Archive page 3 - issues 61 to 77

61. It's a knock down

The instructions at the Bromcaster show were very specific on one aspect. ‘All layouts must be fully operational until closing time. No exhibitor will be allowed to take equipment out of the hall until fifteen minutes after the show has closed.’ This got us talking about other ‘strikes’ and ‘knock-downs’ that we’d been involved in.

"I remember one show," Ken reminisced. "A trader left his pitch just before closing time and backed his van hard up to the service entrance. No-one else could get in or out. ‘I need to get away quickly,’ was the reason he gave as if nobody else was felt similarly."

"At the Salchester show, once a layout is ready for loading, the exhibition control is notified," Fred explained. "Its transport is called from the overnight compound to wait outside the hall. A marshal guards each corner as it moves through the hall. Once in place, the driver is firmly instructed that he must not move again without both permission and his escort. To some exhibitors, choreographing movements as carefully as aircraft on an airport apron seems like a waste of time, but there’s never been an accident or even a near miss. And one person’s thoughtless hastiness doesn’t stymie everybody else."

Then Bill recalled another layout where, just before to closing time, the junior member of the team was instructed to keep a rail-motor running backwards and forwards, whilst the rest packed away the other locos and rolling-stock, and took them out to their cars. The rail-motor ran an intensive service between the two fiddle yards. Then the back-scenes and fiddle-yard screens were unbolted, wrapped and taken outside. The rail-motor continued shuttling back and forth, but now only to the end of the scenic section, as the far fiddle-yard had been removed. One its next round trip it only got as far as the signal-box, as the end scenic board has disappeared. The rail-motor returned to the platform. It couldn’t go any further as the near fiddle-yard had gone. This left the short train running from one end of the platform to the other. At the very instant of closing, hands descended and it was whisked into its box. The board was carried off, with the legs and control panel hard on its heels. Five minutes after closing time, the first vehicle left exhibitors’ car park. A slick operation, but was it really fair on visitors?

And then there was the Plonkton club’s extensive and impressive multi-level S-gauge layout. It takes four hours to set up and at least three hours to pack away. At the Catfield show they were still busy when the soccer training session started at their booked time. Neither group were happy that there were still crates, boxes and trolleys in the middle of the sports hall.

"Once, at Shelley Bridge, there was a hands-on layout still fully operational half an hour after closing," Jane reported. "The owner seemed oblivious of the time. He’d got young drivers and signalmen participating and was determined that if the audience was still interested, then he would keep running. The stewards were getting increasingly frustrated, because they wanted the public out of the hall. The chief steward had to speak very firmly to the chap, telling him that power was going off in just one minute. The youngsters left, with the parents explaining to them why they’d got to go."

"When planning exhibition layouts, is enough thought given to the ease of setting up and packing away?" the chairman wondered. "It’s one aspect that often seems to be ignored particularly by clubs with their own rooms, where layouts can remain up long-term." As we packed away that evening, we reflected on the inverse correlation between the advantages of dedicated clubrooms and the speed of packing away. We agreed it was something we should bear in mind for future layouts.

62. Get the point?

On our way back from the Bromcaster show, we got talking about trackwork. We’d seen some that was full of dog-legs and improbable sequences of points, while others had sweeping curves and graceful double junctions. We agreed that smoothly flowing track is a work of art and a joy to behold train negotiate.

On one pre-grouping layout there was a lot of variation in trackwork. Some rails were supported on wooden sleepers, but other lengths on stone blocks. Most of the points had conventional moving blades, but on one was of a design we’d not seen before. There were no tongue-rails. Instead it was both the stock-rails that slewed, aligning with one or other of the exit routes.

For those that looked carefully, one point had interlaced sleepering. Peter was not at all convinced by the explanation for this practice in terms of reducing the number of long timbers that were required.

Elsewhere, on a narrow-gauge mineral line there were two even simpler patterns. The first used switch-rails that could be kicked independently. A little man was standing conveniently close to carry out the task, though we never saw his feet move. For model purposes, the blades were operated by two separate levers – a procedure the confused some onlookers as both the blades could against their respective stock rails or both separated from them.

The other point had a single rail, pivoted where the crossing frog would be on conventional points. The rail moved from one stock rail right across to the other, so one way it was a left-hand rail and the other a right-hand. Since it gave access to a disused siding, no wagon attempted to take the curved route. The owner was contemplating building some ultra short -wheelbase inside-frame wagons that would be able to negotiate the curved route. The tread of the wheel would be wide, to compensate for the inevitable variation in track gauge. We wished him luck and looked forward to seeing them in due course.

"What about points that don’t have any moving parts at all?" Bill asked, throwing out a challenge.

"Impossible!" Peter retorted. "You can’t have points without moving parts, unless you count undoing fish-plates, slewing the track and then reconnecting the rails. I’ve heard of it being done in the early phases of some heritage lines before they’d got their track laid properly."

Various explanations for bladeless points were offered, including the obvious one that Bill was pulling our legs. "They’re found at the crossing loops on funicular railways" he eventually said to tease us.

It was only then that Ken finally came up with the right answer. It seems that the sets of wheels have double flanges on one side and flange-less broad treads on the other. The flanged wheels are on opposite sides on the two cars, so one is always guided to one passing loop and the other car to the other loop. The broad treads straddle the gaps between rails at the crossing-V and where the cable lies.

"You see so much more when you look carefully at things and think about them," the chairman advised. "It’s an excellent way to really learn and understand." And we all agreed with that.

