What exactly is going on with Steam Bicycles and the Law?

Anyone with even a passing interest in steam locomotion has probably heard the story of an enterprising cyclist – Sylvester H. Roper –  who had fitted the titular external combustion engine to his machine, garnered the unwanted attention of the fuzz, only to be released without charge when they couldn’t work out what he had actually done wrong.

Since then, a number of other cyclists have made attempts to apply the concept of steam power to two wheels, from Michaux-Perreaux of 1868 to Geoff Hudspith of the present day.  Interestingly, there seems to be a hiatus of machines from the Victorian period onwards, no doubt because steam power doesn’t scale down particularly well and internal combustion engines are generally a better option due to greater power density and ease of use.

Where the Law (probably) stands

Disclaimer:  This is NOT Legal Advice.  If you are seriously considering registering a Steam Bicycle for the public roads, consult a specialist legal professional on the subject.

Morbidly enough, the dearth of incidents involving steam bicycles has left me wishing that more people ran afoul of the law just so more information would be available.  The best I can really do is to read up on laws regarding both electric bikes and petrol bike kits, and attempt to amalgamate a rudimentary legal picture.

We’ll start with the basics:  Under UK law, all electric bikes are limited to a power output of 200 Watts, are limited to 15mph, and must feature a ‘Pedelec’ sensor to only run the motor while the pedals are turning.  That means no throttles, which is strike one against the steam bicycle.  The EU laws are more permissive, with maximums of 25km/h (15.5mph), and 250 Watts, but as far as I’m concerned the sooner we can adopt American laws the better; what could be better than an iron horse that only rears up when you want to try for a Darwin Award?

Surely building a 200 Watt Steam Bicycle is no different?

Although a like-for-like comparison between a steam engine and an electric setup is near impossible without fully examining the steam circuit, the Hudspith Steam Bicycle in it’s original condition was said to develop 1/4hp, or ~190 Watts, fairly comparable to a legal electric machine.  This, along with it’s top speed of 8mph, would be theoretically within the letter of the law, but as we’ll see, things aren’t so rosy in the real world beyond the numbers.

You see – regardless of whether you remain within the law or not – if you want to remain away from the fuzz on your electro-horse, the key to hiding in plain sight is to keep cycling the pedals at all times, refraining from burnouts and generally not doing silly shit like charging up a steep hill in a Swansea suburb at 30mph.  Electric machines also have a major benefit of lacking any major emissions of both the aural and gaseous kinds.  Only the first is true of steam bicycles, and neither is true of petrol bikes.

Various attempts have been made during wartime to make Steam Locomotives stealthy (as viewed from the air, mind) with varying levels of silliness.  None of these were particularly successful, however, with most attempts having adverse effects on the draughting and/or obscuring the driver’s view with smoke; not exactly the invisibility the designers had in mind.  In any case, with visibility distances of perhaps tens of metres, it is unlikely that solutions designed to work from kilometres away will do anything to disperse the visible vapours, particularly on cold days.

For those of us who want to follow the law – and make history it seems – what are my options?

Your first port of call is to obtain an Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) Inspection, the successor to the Single Vehicle Approval (SVA).  This is a test primarily concerned with whether a custom/import road vehicle is fit to drive on the road, whereby the driver is also required to operate the vehicle and any doors without difficulty.  Given that the primary concern of this test is operational safety, it is unlikely that your average bicycle will pass; large wheels, thin spokes and high speeds are not a good combination, especially when turning.

Similarly, when it comes to constructing your own frame, unless you are seasoned in the art of welding and structures, you might as well be wrapping yourself in red tape.  It’s a good bet that using the chassis from another motorcycle/moped, and building the steam engine and boiler gubbins around that, is likely to involve fewer headaches.

Speaking of which, boilers are legally considered explosive devices, and not without reason:

Given the distinctive lack of space available for a stoker and his shovel common to all two-wheelers, a manual approach to managing the water/burner levels is not an option, especially when you’re inevitably preoccupied with the road.  Thankfully, advances in electronics in recent years mean that building an automatic stoker is – relatively-speaking – childs play.  Still, government officials are a nervous bunch when it comes to personal liability, so good luck convincing them of your electrical and coding prowess.

Once the chassis and boiler have been tamed, it should be a matter of building the engine and building a suitable control system.  Beyond that, you’ll need the usual suspects:

  • MOT Certificate
  • Insurance (from who?)
  • Register the vehicle with the DVLA (as what?)
  • Vehicle Excise Duty
  • L Plates (If you lack a full motorcycle license)
  • Crash Helmet conforming to EU Regulations

In conclusion

Annoyingly, this is probably one of those posts which is just a thousand-word way of saying “no-one really knows”, mostly because the rigmarole of building a steam-powered bicycle for the public roads under modern legislation has never been attempted before.  The legal hurdles of the IVA Inspection alone are enough to make even the second coming of Brunel shudder.

Still, if you’d like to attempt it, feel free to get in touch.  In the meantime, I’m sure the idea of a steam moped will jump out at me once I’ve got some money to incinerate.

Britain’s most powerful steam locomotive finally looks like an engine

Has it really been ten years since Tornado first hit Britain’s rails in her grey undercoat?  I know that Tornado has been around a while but I forgot that I had only just finished Secondary School by the time she was unveiled.

