Interim model railway update

Phoenix Yard (Mark 1)

With the success of the recent Great Model Railway Challenge TV programme, as aired on Ch 5, together with the upcoming Warley Model Railway Show at the NEC I decided to build a very simple “shunting plank” layout to try to draw visitors to the SLS stand. Have it available so that they can see what can be done and have a go. Whether they want to take on the whole shunting puzzle exercise is immaterial, ideally yes but even a trial go will be progress.

We can sell the Society and our published material if the passing visitors stop and engage. The hardest part getting that break of step for the initial pause as they walk by.

The fact that it also gives me an option for a small portable fun layout for home use too is the bonus. The final choice of base is a simple 4ft x 1ft piece of shelf timber I had in stock. In the build I had tried the Plum Hollow base, useable but with issues, and adapting another piece of existing potential layout board (a recycled DIY table top). The latter almost made it, as a folding version, but with a slight modification for use as the fold would have been through a point. It was only the time for the extra woodwork for the hew half that killed the idea. A Mark 2 iteration with full scenery may well appear for Alexandra Place and York.

Why Phoenix Yard? The reason is almost everything on it is recycled from other projects. I have taken the basic “Inglenook” 8 wagon (5-3-3) format for the scenic side and added two small sidings in to a  hidden section. This allows for a single coach workmen’s train to appear. It also allows alternative locomotives to be swapped in/out.

The longest spur, for the 3 wagons plus locomotive, can accommodate engines up to a Bo-Bo diesel or an 0-6-0 tender locomotive. As the shorter locos would allow cheating with 4 wagons a moveable velcroable buffer stop may be incorporated.

As a comparison with the GMRC project of 24 hours of building, the track is partially down as I write this. Time spent, excluding pre-planning, about 3 hours to paint the base, juggle the track until I was absolutely satisfied with its position, and fixing it down.

Draft view of the layout
The track laid out before the board was painted. To the left the public area/ working zone, on the right the hidden/fiddle area.

Plum Hollow

As part of the above exercise the base earmarked for Plum Hollow project was manoeuvred around the house and tried in the car. This indicated that the project will have some issues in moving it around if proceeded with but will just fit round the corner in the staircase. It was this problem that led to evaluating the folding base for a larger version of the Phoenix Yard build.

New cars

Our old Zafira developed an engine problem that meant we had to change it quickly. We now have much smaller Vauxhall Corsa. One immediate issue for Plum Hollow will be working out exactly how high the scenery can be. The board will fit (just) as a bare carcass if the rear seat is down flat but with the rake on the back of the driver’s seat any added height will be critical.

With regard to new cars as always there is progress and regression, as examples, the DAB radio is excellent for sound but requires more retuning than older FM sets to switch masts to get local radio as you travel cross-country; there is no CD option, and most importantly, the supposedly anti-dazzle rear view mirror is useless at night, the old flip type worked these don’t!!


Plum Hollow – a sort of update

Plum Hollow, minor progress

Picture of the kits
Test build on paper of the trial hut and 2 of the 5 sheets for the next trial project.

For a variety of reasons the Plum Hollow layout project has had almost nothing done on it for some time. That was not a case of out of sight out of mind, simply a case of other workload intervening.  The scenic side is the next step, hence today’s test kit build. The aim was to see if a  printed paper/card kit scaled down from the originally intended HO (1:87) scale to US N scale (1:160) would either (be 1) too fiddly to construct or (2) not look good enough after completion. The test suggests both answers are negative, the outcome therefore is positive and therefore a run printed onto card-stock is worth trying. This simple build with unreinforced paper prints suggests constructing the kits will be manageable with card-stock backing.

As progress since the last update the polystyrene blocks have been bought as has the 4mm scale Dapol signal gantry kit I intend to use as  lattice girder railway over river bridge.

There is a possibility that the existing base boxes may get re-purposed into another project and replaced for this one.  If that happens an update will be posted. If it does it will be for a quick build project for the Warley (and onwards) shows; with this one it will be time that determines the outcome.

