John's Jottings

As overheard at a model railway club, somewhere in Cheshire, and jotted down by John Millington. The names and locations have been changed, but these stories are based on true conversations.

Archived editions (1-77, see nav-bar at the top of the page) were originally published via the Cheshire Railway Modellers website, but from December 2012, issue 78, the Jottings can be found here in blog form.

John Millington is a nom de plume. The author's true identity is disguised to enable him to continue collecting material for the articles.

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160. Keep Off - October 2019

Posted on September 30, 2019 at 9:45 AM

While at the Foxhanpton exhibition, a visitor noticed that a locomotive had become partially de-railed and some of its wheels were bumping over the sleepers and ballast. The operator was unaware of this until the concerned chap stretched forward and made to return the wheels to the rails.

“Get off. Keep your hands to yourself,” the operator shouted angrily at the well-meaning fellow.

“But I was only re-railing it,” he replied, upset at the tone of voice with which he’d been addressed. “I don’t like to see trains damaged by being run along the ballast.”

“You don’t ever touch models at an exhibition,” he was told most forcefully.

On the way home we discussed what visitors should do and say when they spot something amiss that has not been seen by the operators. As well as major problems like de-railments, it could be a wrongly-set point that prevents electrical power from getting to a train. There could be debris between the rails that might lead to a derailment – perhaps a coupling that had fallen from a previous train. Then there’s side-rods and valve-gear that have come loose and threaten to catch on sleepers and throw the loco off the track. Or perhaps it’s a point or signal wrongly set for the move being made. May be some of the information is wrong on the display boards or given out by the presenter.

Whatever the problem, we decided that there were at least four responses visitors could make: stay silent, point out the problem, attempt to rectify it, or offer to rectify it. Of course, discourteous visitors would always loudly laugh, while ridiculing and belittling the builders and operators for their poor workmanship and lapse of attention.

But help, or even the offer of help, is sometimes perceived as unjust and unwelcomed criticism. It upsets the builders and operators, who may already be embarrassed by the incident.

“Don’t assume that operators will immediately recognise you and know you as a reliable, trusted and careful modeller,” Fred said. “Many don’t watch their audiences, and are oblivious to their comments and actions until their hands breach the frontier and enter the miniature scene. They haven’t a clue whose hands are reaching towards their models, so the invaders are seen as an immediate threat to be countered and repulsed. Quite understandably, operating teams don’t welcome unknown visitors touching their precious models.

“However, getting the audience involved is a growing trend,” he went on. “Some layouts welcome assistance with, for example, selecting the wagons for the next move in a shunting puzzle. And then there’s drive-it-yourself, work-the-levers-yourself, and putting loads and passengers into wagons and coaches on participation layouts. Indeed, for some show visitors, the best events are those where they become operators.”

We came to the conclusion that reporting a problem was fine on matters that affected safe running. Members of the public, and even fellow exhibitors, should ask for and receive permission before taking remedial action, but only if they have the necessary skill and dexterity. At other times everybody should keep their hands well away from the baseboard edge until permission has been given, so they are not perceived as posing imminent danger.

“Perhaps the only time when a visitor should intervene without permission,” our chairman suggested, “is when serious damage is both inevitable and imminent. This could be when a locomotive has fallen off the track and is about to topple over the baseboard edge.

“What is definitely unacceptable is loud-mouthed offensive nit-picking on things like points, signals, the make-up of trains, livery anachronisms, and inappropriate or wrongly-secured loads.” And we all agreed with that.

159. Electrickery - September 2019

Posted on August 31, 2019 at 10:35 AM

One of the members of the Barton Bridge club was adamant: Cab control with common return just did not work. From many years’ experience he has concluded it was the cause of all sorts of electrical problems. If a controller failed, it had to be because the system used common return, even if the cause was actually a broken wire. If the electric light signals operated incorrectly, it had to be a direct result of using common return, even if the reason was a fault in a relay that was powered by a transformer unconnected to any of the traction circuits.

Another of the club’s members, who always installed common-return wiring, had drawn out beautifully coloured circuit diagrams showing all the possible combinations of polarity. But they didn’t persuade him. No amount of explanation would convince the sceptic otherwise

He seemed particularly concerned that parts of the return wires could be carrying 24 volts – the combined voltage of two 12 volts controllers working in parallel. Would the insulation of the wires withstand such a voltage?