Tornado (1)

Having driven the illustrious machine myself, I can confirm that the dedication and workmanship that has gone into her has resulted in a fine engine indeed.  Grasping the regulator and reverser both feel as solid as the controls of an industrial lathe, and actually driving her was something of a fusion between a delicate responsiveness to the controls and the feeling of “okay, we’re moving…  now what?” that comes with driving such a large and powerful machine.  Her first runs at Great Central Railway were expected contain at least a handful of teething troubles, but her time there ended with a test train of eleven coaches and a “dead” diesel, which assuming the coaches are Mk.1s amounts to a load of around 450-600 Tonnes, with 2,000 Horsepower produced and not a hiccup in sight.  It even has USB Charging Ports!

Tornado Cab (3)

With all of this in mind, it becomes clear as to why I have been so utterly stoked to see No.2007 Prince of Wales finally begin to look like the titan of the rails she was designed to be.  With a child’s imagination, the simple presence of both the boiler and driving wheels is enough to envision her as a complete locomotive.  Needless to say, Britain’s most powerful steam locomotive deserves a team with this level of pedigree behind her, especially considering that with the hitherto unimaginable standards offered by modern metallurgy and manufacturing techniques, it is entirely possible that Prince of Wales could raise the high bar of tractive effort set by her peers in the P2 Class.

This has got me thinking recently about the state of Britain’s Engineering Sector, and even though I currently only have the perspective of a mere technician – so not a “real Engineer” I suppose – I believe there is a lot of potential for the nation.  A lot of our expertise plays a major role in projects around the globe, such as capitalising upon the engineering success of the Crossrail initiative to export the talent and experience gained for the metro systems of other cities such as Sydney in Australia.  But where is the nation to gain and generate that expertise in the first place?

The simple answer is in ambitious engineering projects.  New Build Steam lists 22 projects under construction as of the time of writing, with a further four being New Build Diesels.  An unimaginable prospect when Railway Preservation was simply an initiative to rescue engines from scrapyards too lazy to cut the damn things up as soon as they arrived, which just goes to show just how popular and successful Heritage Railways have become.  And these, as well as Crossrail, are not alone in supporting the theory that Engineering isn’t dead in this country.  The recent Farnborough Airshow has seen the reveal of Project Tempest, a sixth-generation fighter aircraft that aims to revive the combat aircraft industry that suffered a major blow with the demise of the TSR.2, leaving the English Electric Lightning as the only home-grown supersonic combat aircraft to see service with the Royal Air Force.

The unveiling of the Tempest is probably the most significant of these, given that unlike the aforementioned heritage projects that preserve the past, and Crossrail that meets current demands, it’s an ambitious defence project aimed at meeting future needs.  Specifically, those of defence.  I’ve said before that Trade is the bloodstream of Civilisation, and in order to keep that blood from becoming diseased and having it’s nutrients stolen by pathogens, a strong immune system is needed.  If British industry can pull this project off, then not only can we sustain the base of knowledge required to remain relevant, but the future of the fifth largest economy in the world by GDP will be assured.

CPU Cooler Air Conditioner Mk1 – The Test

The last time we were here, I left you with a quick construction that tested a concept that I had had in my head for a few years, but never got around to verifying:  Linking a CPU Cooler to a Heatsink immersed in icy water to transfer the heat in the air into the icy water, blowing cooled air into one’s face.  That was the theory, anyway.

That said, if life has taught me anything, it is that theory and practice are two different things.  It is all well and good for me to claim that the CPU Cooler Air Conditioner Mk.1 works because my theory sounds good and the air seems to be cooler when it leaves the fan, but to really prove this idea, I need to put some numbers to it.  To this end I have obtained a meat thermometer from my local supermarket, which isn’t much compared to a UKAS-certified thermocouple and reader, but it allows readings to one decimal place and should be reasonably accurate.

The Method

The Control

The first thing to do is quite obviously to establish what the Control is, which in this case would be the ambient air temperature.  There is also a dial thermometer mounted on the wall in my room, which I will monitor to gauge whether the ambient temperature is increasing or decreasing during the course of the experiments.

The Fan Test

The next thing to be done is to determine what temperature readings would be obtained with the fan from each system running at full tilt on it’s own.  This will provide what is, in effect, a second control for the system under test, ensuring that we know whether it is the fan doing all the work.  The temperature probe will be raised into the airflow next to the fan for ten minutes, after which the temperature reading will be recorded.

The Ice-Water Test

This is where the systems are put to the test-proper.  Each system will be tested with the same amount of ice (250g, as this is what will fill the cheese-grater tub), immersed in water almost to the top of the container, leaving a gap to allow for melting ice to fill the tub further.  The full setup is then allowed to work for fifteen minutes, after which the temperature of the air leaving the fan is recorded.  After this test is completed, the water will be drained and the remaining ice salvaged for use in the next test.

The Ice-Salt-Water Test

The final test is the same as the Ice-Water test above, but with a controlled amount of salt (50g) stirred into the Ice-Water mixture; this is likely to saturate the water with salt at the temperatures and volumes we are dealing with.  This is to test the theory that adding salt to the water will lower the freezing point of the water, which will permit it to attain a lower temperature and thus chill the air (or the heatsink in the case of the CPU Cooler Air Conditioner Mk.1) to a lower temperature.  After this test the salt-water and ice are both discarded.