63. Signalling success

Last week we talked about the Whirtleborough show. Two layouts in particular had taken our fancy. One was Pre-grouping, the other Modern Image. Both were fully signalled.

The modern image was definitely high tech, with DCC-driven locos and computerised control of points and signals. The club must have spent a fortune on electronic kit.

"One signal seemed to have a mind of its own," Fred pointed out. "The direction ‘feather’ indicated that an arriving train should proceed to a platform already occupied, though the points were set for the adjacent empty platform. On one occasion, this signal cleared even though the double slip it protected was set for a conflicting route."

"The train’s come in on the wrong line," the operator explained nonchalantly.

"Then shouldn’t the signals reflect this?" Fred had asked. The operator didn’t reply.

"If the move can’t be controlled by fixed signals," Fred persisted, "then shouldn’t they be at danger and the driver authorised by a flag signal from the box?" There was still no verbal response, but his lips mouthed a few words, possibly profane.

The pre-grouping layout had some intricate trackwork. At the station throat there were two three-way points, three diamond crossings and a double slip, all overlapping each other in the length of just over three standard points. And as if this weren’t enough, there was another complex of a three-way point and several diamond crossings in the yard.

"Every main, calling-on and shunting signal was in the proper place and of the correct type. And all of them worked," Graham exclaimed, full of admiration. "For example, there was a down loop that wasn’t long enough for the arriving through goods train. Once it had stopped at the starting signal, the signalman raised a shunt-ahead signal on the same post, and the loco edged its train into a long dead-end. The signal was reset and the entry cross-over put back to normal. Another subsidiary signal was raised and the train set back into a dead-end behind the cross-over, so the loco was now inside the starting signal, as would have been proper operating practice."

The reason for this manoeuvre was not obvious to everybody watching, until a passenger train entered the down platform. Then we guessed it would overtake the goods train.

However, operations were to become more complicated. A rail-motor came in from the up direction. ‘Where’s it going to go?’ one thoughtful youngster asked, as there was already a push-pull at the far end of the up platform. ‘Perhaps there’ll be a crash,’ he suggested. But there wasn’t. The rail-motor stopped at the inner home signal, and then proceeded into the vacant bit of platform once a calling-on signal was raised.

The signalman had four trains under his control, all in perfect safety. Everything was prototypical. Even the correct bell codes for the period were being used for communication between the various signal boxes. However, this level of authenticity took time - time when nothing seemed to be happening. The audience was getting restless.

"Wouldn’t it have been great," the chairman suggested, "if one of the spare operators lolling around behind the layout had given a commentary? Interpreting the bell code conversation. Pointing to the next signal to be pulled off and explaining its meaning. After all, there’s not many of us that can remember the 1920s." And we all agreed with that.

64.  What's on show?

Just what should properly be included in a model railway show was the subject of much discussion the other week. Layouts, trade stands, demonstrations and societies were all quickly approved. Then we got round to some of the other things we’d seen.

Displays of signals, lamps and other railway paraphernalia were accepted without dissent.

Train tickets might seem to be at the anorak end of the hobby. But the examples on one display that Bill had seen ranged from early hand-written receipts, through pre-printed Edmondson card tickets, to the flimsier paper and card styles that are printed on demand to-day.

"The exhibitor put them into their historical context," he explained. "Did you know that in the early days of the Liverpool and Manchester, the clerks were required to record the passenger’s age and reason for travel? The chap told us that after when Edmonson introduced stout card tickets, booking clerks would advise guards of major trains of the numbers of passengers that had to leave at each intermediate station to make connections."

We quickly added model buses, cars, lorries, and aeroplanes, with military dioramas not far behind.

"Military figures are often exquisitely painted," Felicity commented. "Far better than most of the little people that populate model railways."

Then came miniature engineering, with Meccano not far behind. Lego and Fischer-technic were accepted as just about relevant. However, paper sculpture, origami, wax flowers and plasticine figures were thought of as being as out of place unless they were of railway subjects. Sweet stalls and hand-made greetings cards got a hearty thumbs down.

"A group of dolls houses proved interesting at one show," Jane reported, "certainly amongst some of the girls and ladies attending. The amount of research, the level of interior detail and ingenuity in execution was every bit as good as the railways on show. Some even had their own gardens, again each correct for the historical period of the house. And a long time ago, I remember a display of dolls, with some in railway uniforms through the years."

"That reminds me, "Fred recalled, apparently trying to out-remember his wife. "At one of the first shows I attended as a young lad there was a side room with a small puppet theatre. Most puppets were dressed as railwaymen and performed a limited repertoire of short sketches based on railway themes. I can’t remember what they were about or any of the punch-lines. It was all rather amateur, but unusual, very amusing and great fun."

"At one show there was a static display of radio-controlled model boats," Jim told us. "There was a tug and an MTB, a ketch and a Thames barge. Surprisingly, there was one was in the form of a duck. I first wondered if it wasn’t a bit too way out for a model railway exhibition. But then I realised that its species was Mallard. So it was appropriate after all."

"The subjects of these hobbies may not be your primary interest," the chairman commented, "but automatically dismissing them as irrelevant is surely a mistake. The least you can do is to admire the craftsmanship and dedication. But can’t you also get inspiration, learn about different techniques, and alternative ways of doing things? A person who comes away from such a display not having got anything from it has either not been looking, not been thinking, or is just arrogant." And since Paul and Peter were absent, we all agreed with that sentiment.

65.  Open day at Wraybury

The club at Wraybury held their first ever open day a few weeks ago. Some of us went along, partly out of politeness, but also because we were curious to see progress on their new exhibition layout. The club had really thought long and hard about what they wanted to achieve that day and how they would do it.

