The Gibbon’s Blog

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.

Back from Berlin! Here’s what I got up to before going.

The main station at Mangapps Railway Museum.

Such is the buggered state of the ticketing of our railway network, that I discovered an interesting fact:  It often costs the same – sometimes cheaper – to get a ticket to visit a town just outside London with a one-month return period as it does to just get a ticket into London with the same conditions.  Before heading into Berlin I had this brainwave when I failed to obtain cheap flights at a sensible time that wouldn’t entail a night in a London Airport, due to the fact that the trains go to bed as well as we do; faced with the prospect of a night on the Red Bull, I opted to take the Eurostar instead (with onward ICE connections to Berlin), but once again I had been thwarted in my attempts to go at a sensible time in the morning that left me enough leeway to take the train into London.

This led me to book a single-night stay beforehand at a Hostel known as Clink 261, virtually right outside London St. Pancras International.  At a cost of £14 booked a little over two months in advance, this wasn’t too bitter a pill to swallow when my train travel to Europe had cost just under £180.  With this in mind, it occurred to me that seeing as I had a full day before I had to head into London anyway, why not make a day out of it?

Let’s conduct an experiment for a moment; as of the 8th of July (the time of writing), a one-month ticket to London Zones 1-6 costs £42.80 should you stick to off-peak times, so both the London Ticket and Town Tickets will be from Monday 9th at around 9am to Friday 13th(!) at around 8pm for the sake of comparison.  With this in mind, let’s examine a few destinations under the same conditions:

  • Burnham-on-Crouch:  £39.50 – This is where I elected to go in order to visit Mangapps Railway Museum, which isn’t the easiest to get to on foot, but still a highly interesting collection of Locomotives, Rolling Stock and Railwayana.
  • Tunbridge Wells:  £33.10 – This Kentish town is home to Tunbridge Wells West, one end of the Spa Valley Railway.
  • East Grinstead:  £30.20 – The highest risk option, given that the only way in-or-out from London is via perpetually strike-stricken Southern trains, but the carrot on this particular stick is the Bluebell Railway, that beautiful pioneer of Railway Preservation.

So we pick three destinations close to London, and we save £3.30£9.70, and £12.60 respectively.  Sure, if you opt to only use Zone 1 of the Underground, you’ll get a price of £38.60, which is cheaper than Burnham-on-Crouch, but it is still above the prices of Tunbridge Wells and East Grinstead by a considerable margin.The only issue you are likely to encounter is some of the gates into the London Underground throwing a wobbly, which isn’t exactly helpful in the late evening, but there’s usually at least one worker near the gates who’ll let you through.  Oddly enough, when I got to London Waterloo for the final leg of the journey, the ticket barriers worked without issue!

Come to think of it, many Hostels offer a lift to London Airports, so this is something worth investigating the next time I have to fly to GodKnowsWhere at Silly ‘o’ Clock in the night.

In any case, here is my photo album of the quirky and interesting Mangapps Railway Museum.


My thoughts on Paranormal Phenomena

When it comes to the subject of ghosts, two groups seem to be grabbing all the headlines:  The first group is the believers, a group that contains those who claim to be able to communicate with the dead, the latter often ending up on cheesy reality-style programs where they’re occasionally trolled by their own crew members; the second group mostly consists of sceptical people telling the first group to grow up.

The current state of Paranormal Research

Given that the state of Paranormal Research is at the same stage now as the state of Medicine was in the 1600s, this isn’t exactly a surprise.  All those theories that currently seem quaint and amusing to our modern ears – bad smells, too much sea air, too little work, too much work – that were once used to explain Scurvy were taken with grave seriousness by the believers of the day, often in spite of a lack of concrete results.  There is also the truism that holds to this day that people in positions of prestige like to believe things which serve their interests, or at least make their trials and/or moral quandaries seem a little easier to live with.

Stir in a few attention-starved scammers manipulating photos causing runaway press sensationalism, and ending in a bathetic “it was fake” revelation, and you have a recipe for contempt of the subject.

Thankfully, there are some of those in the sceptic camp who are willing to investigate.  These people seem to date back to the mid 1740s when a theologian by the name of Emanuel Swedenborg began to have visions that shook his blind faith in Christianity.  These included visions of his home in Stockholm being threatened by fire whilst he was at a dinner party 250 miles away.  Needless to say, he had burned his bridges with the church by the time he died in 1772, but he had laid the foundation for others to advance the field, such as those who founded the Society for Psychical Research in 1881.  Today, the same principles of exhausting all possible explanations befitting current theories before announcing a discovery are upheld, albeit with modern tools such as EMF Meters, Motion Detectors and EVP Recorders.  One of the main theories for feelings of unease is Infrasound, low-frequency sounds just below our range of hearing that match the resonant frequency of our internal organs.