The Results

Setup Temperature (℃)
Ambient Air Temperature (Control) 25.8
Silverstone RL4Z S1803212H-3M 180mm Fan 26.1
Zalman CNPS9900 Max 26
Silverstone RL4Z S1803212H-3M + Ice-Water Cheese Grater 26.7
Silverstone RL4Z S1803212H-3M + Ice-Salt-Water Cheese Grater 26.8
CPU Cooler Air Conditioner Mk.1 25.3
CPU Cooler Air Conditioner Mk.1 (Ice-Salt-Water) 25.5

The Verdict:  Inconclusive

There are some conclusions to be drawn from the results beyond the notion that you might as well just blow a fan on yourself:

  • The Air Conditioner does indicate that the concept works, but the low level of cooling suggests that it is inefficient.
  • The Fan + Cheese Grater solution is a complete farce, with it’s results indicating a rise in air temperatures.
  • Adding salt to the water does not increase cooling effects – possibly the opposite is true – and it could be harmful to the unit in the long run with increased risks of corrosion.
Possible improvements:
  1. Add a Peltier plate between the CPU Cooler and the Heatsink to act as a heat pump to force heat energy into the ice water.
  2. Some kind of agitator mechanism to stir the water, to help prevent algae growth and circulate cool water around the heatsink.
  3. As TIM needs a solvent to clean it off of a CPU after use, I doubt that it can be washed away; that said, it would help to create a waterproof barrier around the heatsink on the lid to prevent contamination of the water by the TIM, possibly allowing the water to be drunk after use (once it has cooled down!).

CPU Cooler Air Conditioner Mk1

CPU Cooler Air Conditioner.

Just over a week ago I tweeted a picture of a setup I had going on my PC Desk; Essentially, fill a cheese grating tub with iced salt water (the salt lowers the freezing point of water, hence it’s use on icy roads), put the grating lid on top (leave the tub lid off, but you can use it to prevent spillage whilst moving the unit around) and place it in front of an old PC Fan you have lying around.  You’re going to want as big a fan as possible, as they tend to have both respectable airflow and reasonable noise levels.

The way this worked was that there would be a chamber of air above the iced salt water that would be cooled when air particles hit the water and transferred their heat energy to the water – heat will always travel towards the cold – and the air will thus get colder.  The fan will then pick up this chilly air and thrust it towards the user, while fresh air will be sucked into the tub to be cooled by the iced salt water and thrust forward.

It seemed to work, both in principle and in practice, but it did have some drawbacks:

  1. The cooling effect depends on whether or not the air remains in contact with the water long enough to lose a significant amount of heat energy, if it even contacts the water at all.
  2. The fan was never exactly stable, being unprotected and therefore prone to breakage (of either the fan or my fingers).
  3. As I have learned to my cost, the iced salt water solution is very easy to spill.

So this got me thinking:  Was there a way for me to bypass the need to rely on air – a notoriously poor conductor of heat – in order to transmit the heat from the air to the iced water solution directly?

The CPU Cooler in question

It was at this point that I remembered about the Zalman CNPS9900 MAX that I had recently dispensed with from my Main PC on account of the space it took up inside the now tiny case.  Zalman were famous for their flower-shaped CPU coolers in the Athlon XP/Pentium 4 days when I began in PC Hardware, and this design was their last hurrah, a circular rebuke to the quadrilateral, functional wave of the future that now dominates CPU Cooler design.  Effective, yes, but also incomparably bland, as is now becoming true of most AIO Coolers.

This cooler has been in my possession since 2011 and has outlasted several generations of graphics cards, so I felt it was my duty to give such a long-serving component a new lease of life, even if it suffered the ignominy of being perched upon a lunchbox for the rest of it’s life.

The Build

The Component Parts

Still, a fantastic CPU Cooler is worth nothing without the right kit to enable it to perform it’s job.  In a PC this means a CPU to perch it on, and in this case it means the following items:

Materials required for CPU Cooler Air Conditioner.
From left to right: Lunchbox (with rubber seal to prevent leaking water), CPU Cooler, plain aluminium heatsink (using one with copper or other metals present introduces the risk of electrolytic corrosion), and a set of nuts and bolts. The Aluminium plate was originally intended to bridge the gap between the heatsink and CPU Cooler, but this turned out to be surplus to requirements.

Could hardly be simpler, could it?  The only additional bits used were a couple of compounds; Nut Lock to set the nuts in place, and TIM (Thermal Interface Material) to create an effective heat transfer between the heatsink and CPU Cooler by filling surface imperfections with a conductive paste.

The build commences!

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The whole process was over in a couple of hours.  Not so good for aesthetics, but brilliant for those of us with things to do and places to be.

The End Result

I would say the results spoke for themselves, if this was indeed anything more than a proof-of-concept.  This device looks like the sort of constructions that would scatter around weapons laboratories up and down the country in the next world war.

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So how effective is it?  First impressions indicate a positive result, with the air being blown from the device being noticeably colder than if it were from the CPU Cooler alone.  How does it satisfy the three drawbacks I outlined before?