"At the door we were greeted and gently asked about who we were, where we’d come from, how we’d found out about the event, and what we hoped to discover, and so on," Fred reported. "The greeter explained what was going on and suggested to each visitor the most appropriate displays. But there was no compulsion to start there."

"We were given coloured self-adhesive badges to wear. Each said ‘Please welcome …’ and then our first name," Jane carried on. "It was only some time later that we realised that the colours were significant. Green meant ‘an unattached novice’ who might be recruited as a member. Red identified unattached but established modellers who were definite targets for recruitment. The blues were ‘spies’ from other clubs, and so on. It was a rather crude classification, but it meant club members had a rough idea of the status of those with whom they talked and could pitch their conversation accordingly."

"Most of the members were friendly. They initiated chats with their visitors. Visitors’ wives, partners, girlfriends and children were all treated as individuals in their own right and actively involved in the conversations, rather than just being treated as irrelevant hangers-on. Some of the club’s WAGs were particularly good at this. There was a railway treasure hunt, a quiz, and layouts where the children could have a drive, often with one of the younger club members in charge."

"Though they were obviously out to recruit members for their own club, they were very open about the existence of neighbouring clubs, what each specialised in and its general ethos. If it cropped up, they showed that they knew of the national specialist gauge and company associations."

"As we left, we were thanked for coming and asked if we’d enjoyed ourselves. Slips were handed out that contained information about the club - its meeting times, contact details, subscription rates, dates of their forthcoming show, and so on. Surprisingly, it also listed the six nearest neighbouring clubs. A nice touch, that."

"It wasn’t like some open days we’ve attended, where there’s a definite ‘in crowd’ meeting each other. Nobody considers it polite to say ‘Hi’ to strangers, or bothers to ask where you’re from, why you’ve come, or even takes the time to point out where the refreshments and toilets are. The way you’re totally ignored makes it very clear that you’re not welcome. Isn’t that a terrible advert for the hobby? Why bother to call it an Open Day at all? It’s more a chums’ re-union or a clique colloquium than a public event. A way of showing that outsiders and novices don’t matter and have no part to play in the hobby."

"The perpetrators probably think they are so clever, don’t they?" Felicity asked. "They must be quite chuffed being recognised and accepted as serious modellers by other acknowledged serious modellers. A self-perpetuating aggrandisement circle, I’d say. But how sad for the hobby as a whole."

"Doesn’t it just go to show," the chairman suggested, "that there’s far more to an effective open day than just being open? People may come in, but you have to think hard about how to build on their initial, perhaps tentative interest. And not everybody comes looking for the same thing." And we all agreed with that.

66.  Be prepared

When we arrived at the Barton Bridge show we found that one layout had a problem. They couldn’t isolate locos in the usual way. The feed to one section was dead, while a diamond crossing leading from it was live, even when the panel showed it to be switched off. The operators were bewildered, flustered and embarrassed.

After a couple of hours of restricted running, the problem was finally traced to two section feed wires having been reversed in a terminal block. "So simple to fix," Ken observed. "But what sort of pre-exhibition testing and servicing had been carried out? Wires don’t usually swap places on their own, do they?

Then Bill went on to recall another layout at another show where locos only went half way round the track and then either stalled or went slowly backwards on the other half of the circuit. After much scratching of heads, it was remembered that a past rewiring had not been completed.

"Was this a sign of someone who couldn’t be bothered to finish a job, coupled with poor management that failed to spot this?" he suggested. "There was some frantic re-soldering of wires in the hour before the show opened. Fortunately, the job was completed just in time. But why subject the team to such anguish and worry? Couldn’t the problem have been identified and rectified back in the club-room at a pre-show testing session?"

"Don’t both situations show a disregard for the apprehension caused to the operating team and the disquiet of the exhibition organisers," Felicity asked. "Both were subject to unnecessary anxiety just because the exhibiting club couldn’t be bothered to make sure that everything worked before they sent out the layout. Surely a rigorous pre-event check is all part of the preparations implicit when an invitation to exhibit is accepted?"

"But things always go wrong during transit," Peter piped up. And we agreed, wires do come loose, but not exchange positions with another wire and then both become screwed in again.

"Not all groups have time to waste on boring tasks like testing," Paul responded. "Most of the time they won’t find anything wrong. They want to get on with modelling."

"Unfortunately, pre-exhibition testing isn’t always considered part of exhibition procedure," Graham commented. "Some groups are meticulous in their preparations, while others leave far too much to chance."

He then went on to tell us about a club that insists on a full dress rehearsal. The entire fleets of locos and rolling-stock are assembled. Wheels, pick-ups and couplings are checked. Locos are test run over all parts of the layout, right to the end of every siding. Every bit and piece is put in its proper place - curtains, lighting, cable covers, servicing table, buildings, little people, road vehicles, the whole works. It even extends to making sure that that the team’s shirts and pullovers still fit. For the expanding members of this team, this is becoming increasingly important.

"When the public are paying good money to visit a show," the chairman observed, "don’t they have the right to expect that exhibitors will have taken reasonable precautions to ensure that the layouts are in full working order? And isn’t a full dress rehearsal a key precaution?" And we agreed it should be.

67 Switches that go round ... and round

The other week one of the club layouts was playing up. One set of blades of the tandem point refused to operate. The usual cure was to check that all the terminal blocks were fully pressed fully home at the panel and baseboard ends. This seems to cure the problem. But then both sets of blades failed to move.

