Category Archives: Shout out

Fear of change?

Chris Mears has made an interesting post – not that he does any other sort – picking up on discussions about what it would take for P87 to become established in North America.

My understanding is that “code 64” wheels and P87 wheel and track components are available for freight and passenger cars and diesel engines, but steam is a different matter. Also, it isn’t just about the wheels and the track: with scale wheels, the truck frames can – and arguably should – be brought slightly closer together. In a reply to Chris’s post, I touched on the fact that what it needs is for someone to actually get on and do it. The biggest obstacle seems to be fear of becoming a “lone wolf”, unable to run stock on friends’ layouts and vice versa. That is a poor excuse, as most of us have more equipment than we need, so why not have a few extra items to the other standard? This enables the P87 modeller to run finely detailed engines elsewhere, and encourages the H0 modeller to have a go at P87. For passenger and freight cars, it may be as simple as having a few spare trucks and swapping them over now and then.

I can think of several possible subjects which be ideal candidates for a reasonable P87 layout that would not be too demanding, yet interesting enough once built to enjoy operating them. Some are real, some are models, and some are inspired by the approach taken to modelling a real location. All bar one have relatively few turnouts and require little in the way of equipment: if modelled in the diesel era (which might be stretching things a little for a couple of the suggestions) then re-wheeling would be neither expensive nor time-consuming.

The obvious candidate would be Port Rowan, or Port Dover: already done in S as we know, but in the same space a model of Port Rowan station could be modelled more or less to scale length, with a longer tail track than Trevor Marshall could accommodate.
Another prototype-based model line which lends itself to adaptation for a P87 first layout – not least because it can be built in a modular fashion of discrete scenes, as confidence builds up, is James McNab‘s Grimes Line. (Yes, two links: one for the blog, the other for the site)

A couple of Eastern Seaboard prototypes come to mind, partly because I have already mentioned them on my own blog, are the North Stratford RR and the Edgemoor and Manetta.

For a trio of Proto-freelance layout ideas, two small and one moderate – and the small layouts could be connected to the moderate – then I think there is serious potential in some (or all, if you are brave enough!) of Mike Confalone’s Allagash Railroad. The rickety track and backwoods nature of what is now the Andover branch is a great starting point (the video demonstrates the rapid starts and stops of an Alco RS3, together with DCC sound). The original “Woodsville Terminal” layout, being a long, thin shelf, is relatively straightforward to fit into a house, or as a portable layout built in sections: UK practice would fit this onto four sections 48″ long, pair for storage face-to-face. The Regis Paper mill at New Portland is anther candidate for a small but satisfying start in a limited space. But New Sharon Junction, with the branch and the yard, wold make a great centre-piece for a moderate layout in P87, especially if there were a few yards of carefully crafted scenic running either side of the main station, and if there is room for the branches for pulp wood (off the “Atlantic” branch on the plan) and the paper mill (as is, coming off Carrabassett Junction) – indeed, one could supply the other. Staging at each end for a small number of trains would provide for a very satisfying scheme, capable of leisurely solo-operating (one train at a time) or a handful of friends coming round for a full-session with trains on the main, the branches, and a switch job in the yard. He has published some e-books, available from the MRH site, which I can thoroughly recommend (usual disclaimer).

Finally, what about Ryan Mendells’ Algonquin Railway? A perfect example of a layout design which could be used for a P87 layout.

The only thing a P87 requires more of than a “standard” H0 layout is time: a few hours extra to build the turnouts and plain track (if ready to lay flexi is not acceptable – it can always be replaced, piecemeal, at a later date) and a bit more time putting in new wheelsets. But even the latter is good practice, standardising on a single tyre profile is the first step to better running and using P87 sorts that out – otherwise, it is better to standardise on a single manufacturer and make sure the track matches it (so doing it properly probably requires hand-built – or at least hand-tuned – turnouts anyway). All the extra detailing is likely to be of interest to anyone prepared to consider P87 in the first place.

The rewards are immense: a railway that looks and runs like a real one.

So, what is really holding back P87? I suggest inertia, not of the physical kind, but of the psychological variety.