  1. The cooling effect no longer relies on the rather dubious concept of air being cooled by a chilly body of water in an enclosed space, and then extracted by a fan.  The chilly body of water is now receiving heat energy from the CPU Cooler taking it from the air, transferring it to the lower heatsink, which then conducts it to the water.  In doing this a direct heat path to the icy water is created.
  2. The fan is mounted into the CPU Cooler, which means it is protected by it’s fins.  The Zalman doesn’t have an outer shroud like most CPU Coolers do, so the blade tips are still vulnerable, but it’s a better deal for both your fingers and the fan than simply standing it up on it’s frame.  Most modern CPU Coolers use fans with an outer casing.  There is also the fact that it is mounted to a lunchbox full of water, which prevents it from tipping easily.
  3. The gap for the CPU Cooler and heatsink to mate through isn’t watertight, so spillage is still possible.  The aforementioned stability of the device and the fact that the edges of the lid are sealed, however, does mean that spills are a lot less likely.

So there are many concrete advantages to this configuration.  With regards to it’s effectiveness, however, going by “feel” is no way to ascertain whether a device is functioning correctly.  Join me next week as I obtain a thermometer and put this to the test, also assessing this solution against the old cheese grater solution.

The N Gauge Dual-Scene Layout Log 5: The Great Divide

I’m making it law on this blog that every post contains at least one link to my Flickr account 😉

Joking aside, It would probably be helpful to include a link to the latest batch of photos documenting my progress on Flickr, given that both the photos and blog posts compliment each other, for words can say what pictures cannot and all that philosophical carp.  Today’s story begins when I got bored with weathering my track, squinting at rails 80 hundredths of an inch in height painting them a subtly-different colour from the rails.  I had no idea that such a small layout could demand so much painting at that level.

As is the way with the middle of the project, the choice was between something I’d rather put off, and another thing I’d rather put off.  And with that, I broke out a sheet of recently-acquired 9mm plywood and got to work making good on the fundamental concept of this layout.

Making good on the name:  Constructing the Backscene

Ever have one of those ideas that you think of as a minor addition to your project and yet they turn out to be genius?  This was the case with using the guide rails pictured below:

Backscene Construction (9)

You see, their original function was to keep the backscene straight across the centre of the baseboard, as my experiences of warping with plywood is pretty bad.  Quite by accident, however, it made the bracing process a lot simpler than it would’ve been otherwise, as it clamped the backscene in the correct orientation.  A little PVA glue sealed the gaps and added to the integrity of the structure.

Backscene Construction (10)

But alas, such successes cannot last.

By the time it came to cutting out the side supports, the plywood was back to it’s old tricks again – chipping, de-laminating and generally ending up looking like the kind of workmanship found in a boiler cupboard.  While this isn’t too critical, it is something to keep in mind for exhibitions in future.

This was where the guide rails really paid their dividends, as I could act with confidence that the centre of the backscene was going to stay put.  The side supports were of a simple triangular profile, with a void in the middle for dealing with derailments mid-transition.  From there it was a simple case of screwing the parts into the layout battens, and nailing the supports to the backscene, which serves the dual function of straightening and strengthening it.

Backscene Construction (13)

The end result is a sturdy backscene, 20cm high for the best compromise between compactness and scenic space, that effectively separates the two scenes.  It was such a simple job in the end, yet it’s effectiveness is undeniable.

The Goods Yard:

Backscene Result (1)

The Station:

Backscene Result (2)

Bonus Trivia:  The shortest railway stations in the UK

Here’s a bit of odd inspiration I came across at my new job (I’m a Junior Lab Technician now, coming up in the world!).  It involves two railway stations in Scotland, less than ten miles apart just north-west of Inverness, called Beauly and Conon Bridge.  Just before I reveal the length of the platforms, I’d like to point out that the class 158 DMUs that serve the stations can only open one door to let passengers disembark.

That’s right.  15 Metres.  A Class 158 has carriages 23 Metres long.

Come to think of it, the goods yard could be receiving it’s own station after all…


RailEx 2018 – Trip Report

There are many reasons to go to a model railway exhibition – meeting friends, buying supplies, observing the handiwork of those with a frustratingly-high amount of free time compared to yours.  I was unable to meet Matt Wickham up at Ally Pally this year, so seeing as he comes down to this area of Buckinghamshire to visit family, this was an ideal place to meet up.  Besides, for once I was the one showing him MY handiwork!

This exhibition seemed to be a celebration of 4mm scale, with an abundance of EM Gauge and P4 layouts on display.  This means a lot more of the visually-pleasing finescale track than you would normally expect.  Two such layouts have made my top three, with both of them at the upper end of the list.

The Top 3 Layouts

1) Burntisland

Burntisland (3)

Set in the town of the same name in the County of Fife, Scotland, this Pre-Grouping layout is set in 1883, a nod to the fact that it is a P4 layout with a true 4mm/foot gauge of 18.83mm; this puts it’s time period in between the Tay bridge disaster and the construction of the Forth Bridge, meaning that the preferred onward method of reaching Edinburgh at the time was by ferry.  I can only assume that the officials who planned goods workings came to the same conclusions, as the famous floating bridge designed by Thomas Bouch (of Forth Bridge fame) has been modelled, complete with working winches to load/unload the rakes of wagons.

Burntisland (6)

Due in no small part to the lack of documentation from the period, Pre-Grouping railways are notoriously hard to research.  Photography, if it exists at all, is often of a poor quality and almost never colourised, as I discovered when modelling some Metropolitan Railway coaches a few years back.  This makes it doubly-impressive when anyone does such a good job of such a layout, especially considering the sheer number of liveries that have doubtless disappeared from people’s conciousness.