“But surely supplies in parallel increase the current, not the voltage,” Graham commented. When challenged, it seems the fellow worried about that as well.

“I don’t want my wiring getting hot and starting a fire underneath a baseboard,” he explained with genuine concern.

“You just use a slightly heavier duty wire for the return wire,” Graham advised. “But unless you are using really ancient motors in your locos, or operating locos larger than O-gauge, there should be no problem these days. After all, DCC puts a roughly 20 volt supply into the track with up to 5 amps, and normal layout wire is adequate for their ‘bus’ wires.”

The fact that for over five decades, a great many layouts have successfully operated with common return cab control was not sufficient evidence to make the disbeliever even consider changing his mind. He was wedded to the concept: One function - two wires. Always.

His own layouts had two-way section switches on their control panels, one connected to each controller, but there were always two wires going out to each section: a feed and a return. This increased both the length of wiring and the number of terminal blocks he required, and hence the costs incurred. But it was a price the fellow was prepared to pay.

“Simplicity of the wiring concept leads to easier fault-finding,” he proclaimed. “If a section goes down, then there are just two wires to examine. If a common return wire is looped right round the baseboards, you don’t know where to start looking for the break, do you?”

“Just bridging each of the rail breaks in turn with the tip of a metal screwdriver will quickly tell you if the problem is with the feed or the return rail,” Graham advised. “Then there’s only the continuity of one wire to examine. Surely that simplifies fault-finding even more, doesn’t it?”

“Doesn’t every modeller have his own way of designing wiring?” our chairman suggested. “There are some basic rules imposed by the very nature of electricity, but how they are implemented is up to the individual modeller. Isn’t it all a matter of the level of technical understanding, how well he can cope with setting out and reading complex wiring-diagrams, and the mechanics of installation that determines each modellers’ style of wiring? In the end there’s seldom just one right way.” And we all agreed with that analysis.

158. The Railway Story - August 2019

Posted on July 31, 2019 at 5:15 AM

At the Plonkton show, we overheard one member of a club that had better remain nameless, beefing on about how he had taken over five hours of video of the club layouts, made them into a CD-based presentation, and offered them to club members. He proudly premiered his production one club night. After about five minutes, members started to drift away and resume work on their layouts. He only managed to sell three copies. Over the following months, he couldn’t even give away his surplus stock.

“No support,” he complained bitterly. “They don’t care. They’re an apathetic lot. Pointless me spending all that time doing it.”

Now his friend, who was from another club, had done something similar for his club layouts, and was very pleased with his sales.

“Sold over two hundred copies,” the successful entrepreneur told him. “We’ve usually shifted at least a dozen at every one of the last seventeen shows where we’ve exhibited. That’s brought in some useful cash. It’s almost paid for our newest layout.” His listener was green with envy. He thought it most unfair that his efforts had neither similar sales nor generated significant revenue. He couldn’t see where he was going wrong.

“When I heard this, I did some quiet probing into both their offerings,” Fred explained to us. “The first chap had simply strung together all his shots, possibly in the order he’d videoed them. There was no underlying logic behind the sequence, just a succession of jerky zooms, pans, and fancy cross-fades. While filming, he just couldn’t hold the camera still, or resist using every video-effect on his computer’s editing program.

“There were other problems as well, “Fred continued. “On one occasion, a train went into a tunnel behind a steam loco, and the next shot showed it emerging from the other end being pulled by a diesel. That was a lack of continuity. Several times he revisited a layout he’d shown earlier, and more-or-less repeated the same sequence of shots as before. The whole thing was most disjointed. No wonder his fellow club-members were not interested.

“Now the other fellow had planned his shots and thought about how they would be edited together. They’d been put into sequences, each one telling a clear, if simple story. Sometimes it was just the progression of a train through the scenery. Other times it was shunting. The most complex portrayed the co-ordinated arrivals and departures at a junction station, when a luggage van was transferred from one passenger train to another. Each part of the move was shown, though not necessarily in full, and from a variety of points-of-view.

“Ah, yes,” Bill sighed. “I remember when I was helping prepare some work for a TV studio, both the producer and the director were insistent. “There are three things to remember when making high quality video,” they kept repeating. ”They’re story, story and story.”