It’s a kind of magic

It’s early morning, circa 6:30, on what promises to be a beautiful summer’s day. I am walking down the hill to the local newsagent’s, to collect the newspapers I will be delivering today: not something I usually do, but a friend is away on holiday for a fortnight, and I am providing cover for him. It is just about the beginning of the last week of August*, and the air is clear.

From a couple of miles away comes the distinctive sound of a Sulzer 6LDA28B engine (if you are North American, think of an Alco engine), a burbling, rasping and guttural noise. Somewhere in the local goods yard (when we still had one) a class 25 is getting ready to move, but the acoustics of the area and the clear weather mean it could be just the other side of the fence – or even more miles away. It isn’t doing anything yet – no sound of wheels on rail joints or of buffers clashing. It just is.

That is the deep, emotional, memory that links me to railways. There is nothing visual, nothing tactile. The only other senses involved in my memories of that era of railways (early teens) is of warmth and the smell of diesel exhaust when standing close to an engine: if I stand too near to certain buses, I get a whiff of nostalgia for that period in my life.

That was the magic. And the memory has been brought to the forefront of my mind by an interesting and vital question posed by Mike Cougill: What happened to the magic?

And that is, frankly, the problem.

Digital sound may come close – and I don’t have a need to get a bass response that shakes me – but the odour and warmth are beyond our reach, or would be suicidal. None of this can be caught by building a 3-dimensional model. Many modellers try to recapture the sight and sound of the railway scene, but the sight is not what inspires me, or more accurately, the sound and smell cannot be captured in the same way as can be the sights.

For 37 and a half years I have been trying to capture something which cannot be captured. If I want to re-visit this experience, there are plenty of preserved railways with the appropriate diesel classes to enable me to do this, and I don’t even need to ride a train, just stand next to the engine at the station. I have been trying to capture the ephemeral, to model sound and smell via sight. I cannot do this. It is pointless to try. It all sounds rather depressing, doesn’t it?

But, this is not all bad news. The realisation of this means that I am free to divorce what I cannot replicate from my attempts to build a model railway. Although I am keen to make my models as accurate as I can, and for operations to be as authentic as possible, I am not, after so many years of going down the road, trying to build a model of a railway. I am, after all, trying to build a model railway.

This is enormously liberating. I am free of that constraint, free of its shackles: to quote Trevor Marshall, I have broken Marley’s chains!

* I can be this precise as my visual memory is of seeing the cover of the September 1978 Railway Modeller (a rather nice EM model of North Leith on the North British Railway, a layout which i did not appreciate at the time) on top of someone else’s delivery round, and it typically came out at about the 24th of the preceding month.

Unsung heroes

As some of you will know, a very close friend of 25 years standing died last week, and obituary notices have appeared on-line.

In thinking of how I will remember my friend – who was a great example of a good Samaritan as well as infuriatingly obstinate at times – my thoughts have dwelled on how he came to be so well known to so many people within the UK exhibition “scene”, thoughts encouraged by kind words written and said about him.

John got involved in supporting Mike Cook at the York Easter Show simply by volunteering. He had already been exhibition manager for the (then) annual show in Leicester, and had supported one of the more interesting 0 gauge layouts then on the circuit (Ynysybwl Fach – I hope I have that right!) and his willingness to get stuck in with the heavy loading and shifting had been noticed, so he came with good references. This naturally led to him helping at Warley and various events put on by The Association of Larger Scale Railway Modellers, where he simply got on with the job. Not officiously, just effectively and helpfully. Pat Seymour, of Alan Gibson Wheels, told me how he made them feel welcome and looked after them at York when they had just taken over the range from its eponymous founder. The warmth of that welcome was demonstrated each time they met up, especially during John’s illness: he died of pancreatic cancer. He was an accomplished modeller, always prepared to try a new technique and who would not use a new tool for a model until he was familiar with it, and had won awards as well as produced models professionally, was well known as someone to share a drink (or several) with, and would go out of us way to help a stranger, but he never looked for recognition – his primary aim in entering competitions was to get more feedback so that he could improve his technique.

The thing is, it is only when they suddenly are no longer there, that we notice the people who grease the axles. Real heroes go unsung, but that does not mean we should forget them

R.I.P. John Coulter, 1962-2015.