"Is the switch supposed to click beyond the third position?" Ken enquired.

"Of course not," Graham replied tartly. "It is a three-position switch. I replaced it only the other week." But it did go round, several clicks beyond where is once did.

"Must have broken," Paul announced incisively. But we’d all worked that out for ourselves.

"Perhaps it’s come loose," Jim suggested. But it hadn’t. The fact it still clicked confirmed that it was now a ten-way rotary switch that didn’t work as required.

"If we just replace the spindle end with the wipers, we can repair it without having to re-solder all the wires," Ken suggested. He prised the switch open. Two small ball bearings flew in opposite directions across the clubroom and a spring fell to the floor.

"Ah, yes," Fred commented dryly. "That was the click mechanism." We spent some time on hands and knees looking for those tiny silver balls. Eventually both were recovered. Then we spent some time trying to get them back into place. Getting one ball and the spring into place was fine. It was getting the second ball to go in that was the problem. There were several more ballistic balls and frantic searches before Fred commented once more.

"These switches were put together once," he said authoritatively, "so there must be an easy way to do it." He examined the housing. "Do you see that small recess in the rim? Line that up with the hole through the spindle and then try. Push the second ball against the spring with tweezers and pull the spindle into place." It worked. Ken put the assembly down on the table. The spindle slid within the housing and two silver balls and a spring went to explore the clubroom carpet yet again.

Next time we got those little components into position, we fitted the knob, so that the spindle would no longer slide and give them an escape route. Ken offered up the spindle assembly to the terminal assembly and pushed it into place. There was a fifty per cent chance it was the right way round. The knob was turned. Two clicks anti-clockwise and it would go no further. Great. Two clicks clockwise, excellent. Turn it further, and we had a twelve-way rotary switch. Despair set in.

"Have you set the stop correctly?" Fred enquired. "It’s that washer with a little bent lug on it. "Now that the spindle can’t slip, you can take the knob off and fit the washer. I think you’ll find the lug goes into one of the holes in the top of the casing." And indeed, there were numbered holes in the top of the casing. In one hole, it gave the switch seven positions. In another, five. Eventually we got it into the hole that gave three positions. Then the three-way point worked as expected.

"Doesn’t it just go to show," the chairman suggested, as we glowed with satisfaction, "that most things are basically simple. What makes them complicated is that we just don’t observe carefully enough and then think about what we’ve seen before we do anything, especially pulling things apart to repair them?" And we had no option but to agree with that.

68 Testing times

Fred and Jane had been on holiday in the south. As was usual, they’d visited a couple of exhibitions while they were there. They showed us the show guides.

"Why did they need two test tracks?" Paul asked incredulously as he scanned one of them. "Surely one is enough?"

"One was the conventional double oval with loops," Jane explained, "but that was really only a running track. The other provided the real tests."

"There was a length of straight track with slab checkrails," Fred explained. "Turning a calibrated dial altered the width of the flangeways. It was great for checking back-to-back all the way round the wheels on a moving train."

"One test-rig kept many of the public entertained," Jane continued. "A short segment of each rail was replaced by a metal block cemented to a load cell. As locomotives were halted with each pair of wheels on the blocks, the downward force of each was shown on a display. It quickly showed if the weight of a loco was unevenly distributed fore and aft between its driving wheels, or one side of a bogie was too lightly sprung."

"The loadings were shown in ounces, grams and more scientifically, Newtons," Fred went on, "though some folk didn’t realise that they were equivalent."

"Another popular test was up the incline," Jane went on. "The angle of the slope could be varied, so it was easy to see that most locos skidded at more than one-in-thirty. A truck could be attached to the rear of the loco. It had a string that lifted a pan of weights, so that the maximum hauling power could be determined. This time there was a conversion chart between the different ways of measuring pull."

"Something I’ve not seen before was a pair of curves of progressively decreasing radius," Fred went on. "A loco could be driven along until it derailed. Alongside each length was labelled its radius. It was surprising how many hand-built locos had different minima depending on which way the track curved. There was also a pair of serpentine tracks made of reverse curves of decreasing radius. One was left-then-right, the other right-then-left. This allowed for testing for buffer-locking of long vehicles, like coaches.

There was also a test track for determining the vertical curve that a locomotive could deal with when making the transition from horizontal to a rising incline, together with a companion for the transition from a rising slope to horizontal.

Finally there was the shunting test yard. At first glance it was just three parallel tracks fed by a complex of points. But on closer examination, it was systematically laid out as a succession of three-way points on the centre line, each of smaller radii than the previous one. This was one way of ascertaining the performance of wagons under something approaching operational conditions.

"Does this not illustrate," the chairman mused, "the lengths to which some modellers will go to confirm that their locomotives and rolling stock are to consistent standards? It should mean that their exhibition running is of excellent quality." We agreed it should, though not everybody was convinced such fastidiousness was necessary.

69 Sound advice

Ben had decided that his rural passing station could do with some suitable background sounds. The brother of a friend worked in television as a sound recordist. You’ll have probably missed his name amongst the credits of landmark wildlife series, though if you were in broadcasting, you’d recognise him as one of the best. Anyway, a meeting was arranged.

"Some sheep, a few cows and a tractor in the distance would be just right," he had explained.

"What period is your model?" the chap had asked. "What part of the country?" Answers were quickly forthcoming. But then it got more difficult.

"What breeds of sheep and cattle?" he asked. "What make of tractor? What is it doing?" These stumped the modeller.

"Any sheep will do," he said. "Don’t cows just go ‘moo’?"