“Some people run their model railways with neither rhyme nor reason,” our chairman commented. “They send trains round on a whim, without any purpose other than to look pretty. But there’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s what brings them pleasure.”

“That’s toy train set,” Paul commented, pleased to share his wisdom with us ignoramuses.

“However, there are others who do their best to replicate in miniature the movements of the prototype,” our chairman continued. “No loco moves without a clear purpose. No wagon leaves a siding without a load to carry, or going to collect a load from elsewhere on the system, even if that place is only represented by the fiddle yard. No carriage runs without a destination, be that a station, carriage sidings, or servicing depot.” It remains to be seen if Paul adopts any of these procedures when he operates a club layout.

157. The Expert on Everything - July 2019

Posted on June 30, 2019 at 2:35 PM

The other week we heard a story about another club. It seems one knowledgeable member examined a newly-constructed control panel. He was disgusted at what he saw.

“You’ve not installed enough point switches,” he commented.

“Which ones are missing?” asked the chap who was fitting the panel to the layout.

“For a start, you’ve missed out one for that cross-over,” the self-appointed club expert-on-everything replied with a certain amount of glee. He always liked to point out the mistakes made others. It was a good thing he was such an assiduous member, otherwise the club’s layouts would be in such an un-prototypical state, they’d become the laughing stock of the exhibition circuit. “And the lack of a point switch will affect the flexibility of operations.”

“Only one switch is required,” the installer assured his questioner.

“It’s essential to have two,” the critic insisted.

“Why two?”

“One for each point,” was the curt reply. “That way you can insolate a loco in the platform by just moving a single set of point blades.” He asked himself how the installer could have failed to realise this. He answered himself: “You might be a competent electrician, but you didn’t understand trackwork or operation needs.”

“In all the signal boxes where I’ve been a guest, every crossover was controlled by a single lever,” the electrician stated. “Having all four blades co-acting has been a safety feature for over one hundred years. It makes sure that if one end of a cross-over is changed, then both ends are changed. That prevents derailments of trains using the cross-over, should the signalman forget there were two separate levers.” The critic was is no way convinced.

“And your double slip: with just two levers, it’s impossible to understand, never mind operate, You’ve tried to be too clever by far this time, my friend. With the ordinary points that lead to it, you really need at six levers.”

“I think it’s time you did some homework,” he was told, firmly but politely. “Go and observe the working of the cross-over at our local station. You’ll see that though each point has its own motor, they work in parallel. That’s what I’ve replicated on our model. Go and study published signal box track diagrams. You’ll see that the points at both ends of a cross-over have the same number. That means they are controlled by a single lever. Study photos of real signal boxes. If you can read the labels, you’ll see crossovers have just the one lever, and double slips have only two.”

“Why mention this now?” the electrician went on. “When the PW team installed the point motors, they connected the wires to those at opposite ends of the crossovers so they were in parallel. They didn’t raise any queries, or raise any objections.”

“Perhaps they didn’t know any better,” was the tart reply.

“The wiring diagram has been available for weeks for members to examine, comment on, and suggest improvements,” Sparky continued. “You’ve had plenty of time to scrutinise it and suggest changes. But you haven’t raised any objections.”

“It’ll never work,” was the damning response. “Just you see.”

Later the evening, the first loco trial was held using the fully-powered-up panel. The loco ran. The points worked as required. The loco went where it was intended. When more locos were added and the isolation section brought into use, all prototypical moves were possible.

“It all goes to show,” our chairman commented.”Some self-proclaimed experts aren’t all that knowledgeable. They only think they are.” And we all agreed with that.

156. The Featherweight - June 2019

Posted on May 31, 2019 at 2:10 PM

While at the Farthing Gate show we heard about a member of another cub who came into the clubroom with a six-foot long lightweight baseboard. As one might expect, there were comments about it being too long to carry without inflicting a hernia. But it was indeed very light. He then brought in a second board, equally light, and fixed it to the first. The track was down. The tunnel mouth was in place. Blocks of foam gave a rough impression of how the landscape would look.

“This is the first time I’ve had the baseboards together,” he said. “I can’t get them both set up in my railway room simultaneously. And my wife won’t let me put them up anywhere else in the house.”

