pass time. If I can acquire new skills and a heightened sense of achievement along the way, well that’s as good as a hobby gets, isn’t it?