As a final point the scaling experiments for this exercise indicate that the ratio of printing the pdf plans at 54.4% is correct.  Although they are not currently accessible to check when I’d made the buildings for Reindeer Landing (N Gauge side) they always looked too small; it is possible they had been printed at 25% (The area reduction) rather than 54.4% which gives the necessary shrinkage in each linear dimension.

SLS Workload

This is one of the reasons for the delays mentioned above.Situations Vacant adverts are included in the current Journal going out to members in the hope of filling some of the vacancies. Once that gets delivered to members the adverts for those vacancies where open recruitment will be possible will also be circulated to non-members. In the meantime several officers are doubling up, even tripling up, on roles to keep us going. The trouble with being a volunteer – you tend to volunteer whenever crisis looms.


SLS Website

main Plum Hollow page




Railway modelling update

Old baseboards image

Modelling update

This is just a short post. I am taking advantage today of what might be one of the last sunny autumn days to get some garage tidying done and make my railway modelling gear and stock more accessible.

Old baseboards image
Old baseboards

Sadly the garage check has produced a major casualty. The old, stored, baseboards haven’t warped (I stored them well supported to prevent that) but will all have to go the dump later due to woodworm attack. Although this is not in fact too big an issue as I’d forgotten how heavy 1/2 chipboard made them! That weight would probably have stopped reuse anyway, and it was also what I was expecting having found wood worm in another item recently, a secondary trigger for the tidy and slinging session. Only sadness is for the one survivor, see board marked A, that had survived in one form or another from the first proper layout I made back in the late 60s.

Portable not static

This is also is indicative of a change in the style of my railway modelling. Back when I started the abandoned project the boards were to have been left permanently up, albeit they could be dismantled in case of house moves etc., and mounted on a fixed Dexion frame. Anything I model these days is intended to be light and portable as most of the time I am having a running session it is outdoors in summer; the garage is too cold and damp for a permanent layout.



April and June (Missed blog posts)

Steam loco

Missed blog posts (April & June)

This is a shortened rewording of what formed the Editorial to the most recent SLS Journal and Newsletter (J912 July/August), a bi-monthly magazine which I now edit and giving the reasons for my missing the task of making blog posts here during both April and June.

SLS stand

SLS Stand ready for show opening Easter 2018

Firstly my apologies for the fact there was no blog post made during either April or June. This was disheartening as I had been consistently managing one a month before then. However, during the run up to the expected dates I was ill and with my commitment to getting a Journal out, and attending the York Model Railway Show over the Easter weekend both as a Show Director and with the SLS display stand, all my spare time just vaporised.

Steam loco
MN Class 35006 Peninsular & Oriental S. N. Co. at the Cotswolds Festival of Steam

The illness continued through May, and as I had the next Journal to get out, together with taking the SLSL Stand to the Cotswold Festival of Steam and writing/presenting a paper to the Second Early Mainline Railway Conference in York during late June, of necessity, those were also prioritised. 

What I had thought it was initially, hay fever, it almost certainly was not and I therefore looked around for possible alternatives.It was probably not legionnaires disease as such but the symptoms were similar hence mentioning it in this post. Hopefully the illness’ cause has now been traced to either bugs coming through from the car air conditioning unit or bugs in the car screen washer system (both, obviously, now sanitised). I would certainly encourage anyone suffering any odd flu like symptoms to consider getting their car air conditioning unit and the screen washer system checked out. This illness has hit me three years running and I had not previously correlated it to warm weather and the first early season use of the car AC. Whilst the flu like illness may be unrelated to that it has not returned since the work was carried out on the car.

Both images by and copyright the author. NOT FOR REPUBLICATION.

March blog entry

Brief blog update

Another very brief blog post this month as whilst workload seems never ending time, sadly, is inelastic.

Railways – Three weekends out with events.

With a conference planning meeting for the Early Mainline Railways Conference (In York), The London Festival of Railway Modelling at Alexandra Palace and then back to York for the York Model Railway Show you can see where the time has gone.

Add into that mix, as I am now the Editor, getting The Stephenson Locomotive Society Journal out on time and you can appreciate the problems.