The other club members sympathised. He then proceeded to attack the foam with a kitchen knife to roughly carve out the land form, putting the off-cuts into a bin-liner. Electro-static interactions ensured that they didn’t all stay there. They subtly spread across the clubroom and attached themselves to members’ clothes.

“I don’t suppose your wife allows you to do that at home either?” his fellow-members asked with much glee. She didn’t. Not even in the garden, or on the drive. There was the potential for far too much mess. The other members appreciated his predicament, but wondered who was going to clear up the mess he was making in their clubroom.

Then the industrious fellow started to file the foam to create gently rolling countryside. Polystyrene shards and individual beads went everywhere and clung to everything. But only the happy landscaper was oblivious to the mess. Drifts of polystyrene clung everywhere and stopped all delicate and paint work.

Credit due. When he had finished, he got out the vacuum cleaner and systematically rounded up every last fragment. “Does your wife make you do that at home?” he was asked, amid much mocking laughter.

“Of course,” he replied. “Don’t you help out round the house?” There were some embarrassed laughs.hen he had finished, he quietly opened up the cleaner, removed the dust bag and went outside to empty it. Obviously he’d been well-trained in correct domestic procedures. He was away for quite some time. His friends wondered where he’d gone, and for what purpose.

“Isn’t it just good manners to empty a full bag?” our own chairman asked. “A bit like not leaving the washing up for others to do when it’s your turn?” We all looked at Peter and Paul, though they didn’t respond.

“It was obvious,” our chairman continued, “that washing-up and bag-emptying were novel concepts for some of that club’s members.” We chuckled amongst ourselves. Perhaps, like a couple of our members, they didn’t realise that bags ever required emptying, or had no idea how to do it, or where to put the contents, or that dirty pots don’t clean, dry and put themselves away.” We all looked at Paul and Peter. They still seemed oblivious to the fact they were the target of this gentle reminder that club membership involves duties and obligations as well as benefits.

155. Snow and More Snow - May 2019

Posted on April 30, 2019 at 2:15 PM

There were three snow scenes at the Merle exhibition. One had taken the simple solution. Everywhere was covered in white scenic scatter, deep and crisp and even. Only the rails remained uncovered. Obviously the frequent passage of trains had kept them clear during the recent snowstorm. But nothing else seemed to have moved since the blizzard had passed. Even the runners on the children’s toboggan left no ruts. The skiers left no tracks. Nobody had put a foot anywhere to violate the pristine snow. Had all the little inhabitants been frozen stiff by a blast of super-cold air?

The hall lighting was known to be poor, so the owner had brought along his own well-provisioned lighting rig. This meant that the snow scene could be seen from right across the exhibition. It positively sparkeled, attracting visitors from across the hall. However, the whole scene was so brilliantly illuminated that, close-to, sun-glasses were necessary to prevent snow blindness.

On the second layout, snow had been applied more sparingly. The underlying vegetation could still be seen, only partly masked by a gently filigree of white. One side of the cutting was whiter than the other. Wagons in sidings were dusted in snow, while moving vehicles had roofs more-or-less free of snow. The scene was almost black-and-white, but there were always those subtle hints of colour. It was this sophistication that made it special. It was not surprising than many visitors were taking photographs.

The snow on the third model was as deep as on the first, but had been applied far more thoughtfully. There were deep drifts against the east-facing sides of every building, and accumulations in the spaces between adjacent buildings. But where there was a chimney against an end wall, the curving path of the hidden flues within the stonework could be traced by the lack of adhering snow. Some roofs were blanketed in snow while other had snow slipping down, threatening to land on passers-by below, the difference indicating the relative warmth of the rooms within.

Snow had stuck to one side of every signal and telegraph post. There were footprints, attempts to clear the snow, people resting from shovelling snow, vehicle tracks, with the distinctive paths of leading and trailing wheels, men pushing cars, people attempting to clear windscreens, the route taken by toboggans along a street and then repeatedly down a near-by slope. The accompanying children’s footprints only went up the hill, not down. There were even the paw prints of animals, definitely dogs and cats, and possibly a fox.

