Thursday 8 November 2012

Out of Africa

The chance to review some of the model-making products featured on the Idealo website has given me the opportunity to look closely at items I may have thought interesting but otherwise passed by in search of something more closely connected with my main interests. The Italeri 'African House' is one such product.

Looking at the box it's clearly intended for the wargames market and by extension military modellers seeking a suitable diorama for figures and vehicles. To my eyes it looks distinctly North African and could probably serve as a non specific Mediterranean structure of some age. If built to the instructions it has a good sized 220mm x 180mm footprint,  but viewed as raw material there are 1280mm worth of nicely moulded rough-rendered stone walls as well as a cobbled courtyard surface, two sets of stairs, a dome and some paving.

Stay tuned to see what becomes of this.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Recipe for success?

Well what to do with the review sample FA2 which arrived on my workbench thanks to the benevolence of Idealo?

Memories of previous web discussion of railcars and a quick internet trawl came up with this beauty as inspiration. It's a Sentinel Camell steam railcar belonging to the railway system of Sri Lanka. It will therefore not look out of place with my collection of colonial narrow gauge models from the Indian sub-continent. Added to the Mehano FA2 chassis will be a pair of Ratio Midland Railway carriage sides and apair of ends from the Bachmann San Francisco cable car.

Will these unlikely bedfellows prove to be a recipe for success, or a congealed mess?

Friday 19 October 2012

The postman always rings twice

A double delivery of interesting packages arrived yesterday. I've mentioned previously that I have been invited by the price comparison site Idealo to review some of the model railway products it features in order to raise the profile of the site and service it offers.Though I don't get paid to review I do get to select and keep the samples. It was not having to hand back the items that guided my choice this time of the Italeri African House (more of this later) and a Mehano n gauge Alco FA2. First to arrive was postie with the Italeri kit followed a couple of hours later by the DHL courier. As both parcels were earlier than the estimated date I was already impressed.

Up for inspection first is the Mehano FA2, it comes simply but securely packaged in the sort of clear plastic box of the style that many Atlas, IHC and Rivarossi locos did in the seventies and eighties. I rather like that it's not a fantastically detailed delicate model with hundreds of fiddly bits to add on, and that it doesn't require a BSc in advanced packaging to get the thing out of the box in one piece. I've yet to be convinced that separate detail is what counts in n gauge, body shape and outline counts for more. Unfortunately this is where my skills as a reviewer run out as I'm not an expert on the prototype, all I can say is that it has the look of an Alco.

However it's not as an n gauge loco that I selected the model but as a running gear donor for a 009 narrow gauge project. I'm happy to say that despite its budget price the running quality is top drawer. Though it's not quite as whisper quiet as the Kato mechanisms that have been through my hands it's certainly not noisy. The slow running is excellent and the pick up from standstill gentle. I suspect that some of these qualities are down to the weight of the model, having body filling cast metal weights that screw to the plastic chassis spine. Though it seems possible to run without the weights, enabling a potentially greater choice of bodies to clothe the mechanism with, I shall be keeping it in heavyweight form.

Wednesday 10 October 2012


There's much of interest in old model railway magazines, even if like this example they are over fifty years old. Cyril L Fry, whose layout features on the cover and as the 'railway of the month' had incorporated smoke and sound effects into his engines, Sir Eric Hutchinson presented six drawings of pre-group wagons and Cyril Freezer has a layout design which wouldn't look too shabby alongside current best practice. 

However best of all are the reviews, which is where the gulf between now and then really shows. The new Triang diesel shunter and standard class 3 tank loco both come in for much praise which is then leavened by the sentences 'Our only criticism is that they do diverge dimensionally from their prototypes. Apart from this we have nothing but praise.'


Sunday 16 September 2012


How do you like to twiddle yours?

The Piko starter set I was sent for review comes with it's own transformer and controller tailored to the voltage and current demands of what is a far bigger and heavier model than the 4mm scale stuff I'm used to. The controller is of the centre off variety, turning the knob one way or the other from twelve o'clock changes direction as well as speed. Though my first train set controller, dating back to the sixties, has this arrangement, it's 'feel' was a bit alien to me. For the last thirty or more years I've used a series of controllers that have a switch to change direction, the rotation of the knob solely governing speed.