"Not really," the sound-man answered. "Some breeds have particular characteristics, different pitches, ranges and timbres," he explained. "It’s the same with tractors and their implements." He obviously had either a most refined ear, or wanted to give the impression he had an exceptional knowledge of farmyard sounds.

"I’m not an expert on all of these sounds," he continued. "I just need to know what I’m searching for. There’ll always be an expert out there who knows the different bleats of say a Soy and a Blackface. And if it happens to be another soundman, then it’s most embarrassing."

"But most folk won’t spot the difference," Paul piped up. "So why bother?"

"Isn’t it rather like not knowing the difference between a Class 47/0 and a 47/1, or which Patriots had parallel boilers?" Bill suggested. "A sure sign of unforgivable ignorance."

"Or whether the ex-Taff Vale Railway lines used three or four-bolt chairs in the nineteen-thirties," Nigel chipped in.

"But can you distinguish between BR Diagram 1/108 and 1/102 sixteen-ton steel mineral wagons?" Felicity asked, with a twinkle in her eye. "Most modellers don’t realise that BR had nine types of steel sixteen-tonners in their Diagram Book."

"It’s just the same with daffodils," Jane piped up. "Most folk think they’re just plants with yellow trumpet-shaped flowers. But if you are a daffodil specialist, you know that there are several different species and numerous varieties. For competitions, they’re grouped into divisions. And woe betide any exhibitor who puts his entries in the wrong divisions. The other competitors soon let him know that he’s got a turnip between his ears."

"Did you have any particular variety of turnip in mind?" Fred asked, smiling, "or are all turnips the same?" Jane just curled up with laughter.

"There are so many aspects to creating a really accurate model railway," the chairman mused. "They go far beyond the track, locomotives, rolling stock, signals, buildings, liveries and operating practices. That’s one of the great things about modelling railways – there are so many different things to discover, understand and apply to our modelling. And all of them are relevant." And we all agreed with that sentiment, even Paul.

70 Build or buy?

Jane was rather taken with a nice rural terminus at the Charr Hill exhibition. The owner had proudly explained that he’d only used readily-available plastic and card kits. He wanted to encourage people by showing what can be achieved without recourse to scratch-building.

But all of this particular builder’s layouts were built on this one premise. Over many years he’d never tried to do anything differently, so every one of them looked much like all the others, apart from slightly different arrangements of the tracks and buildings. And it was probably just like hundreds, perhaps thousands of other layouts up and down the country.

"But some people modify and customise the kits, so the layouts are different," Paul retorted.

"Some modellers buy kits and use them to provide patterns for their scratch-built structures," Bill commented. "The final versions contain nothing from the original kit, except inspiration."

"Instead of pandering to the mundane modeller," Graham asked, "why not show what can be achieved by developing and applying advanced skills, and using more demanding techniques, coupled with research into specific prototypes?"

"Too much excellence can be off-putting," Peter responded.

"But you could show how the project was developed," Felicity said. "At embroidery exhibitions I’ve seen the work-books of people taking City and Guilds courses. They give the ‘initial brief’, show sources of inspiration, cover the stages in development, display test samples, and so on, as well as the final piece of work and the teacher’s assessment. Some even have the client’s comments. I find it all most interesting. But this sort of thing is seldom done at model railway exhibitions."

"We not aiming at qualifications," Peter snorted. "Our hobby is for enjoyment, not to gain certificates."

"That shouldn’t stop us from aiming high, showing how we did it, and encouraging others to up their game," Fred suggested.

"That’s just showing off," Peter muttered.

"But isn’t that what exhibitions are about?" Fred asked. "If all that was on show was made from kits and stuff straight out of boxes, then it just shows a lack of aspiration, imagination and determination. Such exhibitions would be boring."

"Ah, yes," the chairman mused. "Ready-to-run items are fine for getting started. Kits help folk take the next step. But there is no compulsion to go further. There are some modellers whose needs are completely satisfied by out-of-the-box items, while other have this urge to improve their skills and create unique models that are highly detailed representations of reality. But we must remember that what is right for one person is not the aim of another.

"But there is one piece of etiquette we should always bear in mind," he went on. "The accomplished craftsman should not ridicule the efforts of the novice. And by the same token, out-of-the-box modellers should not denigrate the achievements of the craftsman, especially if it is just a way for them to rationalise their own limitations." And we all agreed with that.

71 Worlds within worlds

We’d been at the Dewcliffe show. One operator was doing a great public relations job with his modern image layout. While we were near-by, he was explaining to a family what was happening on his miniature line.

"That train has come from Manchester," the owner announced. "This one is departing for York." The mother was most impressed when she realised that train movements were not random, but were manifestations of an underlying logic, even if it was only an imaginary timetable. Then a train of red and yellow containers came through the station.

"I’ve never seen anything like that, "she said. "What are they?"

"Oh, that’s a bin-liner train," was the answer. These were vehicles and a traffic completely new to her. She immediately sought an explanation.

"Rubbish from round here is compacted into containers and then sent to a landfill site near Scunthorpe. So I run a model of the train."

"You shouldn’t be running such trains," she exclaimed, totally aghast at the idea of sending even model waste Yorkshire. There was no placating her. In her opinion, it was as decadent and nauseating to have a bin-liner on a model railway as it was disgusting and immoral to be running them in real life. No longer could she distinguish between a model based on reality and reality itself. Was she so befuddled that she considered the fictional Coronation Street tram crash had shut down the real Manchester Metro system?