There was one set of enormous prints. If you followed them you were rewarded with the sight of a woolly mammoth hiding in a spinney. This caused great amusement amongst the more observant of the visitors. “Ah, you’ve seen it,” the operator would call out amid laughter, much to the annoyance of the less observant spectators.

Arching over the entire layout was a blue sky-cloth through which light permeated giving a sombre cast to the scene – that indefinable mixture of blue and purple, grey and white that is only created by snow-laden skies. It was so atmospheric you could feel the chill in the air.

“Observation” out chairman commented. “Careful observation is the key to realism when it comes to scenic modelling, whether it’s a winter scene, or high summer, spring or autumn. Don’t model as you think it ought to be, or as other people have done it. Get out and look for yourself. Study every detail. Make notes. Ask yourself questions as to why things are the way they are. And if you can’t provide convincing answers, discuss it with scientists, geographers, other modellers, read books, talk with artists and photographers, visit on-line forums, both those dealing with model railways and other branches of art and landscape, consult experts in relevant fields of knowledge.” Now who could disagree with that?

154. Weighty Problems - April 2019

Posted on March 31, 2019 at 5:35 AM

There was a real expert on one of the layouts at the Salchester exhibition. He would explain to all and sundry why only certain engines were allowed to go along the lightly-laid branch line or enter the even lighter-laid lines in goods yards. He explained in great detail the GWR’s system for categorising the weight restrictions for their routes and how cab-side symbols were used to indicate the route availabilities of each of their locomotives. This was reflected in the livery details he applied to each of his models. “We modellers must have prototype accuracy,” he said many times.

What he didn’t seem to realise was this true-to-prototype policy didn’t apply to his wagons. The contents of mineral wagons ranged from three-quarters empty to one-and-a-quarter full. The top lumps were precariously hanging on to their position, instead of rolling down the heap and falling off the wagon altogether. Was it prototype practice for some collieries to use glue to keep their loads in place?

Another freight train included several wagons with four coils of steel strip just fitting nicely onto each wagon. But their combined weight far exceeded the carrying capacity of the wagon. Now if only real railway wagons with equivalent strength could be assembled from plastic kits, just think how few wagons our rail companies would need to provide.

On the same layout there was a Plate wagon, with four pieces of thick grey plastic sheet aboard. In real life, if they had been steel, the wagon springs would have cracked and the entire chassis pan-caked onto the rails. But the wheel-loading would have also have exceeded the strength of the rails, so no doubt buckled and shattered track would have been added to the mess!

At the same show we heard of an HGV delivering two drums of 750-volt cable to a trackside depot. Now each drum was about 7ft in diameter and weighed over 12 tonnes. That was greater than the tail lift could carry. The lorry driver called for a crane.

“We don’t have a crane, either fixed or mobile,” the yard foreman replied.

“What do you have?” the delivery driver asked.

“We’ve a fork-lift truck. You could use that.” Examination showed it to have a capacity of only 1.5 tonnes. The foreman rang a superior to get advice.

“Open the tail-gate and roll them out,” was the received wisdom.

“Once a drum starts rolling, how are you going to stop it?” the driver asked incredulously. “You lot won’t want to stand anywhere near where it’s going to fall off the back end, will you?” None of the yard workers would be that stupid, would they? “You’ll be chasing after it, but it’ll only stop when it mounts a track and falls over. You could so easily block a running line.” The workers hadn’t thought of that either.

“We could set out some sleepers across it path and stop it that way,” they suggested

“What’s more likely to happen,” the driver told them, “is that when the cheeks of the drum hit the ground, the weight of the cable will wrench the core free. You’ll then be left with a shattered drum and a potentially fractured cable. There’s no way you’ll be able to extract the cable or move it to site.

Eventually the foreman conceded that they couldn’t unload it. He made arrangements for that to happen at another depot – one with a suitable crane. The road driver was annoyed at the extra time this all took.

“It just goes to show that the model operators hadn’t really understood about the rules that every company had for loading wagons,” our chairman commented. “Make sure we don’t make the same mistakes on our layouts.” We all agreed, but we’ll just have to see what actually happens.


153. The show-runner - March 2019

Posted on February 28, 2019 at 5:45 AM

A few weeks ago we heard about a nearby club. For many years, the organisation of their show had revolved round one member. He knew how to do everything, be it putting up the banner on the front of the hall, getting leaflets printed, or placing posters in shops for miles around. Everybody else seemed quite happy with this situation. They just accepted that somehow all these tasks, and many more, would be completed on time, and were thankful that they were not involved in any of them.