It seemed till recently that the centre off pattern of controllers were synonymous with train sets; I began to wonder why this might be. I doubt that there's more than pennies to be saved over the separate reversing switch, but maybe with one controller used in a range of trainsets and remaining in production for many years those savings were well worth having. Perhaps it was thought easier for young minds to understand, turn it one way it goes that way, turn it the other and off it goes in reverse.

The direction switch model should give finer control, having double the distance to sweep from off the maximum speed. I'm sure that this is why the serious enthusiast has adopted this pattern so wholeheartedly. But as ever there are exceptions, Bachmann bundle a very nice direction switch controller in with their trainsets and conversely some of those who supply what's thought of as the enthusiast market do or did centre off models.

Saturday 8 September 2012

An unexpected turn of events.

Early this week I had an unexpected e-mail asking if I would be interested in reviewing train sets. The communique was from Tommy George of Idealo UK (more about them later) who seemed to be pleasantly surprised at the level of interest and comment there is in the UK model railway scene; an area his company are expanding into. 

For a variety of reasons I chose the Piko G scale starter set to take a look at. It's a complete start from scratch set, comprising loco, a DB BR80 0-6-0 tank engine, a couple of bogie hopper wagons, circle of track, transformer, controller, and all the wires to hook the power supply up to the track. Here's what it all looks like.

As the set came from a German supplier the transformer was fitted with a two pin euro-plug. Not having a suitable adaptor I cut it off and replaced it with a UK standard three pin jobbie, all of five minutes work. Another five minutes clipping the track into a circle, and connecting transformer to controller to track and I was in business. Putting the loco on the track the first thing I noticed was how heavy it was, being more used to the mass of 4mm to the foot scale models. Come to that the track is pretty hefty too. The mass certainly tells once loco and wagons are on the move. The motor is pretty quiet which allows the clickerty-clack as the wheels pass over the rail joints to be appreciated to the full. I tested the set indoors, but I feel that its real setting should be in the garden where it could occupy the middle ground between model of a real railway and a small real railway in its own right. It has a chunky robust quality that should fit it for the harsher environment of the great outdoors.

Now what of Idealo? Well it's a price comparison site or service, they don't supply the products directly, but point you in the direction of retailers who will. As far as I can tell it works on the same or similar basis to those car insurance comparison sites but without amusing meerkats or annoying opera singers. Though it wasn't part of my brief to review Idealo I thought I should at least see if it gave credible results. I'm pleased to say on my test against Google's shopping results and a search on e-bay it came up with a keener price for the Piko starter set.

Now it won't replace the local model shop, with it's supplies of small items, materials, glues and paints, but I could see it being a worthwhile port of call, an alternative to Google shopping, e-bay or the big mail order houses as the range expands.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Unexpected Gem

If you asked a railway enthusiast what their favourite publisher was you would get a range of responses. I'm pretty sure that the likes of Oakwood Press, Wild Swan, OPC and Ian Allan would figure prominently. Many of the smaller, more niche, book houses would also be represented; perhaps in dribs and drabs, but a predictable presence. I very much doubt though, that the non-specialist press would get a look in, certainly not the likes of WH Smith or M&S. Don't they just cynically churn out Christmas books aimed at well meaning aunties who reason that because he likes trains and because it has lots of colour pictures of steam engines it's the present to choose. Six months later and they're gathering dust on the bookshelves of a charity shop. I suppose that socks are preferable to most of them, but they may be worth a closer look. Here's one plucked from the shelves of a charity shop.

Doesn't look too promising does it. However open it up and it's better than you might expect. Sure there aren't drawings, trackplans or even exhaustive histories of specific lines (yawn ... zzzzzz). It's quite generalised, to cover the world in one hundred and twenty pages it has to be, but there are some pluses It has some cracking photography doesn't aim just at the obvious and well known. Some are like the cover, 3/4 action shots, but many/most set the railway within the landscape and make it easy to home in on the essential atmosphere of a particular scene. A few are sublime works of art. Here's my favourite, the line between Shantipur and Krishnanagar in India, taken in 1981 by John Hunt.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

In the strangest of places

I realise that it looks as though I'm drifting away from Rushby's Railways and towards Neil's Review of Books. I'm not so sure that's necessarily a bad thing; reading has been a joy since my childhood and is the way that we interact with most interweb content. Mrs R was very pleased last week to pick up this Indian cookery book from a charity shop last week. I'm very pleased too as I love Indian food.