Another lunatic IT system design

Another really classic example of outright stupidity from the last few days. On checking my Nectar account I discovered I had not updated it when my last email address was deleted. After updating the link to the current one I discovered the change could only be stored by entering a validation code. Fair enough, except it gets sent to the obsolete email with no option offered for an alternative. Duh. What numpty did the systems check on that as a process.

Hopefully April will see two updates

I have content to write, so hopefully April will see two updates.


Non-stop editing!

Photo - dippy

A month of solid editing

I ended last month’s blog expressing hopefully “What would have been the January content will therefore appear during February when I get back home and resume normality.” Well that hoped for return to normality during February went well, or not! What it ended up as was a month of solid editing to get my second SLS Journal and Newsletter out on time. My problem; not the page layout et al, but all the catch up reading of back submissions to find the content ready to drop in. It is easing, the third edition will be a bit easier again from the experience gained from editing the first two. I am already planning content for the issues through to December.

Is there a lesson to be learnt by other Societies – yes – succession planning. That said, we did try, but no other suitably experienced member volunteered. My lesson learnt, if you know at the back of your mind that reality is you are going to get roped in regardless, give in early and take the longest lead in period you can get.

image of Journal cover
The March/April cover (C) SLS/AISLT with thanks to the A1SLT for permission to use the image.

The earlier editing job

Image Front cover NG & Miniature
Front cover NG & Miniature
Image Eclectic Electrics the front cover design
Eclectic Electrics the front cover design


As mentioned in the November blog post I was also Production Editor for the SLS in producing the first two volumes of material from The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives.(Cover images above)

  • Narrow Gauge & Miniature (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 1)
  • Eclectic Electrics (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 2)

Sales went live on the Society stand at the NEC and copies will also be available from us at the London Festival of Railway Modelling at Alexandra Palace and over the following Easter weekend at York Model Railway. They can also be ordered from me direct by post. The SLS Board has approved electronic selling but I have yet to get the system into place on the Society website.

PayPal and other computer gremlins

The most recent editing nightmare, a fault with the way the Google app on i-phones and i-pads interacts with the code we got from PayPal to sell tickets on the York Model Railway Show website. (I am Website Manager) The culprit is not Google Chrome, that is fine, but their search app. The app ignores the shopping cart it is supposed to open and tries to log directly into the customer’s PayPal account. This system has worked properly for eighteen months, why does the mighty Google feel the need to make changes that then b*****s up other systems that were working properly. Not good customer care by them, although I like to think our own response was better than the other customer care issue discovered recently – Apple repair fault logging and repair protocols (See next item).

Apple’s appalling customer care protocol

This final item is a bit of a rant and gives me another Victor Meldrew feeling about the sanity of some modern ways of doing things. Have organisations learnt nothing about customer care?

Scenario – I drop my Apple laptop it needs a fix as the display becomes intermittent. Oh yes I think to myself there is an Apple dealer in Bournemouth, I’m in Bournemouth tomorrow, I will drop it off for repair. Off I duly tootle to the said Apple shop (Solutions inc) who I have used before. To paraphrase –

“I’d like to drop this off for repair please.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No I just want to drop it off for repair.”

You can’t without an appointment.” (Duh thinks I – a shop that doesn’t want you to buy the service!!!)

“So I have to waste time and money driving home today, ring you, and then come back again? That’s madness and unacceptable!”

“But it is Apple’s policy Sir, no appointment, no drop off, no fix! (Shades of Jobsworth, or worse, me thinks)

At this point I got very firm and eventually a techie deigned to appear from the bowels of the shop, discuss my issue and take the lap-top in.

Dear Apple – Either the staff at your dealership are a complete bunch of numpties or your accredited repair logging system, they claim they have to use it, is the most ridiculous state of BAD customer care I have ever come across. How about this – It’s a shop and authorised repair dealer, you walk in with a repair job, they take the order and any due examination/inspection fee money and then a techie looks at the job later in the queue (customers are not stupid – we understand queues and waiting lists), it then gets fixed/can’t be fixed and the customer is rung and advised either it is ready or is bust beyond economic repair. How difficult is that?

Finally – Dippy the dinosaur in Dorchester

Despite the horrendous monsoon like half-term weather on the day over half term we had booked, and the car failing to start, we visited Dippy with the family. The outcome was two awed grand-children and four very impressed adults.