The organiser rationalised this state of affairs by assuming that members were lazy, or incompetent, or both. Doing it himself was so much simpler than seeking volunteers, explaining what they had to do, and checking that they had completed their allotted task on time and to an acceptable standard. It also meant that he didn’t have to waste time preparing formal proposals to put before a committee and then wasting more time while they discussed, often at great length, decisions that were glaringly obvious.

By contrast, the members rationalised this state of affairs in several ways. Some thought he just wanted to show off his organisational skills. Others thought he didn’t want or need any help. A few decided that there was nothing to running an exhibition. ‘It’s not my job’ was a common attitude.

And then there was the member who was asked to do a simple job. “I won’t help with the exhibition, because you enjoy doing it so much,” he replied. Was this just the way he justified to himself his remaining totally inactive?

Then came the year the show manager was involved in an accident. He was in a coma for some time. Everybody knew that things had to be done, but nobody knew exactly what or how. Where was the banner kept? They didn’t know as they’d not seen it in the storeroom, or thought to ask of its whereabouts. Where was the ladder? Was there a master for the leaflets? Where did the refreshments come from? Who supplied the exhibitors’ meals? What exhibitors were coming? Had the show guide been written? The list of tasks seemed endless. And the more they thought, the more tasks they discovered.

“There’s nothing for it, we’ll just have to cancel the show” was one member’s blunt recommendation.

But then the club secretary started to receive enquiries from exhibitors. They had not received their promised pre-show information packs and could not get any answer from the exhibition organiser.

When the organiser regained consciousness, the club secretary went to see him. He revealed that there was a folder on his bookshelf at home in which everything was set out. There was a list of jobs, details of how each was done, and the date when each should be completed. There was also a list of exhibitors and what each required in terms of transport, expenses, meals, tables and chairs, lunch-time relief, and so on.

When the secretary got hold of the folder he was amazed. He hadn’t realised how methodical the show organiser had been. His only lapse was not letting his wife or the club officers know of the folder’s existence and its location.

“I think we should learn from their experience,” our Chairman said. “I propose that at least two members know how to do each exhibition task.” And we all agreed, though it remains to be seen how many actually volunteer and get involved.

152. Speed-visiting - February 2019

Posted on January 31, 2019 at 6:20 AM

On our way back from the Whirtleborough show, Felicity commented on the speed at which some visitors go round an exhibition. It made her wonder what they’d actually seen. They’d either got photographic memories, took masses of photos to examine later, or they just didn’t look, study and assimilate. She wondered what they learnt and what benefit they got from attending.

“Very little, if anything, I should think,” Graham commented. “Perhaps they only attend to get confirmation that they are extremely sophisticated modellers, whose knowledge, skills and powers of discrimination far surpass those of the other visitors, and most of the exhibitors as well. They wish to be seen, but not get contaminated by lesser modellers.”

“Did you see the chap who whizzed round, but couldn’t find a single layout depicting the Fishguard & West Pembroke Tramway, or anything in 5.5mm scale, or anything set in 1872,” Jim asked. “He was gone within forty-five minutes, declaring the entire show to be ‘utter rubbish’ because there was nothing in his favoured line, scale or period.” We laughed at his waste of time and money. Since the layouts attending had been listed in several of the magazines, he ought to have known what would to be there before he set off. If none of it was of interest, why bother attending in the first place?”

“Some modellers are so intensely parochial,” Jane commented. “You know that chap who demonstrates loads made from rubbish? I’ve heard visitors decline his invitation to examine them with the dismissive comment ‘Not my scale.’ Some were adamant that they could learn nothing from him, even though the concept he champions applies to all scales, gauges and periods. It was just that his examples were in a large scale so that they were easy to see and robust enough to be handled.” We smiled, as we’ve all been accosted at one show or another by this over-enthusiastic fellow.

There was another visitor who was there for most of the day,” Bill countered. “He moved systematically from exhibit to exhibit, observing carefully, making notes, and talking with operators and public. He’d return several times to check he’d missed nothing of significance and to see how things were running.”