Burntisland (7)

As such, Burntisland (pronounced Burnt-Island, it turns out) takes the well-deserved number one spot.

2) Hornsey Broadway

Hornsey Broadway (2)

Normally I wouldn’t think too much of a layout set in the BR Blue period; too distant for nostalgia and yet too recent to lend itself to legend.  Also BR Blue ruined the 5-PUL units.  I know I’m too young to remember that too but its unforgiveable.

As an avid train-tripper, I am no stranger to train travel through London.  Hornsey Broadway is a layout which, to my mind, perfectly captures the knotty nature of the tracks which pick their way through the capital, with a dash of 70s thrown in.

Hornsey Broadway (7)

The result is an atmospheric mix of pleasingly-complex trackwork, drab buildings, British cars and the transition between BR Green and BR Blue liveries.

Hornsey Broadway (8)

It can sometimes be hard to logically justify why I like a layout so much; maybe its the trackwork reminding me of going over all those flying junctions whilst travelling through London, perhaps its the thought of what train trips through London would’ve been like at a time fairly close to the time period when BBC’s Life on Mars was set.  The one thing I do know, however, is that this is worthy of second place in my eyes.

3) The Summit

The Summit (4)

As O Gauge is such a massive scale, it’s appearances at shows are usually themed around small rural backwaters or industrial goods yards, where the focus is strictly on the trains due to space constraints.  Very rarely do we get the appearance of a railway in a landscape that is often the preserve of the smaller scales, but this is exactly what happened with The Summit.

The Summit (5)

The layout represents the titular summit of the Settle & Carlisle line at Ais Gill.  The breathtaking scenery of the Yorkshire Dales providing a dramatic and effective scenic backdrop to the many varied workings on the line (which includes an engine towing it’s own narrow-gauge launch, apparently 😉 ) without the need for too much space – the scenery represents just a few hundred feet either side of the line – and it remains effective despite a very simple trackplan.  Little more than a crossover and a couple of lay-by sidings are in the centre of the layout.

The Summit (2)

When I say that the above Fowler 3F is like that RV from Top Gear that launched it’s own sports car, I’m being facetious.  This is probably either a trip-to or a return from the works, as before the widespread rise of heavy road haulage and the roads needed to support it, slow goods trains were one’s best bet at getting something so heavy around the country for reasonable rates.

So that’s my top three layouts for RailEx 2018.  Incidentally, be sure to visit my friend’s website on his representation of Horsted Keynes station in OO, and also to check out his photos and video of the event.

The N Gauge Dual-Scene Layout Log 4: Buildings and Track Weathering

I must confess that I have not exactly been looking forward to painting the track, given the length of time that it took to get the test pieces presentable; and these were just made of a single Peco Double-Straight each.  It seems that I have entered the sluggish middle-part encountered on any project; this is where the excitement of starting out has worn out it’s welcome, yet you’re not close enough to the end to be energized to finish what you started.  This is the main threat to the completion of any project – more so than any material or monetary shortages I find – so it is imperative that we find reasons to smile about how far we have come.

A dusting of industry – weathering the track

Its quite amazing how something so simple as painting your model railway track can do wonders for it’s level of realism.  Covering the shiny rail sides and sleepers with coats of subtly-different shades of brown is probably the rite of passage which allows a train set to graduate into a model railway.

Track Painting (2)

The shot above is probably the one which illustrates this best; already the track has taken on the kind of sooty, dark brown appearance that the accumulation of rust, dirt and brake dust would bestow it.  Obviously, the rail heads would have to remain shiny and exposed, doubly-so given how notorious N Gauge is for problems with current-pickup on short-wheelbase locos, but when combined with the crushed stone ballast, the track is likely to really look the part.

Creating the look of a SR-themed Heritage Line

Having been raised on a diet of heritage lines in the south such as the Mid Hants, the Swanage Railway and the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, there was no doubt as to what the setting would be for my first layout.  Originally the plan was to model the Meon Valley Railway in an alternate timeline where the movement to preserve the line was successful, even if it pains me to admit that the Mid Hants would never have existed.

After a great many evenings working on the Metcalfe buildings upon my new modelling desk, I am in a position to mock-up their positions, which I have done below.

Building Placement Test (1)

Two things are readily apparent here.  The first is that there is significantly less space behind the goods shed than Anyrail would have had me believe, which will lead to a little creativity when it comes to the road bridge I plan to use as a scenic break.  The second is that the platform shelter is disconcertingly close to the edge of the layout, with the outer platform being cut off at the baseboard edge.  I’m going to need to avoid fragile details to that platform, such as lampposts and station signs (we can always say that the sign on that platform is beyond the baseboard 😉 ).  The lesson here is that Anyrail may be a great program and a real timesaver, but if I’m to create accurate layouts in future, it is not to be completely relied upon.

A quick visual inspection will tell you that the Metcalfe country station is not of Southern origin, but it is in fact based upon a standard design of the Cheshire Lines Railway.  With this in mind, a facelift with the help of some Humbrol was in order; Green platform shelter pillars, green window frames and green window sills are enough to immediately evoke the SR in the eyes of the viewer.  Pity that when I thought of this, the windows were already assembled and mounted, leading to a moment of l’esprit de l’escalier on my part.  Even so, I’m sure you’ll agree that it turned out rather well in spite of my short-sightedness:

Station Building SR Modifications (1)

Station Building SR Modifications (2)

So, what’s next?