The operator just smiled and said nothing further to that family, but wondered to himself why he bothered to let them into the secrets of his little world. The exhibition manager had witnessed the incident. When the family moved on, he came over and offered both his sympathy on the way the exhibitor had been treated, and his congratulations that it should have happened at all.

"You’ve presented such a convincing story you’ve persuaded that lady your model was a true representation of the world. Perhaps in her eyes it had even become the world itself," he went on. "This is the key skill shared by brilliant painters, gifted sculptors, great dramatists and celebrated novelists."

"Oh, really!" the operator replied, as he realised that this was high praise indeed. He blinked his eyes in a haze of pleasure and pride. "The only problem is," the exhibition manager continued, "she might think that by altering models she can effect change in the real world."

"If only it were that easy," the exhibitor sighed. "Everybody would be building model railways. We’d soon put the world to rights". They both laughed.

For the rest of the day, the exhibitor was on cloud nine. He entered into his little world with an intensity he’d never experienced before. He became as one with his model. Even when packing up at the end of the day, he had great difficulty in disengaging himself from his miniature fiefdom. We’ve heard since that this frame of mind persisted even when he got back home. His wife wondered just what he’d been up to that day.

"Doesn’t this just go to demonstrate," the chairman asked, "that even the best layout presentation can have its problems?" And we all agreed with that sentiment.


72 Accidental modelling

We’d been helping Fred at the Nether Hamblings show last weekend. We’d set up on the Friday evening and nearly finished testing when another team arrived, all agitated and flustered. They’d been involved in a road accident on the way. They were shaken but otherwise uninjured. Their car had received minor damage. But they were more concerned about their layout and stock.

We decided to help them unload. The baseboards were loose and unprotected. They’d shifted quite a bit when they’d had to brake hard. Fortunately, damage was minimal and easily put right. We left them making repairs and complaining bitterly that drivers didn’t always follow the accepted standards of road-craft, care and courtesy. Later, as we recounted this tale back at the clubroom, we got wondering why drivers ignore best practice.

"It applies to modellers as well," Ken announced. "They don’t always follow best practice either, in their modelling. I wonder why?"

"Ignorance" Paul barked. "They just haven’t studied the magazines and books, so they don’t know the best way to do things."

"Arrogance" Bill suggested. "They don’t think it applies to them and what they are doing."

"Laziness," was Peter’s contribution to the discussion. "They can’t be bothered to go and get the correct materials."

"Impatience," said Graham, looking hard at Adrian. "They want the task completed quickly, rather than having to wait until a show to purchase the correct paint or the right component."

Poverty was Jane’s proposal. "They can’t afford anything better."

"Individuality," Jim thought. "They want to be different. They want to find a better way. You won’t discover an improvement if you follow the crowd and do things they way they’ve always been done."

"Perhaps it’s the excitement of devilment," Felicity suggested. "They want to know if they can they get away with it without anybody spotting."

"If they’re modelling entirely for their own enjoyment, does it matter if they ignore best practice?" Jane asked provocatively. "They are not doing it for the entertainment, judgement or acclaim of others."

"But if the end result is not up to standard, should they be exhibiting?" Fred countered. "They’re displaying their lack of ambition, poverty of aspiration, and their unwillingness to accept that someone else can do it better. They’ve either no critical faculty to see that their work is not up to the standard of others, or an absence of concern when this is the case."

Before Fred blew his safety valve, the chairman intervened. "Isn’t it best practice," he enquired, "for those who take layouts to exhibitions to ensure that their baseboards and stock are well-protected? And that during transit the load is secure. You might drive carefully, but it’s usually the other fool that causes the accident. If your models get damaged because they were poorly packed and stowed, whose fault is that?" And we all agreed that this was something we should all ponder and act on before out next outing.


73. Olympic special

Several organisations are doing things with an Olympic theme, Felicity announced at last week’s meeting.  “They’re clubs and societies that have nothing to do with sports in any shape or form.”

“Be thankful,” Paul responded.  “Railway modelling has nothing to do with the Olympic Games.  Nothing what-so-ever.”

“Embroiderers are stitching hundreds of ‘picture post-cards’ representing the different participating countries,” Felicity continued.  “They’re being made up into panels.  The ones I’ve seen are very striking.  When all brought together they’ll make a stunning display.”

Paul expressed his indifference with a loud “Pah!”

“There’s another national society whose members are making pennants to give to the athletes,” she continued. 

“Pennants or penance?” Peter sneered.

“Lots of other people are celebrating the Cultural Olympiad,” Jane added. “But I’ve not heard of railway modellers doing anything.”

“Got more sense,” Peter snorted.

“But what if they did?” Bob asked.  “What would they do?”  And the ideas began to flow.

The centre-piece of an exhibition would be would be five circles of track, climbing up and over each other, with a different coloured train on each circuit.

Then there’d be a multi-platform urban station, with surface and underground trains arriving or departing every few seconds.  This would represent Stratford.

And what about layouts depicting some of the competing nations?  Careful observers could see athletes training for a variety of events. The cross-country would be a rural branch line that meandered all over the place.

Then there could be competitions between locomotives: For the relay race, teams of locos would pull a brake van round the track.  At the end of each lap, the loco would be uncoupled and run forward into a facing siding.  Then a fresh loco would back from beyond the point onto the brake van, get coupled up, and the train would continue on its way. Of course, the brake van would be carrying a baton!

The shot-put could be represented by seeing how far along a track a loco could roll a billiard ball using only a short length of energised track.  Target-shooting would be replaced by working several point levers to shunt wagons over a hump to designated sidings.  And there’d be the slow locomotive race.  The premier event would be the 100 centimetre sprint.