“Perhaps he’s the chap that writes that blog,” Felicity suggested. “You know - the blogger that was supposedly unmasked at the Salchester show.”

“There’s also a chap who writes reviews of exhibitions for one of the gauge society magazines,” Graham added. “Though his reports concentrate on those layouts and other displays that are the prime interest of society members, he often mentions ideas from other scales that have wider potential.

“He once told me that what actually gets published depends on the attitude of the editor in post at the time. In the past, one struck out everything he submitted that was not directly about models in their scale. The current one is far more open to ideas from across the entire spectrum of scales and gauges, and even from other branches of model-making.”

“Aren’t people allowed to concentrate on a single scale, gauge, railway company, or era, if they want to?” our Chairman asked provocatively. We agreed - if that’s what makes them happy, then that’s fine. It was their loss if they didn’t take pleasure in, or get ideas from other areas of our hobby. After all, isn’t it the sheer diversity that makes modelling railways such a great creative activity? There’s something for everybody. We all agreed with him when he asked if those who get the most from the hobby are the people who relish, celebrate and build on the richness of experience that comes with diversity.

151. Festina Lente - January 2019

Posted on January 1, 2019 at 1:00 PM

While at the Skelham club’s recent show, we heard some of the history of a layout they were exhibiting. It seems that it had been started several years previously, but the original team had hit snags and lost interest. Progress had stalled at the track and bare boards stage. After languishing in their store room for some time, a trio of new members got it out and decided they would complete it. So work resumed.

It wasn’t long before ballast was down and scenery was planned for viewing from three sides, with the storage sidings hidden away on the fourth. It was then that they realised they’d never be able to hand-work the points by leaning over the planned townscape, so they had to flood the ballast with near-boiling water to release enough of the track to be able to lift it for operating rods to be installed. Then they made good the ballast.

This challenge overcome, scenery developed at quite a pace. One of the team was a dab hand at constructing cardboard building kits, and each week several more appeared. They were installed on a stepped base that cantilevered over the fiddle yard at the rear. The rise between successive rows of buildings was steeper than Anfield’s Kop, but cleverly disguised by using half-, quarter- and low- relief buildings interspersed with trees. It was brought to life by cars, lorries, buses, cats, dogs, dustbins, and numerous little cameos of workmen plying their trades. The overall townscape was most effective. It gave the impression that the town was much bigger than the baseboard would allow.

Then came the triumphant announcement: “This layout is now complete.” There was great satisfaction amongst both builders and other club members as they admired the finished project. Even the original team were pleased with the outcome. It wasn’t quite what they had envisioned. It was definitely far more imaginative and impressive.

One of the club’s older members was invited to have a drive. He made up a longish freight train and set it to circle clockwise on the lower level. It looked good from all angles as it made its way round. After several circuits of the board, he halted it at the back and manually exchanged the loco and brake van. It looked equally impressive running anticlockwise.

But the fellow saw there was a major flaw with the basic design. In the anticlockwise direction, freight trains that circulated on the lower level could only enter the rear storage tracks by running past the exit from the fiddle yard out onto the scenic section, and then reversing into the holding sidings. This somewhat spoilt the operational magic.

Within an hour of the start of the Completion Celebrations, track was being lifted to accommodate an additional storage siding, one that could be entered via a point at the opposite end to the fiddle yard throat. So much for it being a Completed Layout!

Later running sessions revealed numerous places where trains derailed or uncoupled, requiring more lifting and re-fixing of track and ballast. One bridge, set at the start of a curve, had to have an abutment severely cut back to allow bogie coaches to pass. All this remediation work was hampered by the presence of landforms, roads and other scenery. Some months later, frustration led to a whole new double fiddle yard being added at right angles to the layout to permit easy entry and exit of trains regardless of their direction of running.

“Does this not go to show the importance of thorough planning and exhaustive testing?” our chairman commented. “Shouldn’t a wide range of locos and stock be run for prolonged periods by several operators, as if at an exhibition, before ballast or any other scenic work is fixed to the baseboard? No amount of brilliant scenic detail will improve ill-thought-out track plans, or compensate for badly-laid track.” We all expressed agreement with our chairman, but it remains to be seen if certain of our club members actually learn from this story and follow his council of wise experience.