Photo - dippy
Dippy the dinosaur ‘on tour’ at Dorchester Photo: C) John New (Has had some minor digital adjustment/de-skewing)



















PS A final note

It’s not that February was a hectic month or anything but this update for the month got posted almost at the deadline of midnight on the 28th. Final editing took place today, Thursday 1st March!

Railway modelling miscellany

Layout with track back down

Railway modelling – a summer catch up (Part 1)

A layout refurbished

The summer to date has seen me getting back into active railway modelling. This was initially courtesy of sprucing up the train set I originally made for my daughters circa 1990 so that my grandsons could use it.  As a piece of modelling it is nothing spectacular, just a fun to operate circle and sidings, which will hopefully keep the boys interested in trains and modelling as they grow out of Brio.

Picture original layout
The train set as originally built (1989/90?). The legs, reused off an old coffee table, are even older.
Railway modelling in action - the layout with track back down
Relaid track down ready for boards to have some repainting done. Not doing badly for a 28 year old veteran.

A layout scrapped

Sadly however the summer also marked the end of my former Classic Train Set layout. The storage area used for it needs to go and without any, current, replacement area being available sadly it required dismantling. It had gone into storage originally not due to any lack of enthusiasm but because it was proving too cumbersome to move to/from exhibitions and once there, too bulky for easy assembly.

Image - part dismantled layout
Dismantling commenced on The Classic Train Set layout 15 July 2017.

As the picture above shows the final reason for its demise was the lack of anywhere at home, other than outside on the drive, as a place where it could be assembled for testing and operation. All track and other components have been saved and eventually a replacement will be built, as to timing – if/when by de-cluttering other stuff storage space for a new build can be found.

A new layout started

As described above working on refurbishing what over time had become Ellie’s layout for her two boys to use (my grandsons Ted and Matthew) has also rekindled my own interest in railway modelling. Finding the time to progress the new layout Plum Hollow (see last blog post) is, however, not proving as easy as making up my mind to start.

A layout – work in progress

The Pebbles End project will also get some more attention over the autumn and winter. Like Plum Hollow it is small enough to bring indoors to be worked on using our fold-up camping table and then put away again. Both layouts can also sit on the spare room bed in the periods between visitors coming to stay provided we keep a space free for them to go either out in to the garage or up in to the loft on a temporary basis when the beds are needed for sleeping!

Hobby burn-out

Pebbles End photo
Pebbles End at the MOMING event in 2011

With Pebbles End I learnt a valued lesson, even with something you enjoy as a hobby if you put too intense an effort into it you can become burnt out for that activity. Back in 2010 I had committed Pebbles End to the MOMING event to be held the following year and then, as consequence of unsuccessfully using too many experimental construction techniques, the build took much longer to complete than expected. The display was not of the standard I had hoped for and I became disillusioned with railway modelling as a constructor. This disappointment did not kill my interest in railways overall, only for railway modelling, but after completing the MOMING show visit the 85% completed project went into storage, and was not touched again for some time. My modelling mojo had been killed. When I eventually got over that and felt interested again in modelling I was surprised to discover that mental block on undertaking active model making had lasted five and half years!

An existing layout rediscovered

In a de-cluttering and tidying of the garage exercise recently undertaken I rediscovered the baseboards I built back in the 1990s for a layout that would have run completely around the inside of the garage. The proposed layout was to have been based on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR) incline and Goathland station. The boards had actually been neatly stacked behind some other items and forgotten, not scrapped after all. Nothing has yet been done with them, nor is anything likely to be done with them in the immediate future (due to the space constraints mentioned above) but at least the baseboard build is one job saved on a future project. As for that NYMR proposal; I realised the track plan would have worked in the space available but only with use of train set curves – if I was going to put the time and effort into finishing it that a project of that size deserved those minimum curves were a compromise too far. With the benefit of hindsight the abandonment was a blessing in disguise, if I had progressed further I doubt it would have been completed.

Railways – a summer catch up (Part 2?)

The above concludes Part 1 of this summer catch up post but there will almost certainly be a second, and possibly even a third, instalment. On the research front it has been, and continues to be, a busy year and with visits to railway related venues too, there is undoubtedly more to come.