 “Do the Olympics and model railways have any similarity,” the chairman asked with a smile.

“Oh, they do indeed,” Fred responded.  “They both require  ...  dedicated and intensive  ...  training.”  And we all agreed: Fred’s jokes are terrible.  And that was the worst yet.



74  It’s a team thing
The other week we asked the vexed question: How many people does it take to operate a model railway at an exhibition?  There was an interesting range of answers.

“You don’t need anybody,” Paul announced.  “You just set a couple of trains to circulate in opposite directions.  Then you can clear off to the bar for the day.”

“That would be boring for the paying public,” Jim responded.  “You need one operator to change the trains and do a bit of shunting.”

“But what happens when a visitor asks a question?” Jane observed.  “As soon as he stops to answer, get out a drawing, find a photograph, or something like that, the railway grinds to a halt.”

“Two,” was Bill’s answer.  “One driving and the other answering questions, or on lunchtime relief.”

“Three,” came from Graham.  “One to drive, one on the fiddle-yard and answering questions.  And a third on relief.”

“One man for each operating position, one or two reliefs, and a couple of compères,” was Ken’s formula.  He then went on to tell us about one exhibition layout he’d seen.

It seemed that every member of the club was there, whether or not they’d had anything to do with building the layout or were competent to take control.  They all wanted to be seen alongside the trophy for Best in Show, and to receive the adulation of the public for their efforts.

Unfortunately, they totally blocked the space behind the layout so that the operators could not do their job.  The public realised that things were awry.  The layout manager passed a few barbed comments.  With ill-grace, the hangers-on all trouped out.  But they didn’t go away.  Oh no, they formed an impenetrable phalanx in front of the layout, totally blocking it off from view.  And it wasn’t as if they were even talking about the layout to the public.  Computers, caravans and holidays were their subjects.  The public walked past, unaware that they were missing the best exhibit of the show.

Once again, the layout manager said a few choice words, suggesting that the non-operating members go and have a cup of tea, or look round the trade stands, or heckle another layout.  In fact, go anywhere to get then away from the pitch

“It’s a club layout.  It was built in our club room.  We’ve put up with your mess.  We’ve helped pay for it.  We’ve even had to pay to-day to get in to see it,” they complained bitterly as they drifted away.   “Want to keep the glory for themselves.  Self aggrandisement.  Elitism.  A little clique.  No respect for the ordinary members of the club,” they went on, and on, and finally cleared off.

“Getting the right team can be a problem,” the chairman observed.  “You’ve got to consider the needs of the miniature traffic, available working space, the various roles, the balance of skills, the need for competent reliefs, the availability of transport and the costs to exhibition managers.  And that’s before you even start to consider the personal relationships and attitudes of potential team members.”  And we all agreed with that.

75  There are experts and ‘experts’

At the Nether Hamblins show, the Tatton Bank group had their layout opposite ours.  A chap came up and got into conversation with one of the operators.  At some point he pulled out an album of photos of his own railway and started to expound at great lengths on how to take stunning photos.

Apertures and depth of field, light and colour temperatures, flash and fill-in reflectors, tripods and remote releases, composition and contrast.  No aspect was left uncovered.  It was a master-class in model railway photography.  The operator thanked him for all this valuable advice so generously given.

But two things should be noted.  The self-appointed expert’s photographs were appalling.  Blurring was only the first of numerous short-comings.

His erstwhile pupil was none other than Big Al, whose photographs are well-known and much admired when they grace the pages of leading model railway magazines.  The ‘expert’ obviously did not make the link between the real expert and the chap behind Tatton Bank.  How Al kept a straight face and maintained his temper we’ll never know.  If it’s true what I thought he said to his fellow operator after the chap had walked away, then it’s best not reported.

Elsewhere in the show, an exhibitor was describing his model of a South American prototype.  He was taking great pains to pronounce the foreign words correctly.  One visitor was incredibly interested and discussed the locomotives and rolling-stock in a vastly knowledgeable way, much to the delight of the owner.

As their discussion progressed to the small industries represented by the buildings, the owner commented on how some of the words used in signage looked similar to English but had quite different meanings.

“Ah, yes!” exclaimed the visitor.  He then asked a question.  The owner blushed and blurted out something unintelligible. You see, he didn’t actually speak the language himself.  He was only repeating what others folk had told him.

However, the little old lady diagonally across the aisle, who had been quietly minding the tombola, called across.  “The nearest he’s been to Uruguay is Torquay,” followed by something in a foreign tongue.  The visitor immediately went across to her and they conversed excitedly for several minutes – in Portuguese of course – before returning to their native tongue.

“Never pretend to be an expert when you’re not,” the chairman advised.  “Sooner or later you’ll be found out, and it’s usually highly embarrassing for you, and immensely amusing for everybody else.”  And we all agreed with that.

“But what if you are an expert?” he went on, “perhaps a well-known and widely acknowledged expert.  Do you let fools prattle on?  Do you reveal your identity and status to the informant ‘expert’?  Would he know about you if you told him?”

Though we discussed it for some time, we couldn’t agree on how to deal with that situation.  Perhaps that’s because none of us are widely recognised as experts at anything.  And we did agree on that.



76  It’s all technical

It had been agreed that Graham’s friend Alex could borrow our clubroom one afternoon to put up his layout for testing, prior to taking it to the Whirtleborough show.   At twenty-four feet long, it would neither fit in his house, nor on the sloping drive outside.  He brought it all in and started to assemble it.  We helped where we could.