Easily the top priority once the track is painted is to build the backscene which bisects the layout.  Admittedly, the backscene is another thing I’m trying to put off, given that all the paintings I’ve ever done make as much sense to the eye as a piece of abstract art in the middle of an engineering drawing.  If it makes me feel any better, I guess that my choice to model a countryside scene on both sides, even if its a little cliché, does mean that the scenery should be simple to paint.

Until next time…


Unearthing my childhood: Layout in the shed

A Garden Shed that once contained a Model Railway.

As is the custom in the United Kingdom, the slightest appearance of sunshine brings on a plethora of attempts to make the most of the good weather before it buggers off behind the clouds once more.  As such, my dad has taken to repairing and renovating the garden shed that once contained my childhood OO Gauge Model Railway, which he built.

I will admit that I probably didn’t appreciate this layout as much as I should’ve, being around 12 and all, as the track was eventually lifted and the shed spent the longest time under two jurisdictions; On the left there was the side for my brother, James, which was usually covered in car parts, and on the right was my side, where a lot of effort was expended wrecking the once-pristine surface with careless DIY.  Now that all of that is gone, imagine my elation when I came to discover that thanks to my dad’s decision to use double-sided tape to secure the track, the outline where trains once ran is still very-much traceable.  It’s not often that I get to play archaeologist.

So, without further ado, join me this week as I explore the relics of my forgotten start in railway modelling.

The ghosts of Hornby’s past

Coming into the shed, and observing the former trackbed for the first time in years, it is clear that the ravages of time, nature and UV light have not been kind to the shed.

The left side of the old OO Gauge layout.
The baseboards are of Medium-Density Fibreboard, which isn’t a great material as far as pinning the track down is concerned, so it’s no wonder my dad chose double-sided tape instead. Sagging and what I assume to be mould are in abundance.
The middle of the old OO Gauge layout.
Not much going on in the middle, apart from the spur to the turntable.
The right side of the old OO Gauge layout.
Probably the main action area of the layout. Once the home of a turntable and locomotive shed, this turned into my main area for DIY once the track was lifted, hence the spray paint and holes.  To be honest I don’t know what I was thinking putting that sticker of a city on the hillside of the faded Peco backscene; this would be like improving a Picasso artwork by sticking an airfix model of a tank to it.

So maybe time for a refurb…

A BRM-style review of the trackplan

For anyone making a start in model railways, I would seriously recommend getting the three volumes of the BRM Guide to Trackplans & Layout Design.  These are superbly laid-out guides on how to design and build an effective model railway layout, and they contain colour plans and descriptions of many successful layouts of all sizes, as well as beginner-friendly bullet point lists of the good and bad points.

Another reason to get them is that they also contain articles clearing up some of the lingo in the hobby, such as what code 100 and code 75 mean with regards to OO Gauge track.  The three volumes contain content which is progressively more advanced, with Volume One containing articles geared towards the basics like layout location and baseboard construction; Volume Two goes more in-depth with modelling locations, track design and maximising the space you have available; Volume Three has articles almost entirely focused on modelling real-world locations, so you can see how your skills are expected to develop over time.  If you are just starting out, and you have to pick one, get Volume One.

So, for the sake of brevity, and because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (wink, wink!), let’s break out Anyrail 6, retrace the trackplan as best we can, and assess these remains in closer detail.

Plan of Old Train Shed OO Gauge Layout in Anyrail 6.
An approximate reconstruction of the original layout, done in Anyrail 6. This layout was constructed in a space of approx. 2894mm x 1689mm, or 9ft 6in x 5ft 6.5in. 57XX Pannier Tank and two BR Mk1 Carriages for scale.  N.B:  The light-grey rectangle beside the right flank of the layout is a proposed extension to the baseboard, it is not currently fitted.

Starting from where the Pannier Tank and Mk1 Carriages are located, we move off into what can be considered the main run of the layout, negotiating the outer loop, we cross the diamond crossing and turn right on the points (the left heads into a rudimentary two siding goods yard) to enter the inner loop.  After crossing the diamond crossing again, we cross the middle section into the right flank, rounding the curve passing the engine shed with it’s turntable, and we cross the spur leading to it to come back where we started.

As we can gather from that description, it was clear that dad intended to buy mostly tank engines as the motive power for the railway, and as it happened, these made up the majority of the fleet.  That said, I did treasure a couple of tender locomotives in my fleet; a Midland 2P and the A4 Pacific Mallard as I recall.  Many of my operating days on this layout were pockmarked by derailments of the tender engines as they tried to negotiate curves they were never suited for.  The light-grey extension to the baseboard, which brings it up to the door frame just like on the other side, would’ve permitted 2nd radius curves to be used, saving a lot of frustration.  Of course, this would also mean some kind of bypass on the left flank, before the diamond crossing.

While I can appreciate what dad did for me nowadays, given that he likely knew less about model railways then compared to what I know now (which, as I’m discovering with every problem I run into with my layout, is not a lot), back then, I clearly didn’t give this layout the love it deserved either.  Granted, I was twelve, but I still think that if I had made a bit of effort to make the layout my own, i.e:  added scenery and detail, it may never have been mothballed, but become a treasured surviving part of my childhood.