 However I'm also pleased because in between the recipes, there are some stunning images of India and just like the food I'm rather partial to the railways of the sub-continent and so pictures of the country serve to get the creative imagination fired up. Better yet one of the photos, and a double page stunner at that, shows rails down the middle of the street, an irresistible scenario.

Friday 20 July 2012

Attack of the clones?

A change from book reviews as something else has shown up on my radar. Over on RMweb, but strangely not on their own website Dapol's forthcoming O gauge program has been announced. For some time we've known of the 08 diesel shunter, now it appears that a terrier tank will follow on its heels, along with a few  wagons.  So what's new, there's been a growing quantity of modern rtr O gauge for some time now. For me it's the price; Lieverpool's favourite box shifter has the 08 to pre order at £169 (I believe the early birds did even better). Previously 7mm rtr had been either big, expensive or both, now we are to be offered models of size and cost compatible with the average home and budget. Surely a good thing? Well I'm not so sure; modellers, at least the significant section that get a bit exited at the prospect of having the latest toys, will I believe, be beating a path to the shops once these models make it from CAD files into the seductive reality of injection moulded plastic. I'm equally certain that it'll herald a surge of 7mm scale micro layouts, but I'd be willing to bet that almost all will lack the originality of this little beauty from the talented and innovative Marc Smith. Now while it's required some effort and commitment to tackle a similar project Marc's work has remained refreshingly original; once it becomes relatively cheap and easy I worry that the magazines, exhibitions and internet will be awash with pallid clones of the original. I've no doubt that the terrier will see a rash of Colonel Stephens light railway look-a-likes too. Our hobby just got a little duller.

Thursday 14 June 2012

In praise of Bradford Barton

We've all seen them, those uniformly square format, photo albums with the colour coded spines. Most second hand booksellers will have a few on their shelves. Over the years I've built up a small collection of the blue labelled diesel series. It's tempting to dismiss them as lightweight when compared to the scholarly output from publishers like Wild Swan. They make a very for a pleasant browse, a small size, railway themed, coffee table book; but is there more to them than that? Obviously I think that there is; here's one I picked up from my friend and book seller Nick Lowe.

It's a little way away from my usual interests, but it's helped me to see the value in these predominately pictorial publications. The photos are of use in sorting out the nuts and bolts of what we choose to model, though the coverage isn't as full as a detailed profile, but where they really score is the conveyance of atmosphere, that hard to quantify attribute that separates the truly great from the technically competent. Take a look at an image from Industrial Steam.

It would not be a particularly difficult scene to model, the austerity tank is available in a variety of scales, but the photo guides one beyond the infrastructure, there's the effect of the weather in the puddles and the pale grey silhouette of the head gear. I've also picked up on the human intervention in the new putty to the window of the lean to building and the tin of grease or paint left on the sill.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

The end; loss, sadness, joy and beauty 2

On Sunday a friend who knows that I have a weakness for such things gave me this slim book.

Like North East Focus it's more of a booklet than book, but the quality of the images more than makes up for their number. It's a fabulous thing that has become an instant favourite. Here's a sample of what lies within.

It's well worth keeping an eye out for; I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Thursday 12 April 2012

Loosing the fun

It's dawning on me that our hobby is changing. The slow and steady incremental developments that have always been with us are leading us towards a point where a dramatic shift, out of all proportion to the increment that takes us there, will happen. Each year brings fresh models of a standard that pushes kit and scratchbuilding to the sidelines, now the preserve of those who do it not out of necessity but choice. Quite how all pervasive this trend has become has been highlighted by the release by Bachmann of the Pendon range of ready to plonk buildings. I find it hugely ironic that the models that embody the most painstaking and patient approach our hobby have begat  resin copies now available to the idle comfortably off at the drop of a wallet.

Model railways used to be a creative hobby; I fear that we'll soon see retail therapy overtake creative endeavour.I can't in all honesty see where the fun in that is. My youth was a blur of sticky fingers, Superquick kits, Humbrol paints and tubes of Airfix glue. They may have been crude and childlike, but they set me up for a lifetimes enjoyment of making things. I'm convinced that making things is fun, it's something that we see in all children but that often gets lost in our busy adult world where short cuts to having things seems like a good idea.

Here's the latest thing I'm making. Nobody else will have one quite like it and it's kept me utterly absorbed for hours. Ready made buildings; you can stick 'em where the sun don't shine..