Tag Archives: model railways


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…


*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. 

Enlightened impatience

A discussion thread on Western Thunder about carrying on when things go wrong, had me wondering about impatience and comments made about 3 decades ago by Dave Rowe in the late, lamented “Model Railways” magazine.

Experience has taught me that as soon as I do something like break a drill bit due to rushing things, then it is time to stop. The reason is that I am getting impatient, and cutting corners. This kind of unenlightened impatience is a bad thing. Imagine you have spent 20 hours carefully crafting a model, and then rush a final cleaning up exercise intended to remove any remaining burrs by not using the right tool because it is somewhere in the tool box, and you can use the scalpel in your hand anyway. The result of this “short-cut” is that you gouge a big crevice right across the most relief-ridden face of the model. You now have two choices: repair the damage, or make it again. Either way, the “short-cut” from not spending 30 seconds looking for, say, your glass-fibre burnishing stick, has cost you several hours.

Enlightened impatience, however, is a good thing, and I use it all the time to make myself slow down just a little bit. Enlightened impatience means that in the above scenario, I will stop, put down the tool which will nearly do the job, and select the right tool. I spend 30 seconds, but gain several hours and really don’t miss the frustration I haven’t generated. Similarly, using a series of drills to progressively open up a hole rather than one final drill of the required size will produce a neater, cleaner and more accurate result. Backing-off when tapping holes, rather than forcing the tap, means it won’t snap – not only breaking the tool but also leaving part of it behind.

Enlightened impatience means reminding myself that if I slow down slightly, and take my time, I won’t end up remaking the piece, and I will get to my goal sooner.

Every really good modeller I know does not rush things, but works carefully and methodically, and gets the job done in a steady manner. Conversely, every time I see something which looks a bit “slap-dash”, conversation reveals the modeller to have been in a hurry to get things done.

Maybe the “secret” of finescale is simply an attitude of enlightened impatience? Or as the Latin motto has it:

Festina lente

If you are in a hurry, slow down…