Have I encountered any evidence?

I’ve heard it said that before the advent of the internet, people didn’t even talk about their paranormal experiences for fear of being earmarked for Broadmoor.  There have been times which I might term “near-misses”, where I thought I saw something but they have either dissipated before I could observe them or my mind was playing tricks.  So, nothing I can say that has reached “I know what I saw that night” levels.  This in no way prevents me from being deeply fascinated with the concept of life after death, and the implications it has for our understanding of good and evil.

Undeniably, the rise of sites like Reddit, Youtube and other places where people can upload their experiences has done a great deal to shatter the stigma of occupying a haunted property, and numerous Youtube channels read these stories out to great effect:  Lazy Masquerade, Unit #522, Be. Busta and Lets Read! are just a few that I regularly listen to.  With any luck, over time the paranormal will be further ingrained into the mainstream conciousness and paranormal investigators will therefore find it easier to obtain funding.

So, long story short, I keep an open mind

So in summary, my opinions on the paranormal can be summed up in the opening of Extreme Ghost Stories, a tragically-short ITV series from 2006 that is well worth a watch.

Throughout history, ever culture and age has told stories of hauntings, visitations from beyond the grave. Whatever your beliefs, what cannot be denied is that the living are outnumbered by the dead.

The tales you are about to witness are created from first-hand accounts; they portray the experiences of people who had no more reason to believe in ghosts than you. Is it possible that beyond our understanding there exists a darker world?

Therefore mark me down as an open-minded Sceptic:  Given the frequency, accuracy and diversity of accounts, I’m inclined to think that a darker world could indeed exist…

Youtube Channel Recommendation: Strathpeffer Junction

A very recent addition to the ranks of model railway channels to which I am subscribed, this layout is based upon the railways northwest of Inverness in the 1980s and 90s, when BR had been branded Scotrail in the region, and Class 37s (“Tractors” 😉 ) ruled the roost; it is in the very early stages of construction inside the gable roof attic of a house, which for obvious reasons of space is a favourite of modellers.  Pity that there’s less reason than ever that one might have access to an attic in this day and age.

At the time of writing, progress has been limited to the conversion of the loft and the construction of the frame members of the baseboard.  The layout has an interesting concept for it’s fiddle yard, whereby a lower baseboard contains the trains that will climb up inclines to reach the upper scenic baseboard where all the action is, and eventually disappearing down another incline to return to the fiddle yard.  Almost certainly easier to accommodate in a limited space than a helix at either end, whilst still allowing for gentle gradients.

Being a fan of highland based layouts ever since visiting the Strathspey Railway back in 2016, I look forward to seeing what this guy makes of the imposing scenery and the often-beautiful Scottish railway stations.  There will also be an element of physical triumph when the layout is complete, but more on this later.

The real Strathpeffer Station

Interestingly, as the Disused Stations page reveals, Strathpeffer was a terminus in reality, owing to a failure to obtain permission to build a line through the town and having instead to run the line through Achterneed to the north.  The line was refused permission to run through the land of William MacKenzie of Coul House, forcing construction of the line to the Kyle of Lochalsh to run through the nearby Raven Rock, resulting in gradients of 1 in 70.  The landowner’s son later retracted the objection to the line, but by that point the Dingwall and Skye Railway Company had expended huge amounts of capital on it’s diversion, eventually running out of money at Stromeferry.  The Highland Railway had to step in, buying the DSR and completing the line to Kyle of Lochalsh twelve miles onwards.

Its a fascinating story in it’s own right, one that creates an interesting “what might have been” scenario.

An inspirational layout

This is where the story takes a somewhat tragic, yet hopeful turn.  The builder of the layout suffered a spinal injury sustained while white water kayaking, which amongst other outdoor pursuits had supplanted his childhood love of model railways as he grew older.  Given the majestic nature of his surroundings, I can’t say I blame him.

We can expect to see the effects of this dictating many of the features of the layout, which has already been designed to be used while sitting on a chair as standing for any extended period of time is sure to become painful.  As a disabled person myself (Autistic Spectrum Disorder), I know first hand about having to work around your limitations, except in my case it involves utilising my concious mind in order to compensate for what I cannot do unconsciously; socialising therefore means running a gauntlet of examining a group’s reactions in order to know when to join a conversation, when to elaborate and when to stop talking.  If you’ve ever wanted to know why we elect to spend so much time alone, there’s your answer.

It is early days for this layout, and there’s no telling what the river of inspiration will deliver to a man over time – my own layout has proven this surely enough! – but I definitely look forward to seeing how it develops in order to give him the most comfortable and satisfying experience.

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…