  • Use of the diamond crossing allows for two loops where only one might exist otherwise, extending the run.
  • Turntable and engine shed provide a perfect place for showcasing the fleet.
  • First Radius curves used too often on the main run, causing tender engines to derail.
  • Not much room for a substantial station.
  • Goods yard could easily be turned into something more substantial, such as a shunting puzzle.
  • Rudimentary scenic detail with no landscape leaves viewers in the dark as to the theme.

What the future holds…

This area is indeed ripe for development, and the timing is great, too.  Product-wise, these are exciting times for the Railway Modelling hobby, and not just in terms of locomotives and rolling stock – even if those are a little expensive – but the scratch/kit building end of the hobby is being revolutionized by the emergence of 3D printing; from obscure classes of stock, scenic objects and people, to spares for out-of-production locomotives.  Even if you are on a strict budget, companies like 3dk are allowing people to take advantage of the widespread abundance of decent photo printers to provide designs that can be printed in perpetuity, saving a lot of money especially when recycling waste card.

Needless to say, the N Gauge layout is giving me enough trouble, so maybe a project for next year.  In the meantime, there’s always Anyrail 😉

The London Festival of Railway Modelling 2018 – Trip Report

Last week, I divulged on my ulterior motives for visiting this show.  While it should not be forgotten that The London Festival of Railway Modelling is something of an annual pilgrimage for me, if you know what the going rate is for what items you’re looking for, it’s pretty easy to snag a great deal at the various trade stalls.  In this case, I spent £185 for a Bulleid Q1 and a four-car rake of Maunsell Carriages in Blood & Custard, consisting of a composite, two thirds and a brake, making the perfect small heritage line train for the Southern Region; I’ve seen Dapol Q1s alone going on eBay for almost as much!

Anyway, that was last week, today we get to explore what my top 3 layouts were at this illustrious event.  These three will be listed in what I personally declare to be an ascending order of greatness, the top three based upon atmosphere, operational interest and inspirational value.  Atmosphere concerns less of the amount and correctness of the detail present, but how it adds up to a cohesive whole to evoke the layout’s time period and situation.  Operational Interest is self-explanatory, how many unique situations can be modelled within the layout’s trackplan, although this can be as simple as running a unique formation across the layout.  Inspirational Value is a criterion designed to address an elephant-in-the-corner in today’s hobby, the inspiration of both outsiders (parents who bring their kids, basically), and the younger generation themselves; will they be able to look at a layout and identify simple yet effective ways to make it look good?

Number 3:  Kensington Addison Road

Kensington Addison Road (3)

Attaining the Bronze Medal this year is a layout with a distinctly bronze ambience!  Must be all the brown around, but nevertheless this Grouping era layout offers a lively variety of colourful rolling stock undergoing a transition from a myriad of liveries to those of the Big Four.

Being an O Gauge work, there is necessarily a wealth of detail around, which is just as well because while the name implies a different place, the mention of Olympia on the station nameboard invites comparisons to it’s modern counterpart, Kensington Olympia.  A quick trip to Google Maps and the Disused Stations page yields some interesting alterations over the decades, such as how the siding that the gangers are ripping up has now become platform 3 for the District Line.  Depicting a well-known location in a different light is one premise where the immaculate, highly realistic layout approach shines.

Kensington Addison Road (8)

‘Kam’ the Circus Elephant propels baby Yvonne Kruse towards the station building, a nod to a famous 1956 photograph

Heavy on atmosphere, this layout makes good use of a time period when the Grouping was in it’s transitory phase to display a myriad variety of liveries, as well as having a competent amount of operational interest.  The inspirational value does suffer as a result of it’s phenomenal level of detail, however; this layout is a club effort, and as such only other clubs are likely to think that they can take something like this on.  As such, Kensington Addison Road retains a well-earned 3rd place.

Number 2:  Lacey Dale

Lacey Dale (4)

Here we have an example of N Gauge in it’s element, even if the dramatic scenery is composed of relatively few different scenic items; a single shade of green scatter appears to be used across the whole layout, with white plaster cliffs and isolated bits of hedge making up the rest of the natural terrain.  Even so, the end result can best be expressed by asking the reader to imagine what it would be like to look up from one of the platforms below.  Personally, this layout brought back painful memories of cycling up the Dorset hills, even though there isn’t a road in sight!

Closer inspection yields the reason for Lacey Dale’s Silver Medal, however.  This layout manages to present an exhibition-worthy spectacle whilst sticking to some fairly simple modelling techniques, which is handy when it comes to inspiring the audience to participate in the hobby.  The trackwork is Code 55, weathered suitably to remove the gleaming aura of a train set, incorporating some creative pointwork on the lower level to keep the shunting fun and the space small.  Stock objects have been visually upgraded, with the standard Peco buffer stops receiving a load of ballast in place of the moulded stone filling.  The addition of passing loops to the high level lines fleshes the main line out by adding a place where slow trains can be bypassed.

Lacey Dale (1)

Even though this is a club effort – just like Kensington Addison Road above – the simple-yet-effective nature of the scenery is significantly more accessible to the average lone modeller.  While the scenery lacks the precision of most of the other layouts present, Lacey Dale did strike me as a layout that I could potentially replicate without decades of experience.

