Saturday 28 September 2013

Middle of the road

Amongst modellers and enthusiasts trams get a bit of a mixed reception. Some enjoy pretty much anything that travels on rails, for others the fact that they are almost always single self contained units diminishes their train-ness and therefore the attraction. I like rails in the road, from the most basic of level crossings to dockside networks set in cobbles, there's something incongruous about them, they hold the promise of rail borne locomotion appearing in a mundane setting. Visiting Hay on Wye earlier this week I was pleased to find this gem for £1.49 in an Oxfam shop.

At first sight it's not hugely promising. The better railway books usually focus tightly on their subject, whether that be line, rolling stock or region; this one gives a general overview of tramways in the British Isles and Eire. However the writing is clear, interesting and authoritative; the pictures absolutely fascinate. There are absolutely no fillers just there to make up the weight, each image illustrates a feature of the tramways, each one tells a unique story, each one is visually attractive in its own right. My favourite is this one of a cable gripper car in London. To my mind it cries out to be modelled. Though this is the one that gets my motor running, the rest of the illustrations are similarly inspiring.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Triang Toys

A mate of mine came round a few weeks ago, and after a while the talk turned to how well provided for we are these days not only by the big rtr players but also the manufacturers of kits and bits. It's been a while but I think the phrase he used was 'what would we do without Bachmann and Parkside these days?'. I must admit it set me thinking, but contrary bugger that I am, mostly about the good stuff from the past. I've made no secret that I prefer the Hornby Derby type two body moulding as a starting point for models than the Bachmann offering. I also have a soft spot for the Dublo plastic wagon bodies and the Airfix rolling stock kits. My latest stock project pleases me no end in that it's based on Triang offerings from the early sixties.

As the branch line on my layout Morfa is to be modelled in the throes of demolition I thought it a good idea if I provided the engineers with some lifting tackle. The crane is Triang's model of the Cowans Sheldon 10T hand crane, and is at the start of the tarting up process. The runner is a model I put together some years ago and uses the Triang single bolster as its basis. Though my example runs on a cut and shut Parkside underframe the model which inspired it was described as Having modified Airfix parts; which is close to where we came in.

Friday 26 July 2013

Separating Myth from Fact

Since returning from Italy, the butterfly driving the decision making part of my brain has dictated that I add the railways of that country to my list of model making interests. The Yorkshire component in charge of the wallet opening mechanism had grave worries that it was going to get costly.

I'm not a naive newbie,  there's almost fifty years worth of making trains under my belt, I've taken a keen interest in the overseas scene for many years now, but I still held this preconception that continental HO meant deep pockets and opening boxes. I'm pleased to say that this is wrong, that budget options are available, along with kits and components which enable model making in the style to which I have become accustomed.

The photo above shows pretty much where I've got to with my Italian interests, and serves to illustrate that economy and craft can be brought to bear. From the right we have a Lima model of a FS D445 which cost fifty quid, forty for the loco and a tenner to post from Bologna. For that you get all wheel pick up and drive, five pole motor and a heavy cast frame. The body is finely moulded and well painted. It seems to me to be on a par with the sort of 00 gauge ready to run diesels we're used to seeing from Bachmann. The one area where  compromise is obvious is the lack of cab interior and the intrusion of the cast frame into this area. However for forty notes it's a steal.

In the centre is a part finished conversion of a Piko German brake van into an Italian baggage van. There's been much cutting and sticking gone into this model so far (detailed here), but it's been most satisfying to be able to deploy familiar model making techniques to an unfamiliar prototype. The donor van cost me three quid, it's one of those cheap and cheerful continental items which turns up at toyfairs and on e-bay at minimal cost.

Finally on the left is an Italeri kit for a goods van. The kit costs about a tenner, about on a  par with similar UK kits from Parkside once I'd added couplings (not included with the kit) and replaced the plastic wheel sets with metal. To build, it again stands comparison with Parkside kits hitting the sweet spot where the balance between ease of construction and the fine detail included is at the optimum.

I have spent considerable time on the interweb researching this new and exciting sphere. I was very pleased to find that many of our fellow Europeans practise the sorts of model making which we are familiar with in the UK. Here's my favourite.

Perhaps it's the efforts of some of our home grown practitioners which have led to the stereotype of pay through the nose and deploy the box contents continental modelling. 

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Italy by Seventeen Trains

I realise that over the last couple of years this blog has evolved from 'what I've done' to 'what I like'. I've recently reviewed books, models and kits; now it's time for a holiday.

Mrs R and I have just returned home after a ten day trip to Italy by train, organised by Great Rail Journeys. Though they run some tours aimed it seems at the enthusiast market, the rail component for majority is just a pleasant means to an end. So it was for our holiday to Lake Garda. The link should tell you all about our itinerary, so what else can I usefully say? 

To start with, from the moment the first enquiry is made, the office staff are unfailingly helpful and knowledgeable. The process of booking was made easy and good guidance given in the literature sent out. We were impressed with the phone call from our tour manager the weekend before we left to check that all was well and give us the opportunity to ask any last minute questions. Check in, security and passport control at St Pancras was a breeze. The hotels were all spotless, but the family run Hotel Desanzano was a cut above the high standards of the others. Our tour manager Carolyn was fabulous, helpful, organised, reassuring, friendly and with a wonderful sense of humour. Italy is wonderful, the Italians friendly and very willing to help. English to a good standard seems to be pretty widely spoken in Northern Italy. The guided tours were pitched just right, not being dumbed down nor too highbrow. There are two long days on the train, Paris to Desenzano, and Desenzano to Strasbourg. Italy, even the north is a long way away, the miles have to be put in at some stage. The journey can be eased by taking good pack ups and plenty to read, for those sections where the stunning alpine scenery doesn't take the eye. Enough words, have a look at what awaits.

I suppose that having extolled the virtues of the holiday I should mention the cost. It is the most expensive holiday that we've taken. Last year we holidayed in a simple but pleasant cottage in Cornwall for a week, again travelling by train. This years trip to Lake Garda cost about double the Cornwall jaunt, but was for three days longer, included excursions and most meals with a higher standard of accommodation. As such I'm minded to think that it represents better value for money. It's certainly the best holiday I've had.


Sunday 21 April 2013

Journey through the past

As modellers we're, by and large, very good at sorting out the historical accuracy of the railway side of the fence. We can generally get locos, stock and structures to match, and include those out of time subtleties of earlier liveries and out of period pieces still clinging on. Our sensibilities are so finely tuned that we easily spot and ridicule the appearance of the BR mk1 in films and TV dramas set before world war two. 

Take a step away from the railway's property and  we do less well. I realise that for some it really won't matter, won't impinge on happiness or satisfaction but it bugs the life out of me to see the effort, skill and determination to create a realistic railway sabotaged by the out of period and out of character wider setting.

I've an idea that two factors are at play; the first is our natural focus on the railway component of the model, the second being that railways were standardised and prescriptive in a way that the rest of the world was not. It's easy to apply the specified shades of paint to a station shelter or signal box and get it right, harder to do so for the cottage, shop and factory. Many is the model supposedly set in the fifties that uses today's palette, hardware and proportions. With a lack of 'rules' specifying pattern and colour what is the modeller to do?

The answer is to buy one of these, or something similar.

Country Life published a whole series of these in the fifties, they cover the whole of Britain though the rural predominates. Most are black and white rather than colour, but even so they give a valuable reference to regional architecture, landscape and farming practises.

They're beautifully escapist in their own right; hunt one down and drift off to a quieter time and place.