Then we realised that there wasn’t twenty-four feet clear in our room.  So we slewed three of the scenic boards onto the diagonal and fitted one of the fiddle yards.  This meant that late-comers couldn’t get in, and even more important, the brew-team couldn’t get out to the kitchen.  Locos were run, section switches were tested.  All went well.  Alex had done a good job.

We took out the fiddle yard and one scenic section so we could have drinks.  After the break, the two middle boards were eased along the diagonal, and the fourth scenic board and the other fiddle yard fitted.  Now nobody could get into the kitchen to do the washing up, but neither could anybody escape from the clubroom and leave that chore undone.  Again running and control were OK, so everything was dismantled.

Of course there was plenty of space at the exhibition.  All six boards went together for the first time.  The inaugural end-to-end run was made.  The loco had just reached the far fiddle yard when the circuit-breaker tripped.  There was frantic checking of section switches and for locos bridging section gaps.  But nothing untoward could be found.  Alex began to panic.

Graham started fault-finding from scratch.  With no locos or stock on the layout, he tested each section with each controller, then combinations of sections, controllers and isolating switches.  Next, one loco was put on and run around.  All went well until it crossed onto the far fiddle yard.  There were sparks from its wheels and the breaker tripped.

“I know what it is,” Graham announced.  “Crossed polarity at a baseboard joint.”  He grabbed a screwdriver and disappeared underneath the baseboards.  A minute later he cried out “Try that.”  We did.  The problem was solved.  Running for the rest of the exhibition went without a hitch.  The cab control worked perfectly.

“But it worked OK at your clubroom,” Alex said afterwards, most puzzled.

“But we didn’t try the whole thing,” Graham replied.  “It was a dry day so we should have set it all up outside on the car park.”

“But it worked OK,” Alex insisted in his own defence.  “I tested each section as I built it, and then again with baseboards in twos and threes.  They always worked correctly.”

“When you were running a loco away from the right hand end, the direction switch on the controller points left.  Intuitively, that’s as it should be,” Graham explain.  “But when you ran it towards you from the other end, the direction switch must have been pointing right, which is illogical.  And you didn’t spot this.  You’d only find the effect of those crossed wires when both fiddle yards were connected up.”

Alex was not convinced by the explanation, but the fact that his line now ran correctly when it hadn’t before persuaded him that Graham must be right.

“Doesn’t this go to show,” the chairman suggested, “that it is always a good practice to have a thorough technical test of the entire system when constructing a layout, and preferably early on, rather than leaving it until the week before the show, when all the scenery is in place?  Alex was lucky the problem could be fixed so easily.”  And we all agreed with that.

77        Travel light or travel heavy

According to Paul, it should be simple to get the stuff ready to take to an exhibition.  The rest of us were busy gathering together everything we required for the 00 layout’s visit to the Whirtleborough show.  We wracked our brains, as we were determined to leave nothing to chance and leave nothing behind.

“If you don’t know what to take, you shouldn’t be exhibiting,” was Paul’s simple strategy.

“How can he be so arrogant?” Fred asked under his breath.  “He’s never taken any layout of his own to an exhibition, and for all the years he’s been a club member, he’s never been part of an operating team.  How does he know anything about what’s really required?”

We went through it all.  Baseboards, legs, controllers, control panel and jumper cables were obvious, as were locomotives and rolling stock.  But then there was the lighting rig, power pack, mains cables, multi-way plugs and cable covers, all labelled with the club name, of course.  It was all being placed in one corner of the clubroom so that when the corner was empty on Friday night, we’d be sure everything must have been put in the van.

“Don’t forget packing pieces for legs, even though we’ve fitted screw adjusters,” Bill advised.  “Oh, and the spirit level,” he added for good measure.

“Remember there’s the front curtains and the dustsheets,” Felicity added.  “We need the carpet to cushion operators’ feet, the player and speakers for background sounds, the box of plug-in tall trees and factory chimneys, touch up paint for buildings and scenery, and scenic scatter to hide the baseboard joints.  We need the small vacuum cleaner for sucking up dust from the track and scenery,” she added.  Trust a woman to remember that.

“Backstage we need a desk lamp and tools for servicing locos and carrying out repairs,” Ken announced. “Track-cleaning fluid, cloth, rubber, cotton buds, a magnifying glass, track, wheel and coupling height gauges, the loco cradle and lubricants, plus AVO meter and continuity tester, together with the solder, flux, iron and stand.”

“Also somewhere backstage we need spare controllers, switches, push-buttons and fascia lighting bulbs, just in case anything fails in service,” was Bill’s contribution.  “And an inspection lamp, should we need to work underneath the layout.”

“Then there’s the paperwork,” Jane reminded us.  “The letter confirming the booking, the exhibition briefing notes, maps, travel arrangements and the duty rota.  We’ll need the Technical Manual with all the circuit diagrams, together with the Handbook containing information about every building, loco, coach and wagon, just in case somebody asked a awkward question.  We mustn’t forget the Layout Information Sheet for exhibition managers, the different Layout Information Sheet to give to visitors, and the Quiz Sheet for youngsters. Club brochure, our show posters and leaflets, and of course, our club name badges.”

“With all that stuff it’s a good job we’ve got a trolley to carry it,” Bill joked.

“But you forgotten the one other thing you should always have,” the chairman teased us.  “It’s the first thing you should get hold of and the last thing you put down.”  He smiled at our puzzled expressions.  “Why, it’s an up-to-date checklist of everything you need,” he explained. And we all agreed with him, except for Paul, who still couldn’t see the point of having one.