Number 1:  The World’s End

The World's End (4)

This spot was a toss-up between Saltdean, a fictional O Gauge layout depicting a colourful variety of Pre-Grouping LSWR Traction and Rolling Stock (albeit in a location even the makers themselves admit would be impossible to reach by an adhesion railway!), and this one.  The World’s End is a rather vertical layout set in the Yorkshire town of Knaresborough, which Primary School children may identify as the home of an iconic Prophetess – Mother Shipton.

The layout itself is an impressive collation of significant landmarks in Knaresborough.  The first thing which strikes you upon viewing this layout is the deep, expansive valley, along with the impressively fortified viaduct spanning it; it is fitting that this structure is the focal point of all the railway action, in spite of the fact that there’s not a lot going on in terms of trackplan complexity.  There are also quirky houses sat atop the cliff overlooking the River Nidd, The building acting as a booking office to Mother Shipton’s Cave, the ruins of Knaresborough Castle and of course the station itself.

The World's End (2)

I think for this layout the number one spot isn’t earned so much by any individual elements but in how the whole is presented.  There is a certain depth to the layout which is rare to see, with the massive valley and the emergence of the station from a hill atop the cliff.  In terms of inspiration, the link to Mother Shipton would probably pique the interest of anyone who learned about her in school, as I certainly did.  Overall it does a great job of bringing one of Britain’s most quirky and interesting towns to life in model form, and as far as I am concerned it is okay to be personally swayed by one factor of many.


Until March 2019 rolls along, thank you for reading, and happy modelling!

The N Gauge Dual-Scene Layout Log 3: Spoiling myself, 2mm style

A Bulleid Q1 and Maunsell Coaches in N Gauge.

So the London Festival of Railway Modelling has come and gone for the year, leaving a trail of empty bank accounts in it’s wake.  At least, if the other patrons had an experience like mine.

My current collection of N Gauge rolling stock, treasured though it is, consists of a motley band of locomotives and wagons in a toolbox, as they have been stored since childhood.  A 94xx Pannier Tank, a Large Prairie Tank, a Bulleid Light Pacific and an Intercity Class 47 make up the locomotive roster, and the ravages of time and movement have not been kind to a couple of them.  Needless to say, today I take better care of my trains.

As for the rolling stock, A smattering of vans, open wagons and bolster wagons make up the goods fleet.  Amazingly there is only one passenger coach in the whole box!  A chocolate & cream suburban carriage with pizza-cutter wheels and a missing underframe, which would be fine if the motive power was a Peckett saddle tank like Teddy here, but I have serious doubts that such a tiny machine would be able to cope with insulfrog points even if I did have the will and ability to make one in such a diminutive size.  Another highlight is the trio of Mk1 Parcels Carriages in Intercity colours that I got with the 47, and examining it next to a product of our time produces some interesting comparisons:

A Graham Farish Mk1 Parcels Carriage and a Dapol Maunsell 3rd Class Carriage Side by Side.
Representing a product of the early 2000s, the Intercity Parcels carriage reflects a time when modellers were predicting the terminal decline of British N Gauge.  On the other hand, the standard of the Maunsell would’ve blown minds in OO circles at the time when I began playing with model trains in the same period.

There are too many improvements to count.  The pizza cutters on the bogies?  Gone, replaced by finer, chemically-blackened wheels.  Fine detail abounds, of both the moulded and separately-fitted varieties.  NEM pockets fitted as standard, making conversion to Kadee knuckle-couplers a cinch.  Tiny decals on the windows.  Working, yes, working corridor connections (although not flexible enough for setrack, as I found out to my embarrassment).  It even has pickups on the wheels for what I assume could be a plug-in lighting system.

In short, this standard of detail in such a small size – ready-to-run, no less – would’ve been inconceivable in my youth.  Still, no train goes anywhere without motive power, and for that purpose I have deployed the most powerful 0-6-0 ever to run on Britain’s rails:  The SR Q1 Class.

A Dapol Q1 in N Gauge.
Copes remarkably well with the less-than-ideal job I did laying the track, particularly when facing the curved points.

Designed by Oliver Bullied CBE as a War Department machine for the Southern Railway, which lacked a decent goods haulage capability being preoccupied with passenger workings throughout the densely-populated south.  Peculiar features such as the casing around the boiler were designed with non-strategic materials in mind, such as using the plentiful but structurally-anemic Idaglass Glass-Fibre Insulation to lag the boiler.  The class long outlived any expectations of an Austerity design and soldiered on until 1966.

This Dapol rendition uses a tender-drive mechanism with a cardan shaft running through the cab, a luxury which is more easily afforded than on, for instance, a 4F, owing to the Q1 class’ high-sided tender.  Moulding and rivet detail is very precise and well-proportioned.  Separately-fitted detail abounds, with the sanding gear being particularly prominent.  Running qualities are stellar even before running-in, with a smooth and powerful quality being readily apparent.

So as I sit here, £185 poorer (£90 for the Q1, £23.75 for each carriage), I look forward to a time when I can view this procession lazily trundling it’s way around the layout, surrounded by the cheerfulness of preservation on the station side, and the mournful decay of a declining railway in the goods yard; okay, in the latter context the Maunsell carriages wouldn’t fit, but the Q1 was ultimately a mixed-traffic machine, and it’s many pickups will serve it well going over the basic starter-set pointwork.  This year’s turn at Ally Pally was a rare moment of extravagance for me, and one which yielded some very pleasing results.  Want to know the full story?  Next Week 🙂