Plum Hollow, introduction (N Gauge model railway)

The three boxes and top.

My new layout – Plum Hollow, Illinois.

Plum Hollow, set in Illinois and to be built in N gauge, is the replacement layout for my former Reindeer Landing layout and supplements my Pebbles End layout. There is a running overview of Plum Hollow on the main website but unlike previous layouts the updates will be made via blog posts (as here) with links onto that main page.

Update – 1: Base construction commenced.

Using fruit boxes.

The first query I suppose is do I still call them baseboards?  The construction uses standard fruit boxes obtained from local supermarkets and topped off with a single large cardboard sheet. The latter came from our local cycle retailer, the chain store Halfords, and again free after asking as traders have to pay have their trade waste removed.

The three boxes and top.
The three boxes and top. The dark box is the peach box, the other two were plum boxes and recycled from RL.


under bracing
The completed angled under bracing for strength.

The boards are not complete, I intend to add a polystyrene slab above the base using 60mm sheets from a local DIY store so as to add some extra depth. The depth is so that I can add a river crossing, most American scenic railways appear to have such a crossing, and also so that under track level electric points can be added. I had thought of using a push rod, wire in tube method, but that would restrict positions where the layout can be operated from. At this stage it is likely that I will use a control panel separated from the layout via an umbilical connection allowing flexibility in operating position.

The completed three box structure is 1180 x 590 mm in the surface length and breadth  or 46 1/2″ x 23 1/4″  in imperial measurement.

Modelling decisions – still TBC

The main issue outstanding currently is deciding on which coupling type to use. Some of the stock has damaged couplings so a decision is not academic. In N Gauge the Rapido type is standard but it is not easy to decouple for switching. Also some of my older stock I have discovered pre-dates the NEM coupling pocket system so swapping couplers requires a new fitting to be added. There are several automatic systems available, but they are do not appear to be universally compatible.

For the short-term my plan is to get the track loosely pinned down and powered up so that operational practicality can be assessed using the stock that has the working Rapido couplings. Once that is finalised, and the scenic treatment also determined and mocked up, the couplings issue will be determined and if magnets are required get them installed.

I also need to refine my scenic sketches so that I can add a screened off area to facilitate stock exchanges off set and exactly where I need to cut the polystyrene layer for the river valley.


  1. Apologies for the heavy edit after the working page draft was accidentally published earlier as a post! (July 2017)
  2. Reading this through I noted the dimensions were not given. Now added in above and on the Plum Hollow main page. (Nov 2018) 

November pot pourri

Floor damage

A pot pourri for November

November for me is always a strange month so a pot pourri of miscellany for this blog entry.  This year the month has been even stranger than usual due to dealing with the aftermath of a broken central heating boiler at my mother’s house.
Floor damage
Damaged floor due to burst boiler.
The month marks the true onset of winter; dark nights drawing in with the rolling back of the clocks and not yet the spirit of Christmas to cheer things up. Add to that the usual mix of storms and mayhem plus a touch of crime, theatrical activity plus showing a stand at The NEC and the blend is a pot pourri of contrasts; hence this post’s title. 

Am I a victim of theft or ?

When this blog post was started the intention was to write about the NaNoWriMo event (See below) and pieces of fiction; instead I find myself writing up what reads like a short flash fiction event. The problem is it is a true story.

The setting of a local take-away and restaurant (which for obvious reasons is not being named), together with a take away order with cash payment is not usually the stuff of crime tales but this time yes it is. Entering with a mixed wad of notes and a pocket of change I check what I have as the time of making payment approaches and verify to myself I have enough; in fact it is four £10s and a £5 in notes plus change.

As for persons present there are four of us, the proprietor, who I have no reason to doubt, plus two other customers and the bill requires payment of two £10 notes and mixed change. With the £20 on the bar in the extremely short interval it takes me to fish from my pocket and count the mixed change two of the £10s disappear leaving me with the residual £25 and a proprietor adamant he hasn’t got the £20 to go with the coins I’ve given him. Now somewhere along the way in that brief interlude £20 went missing, I didn’t have it, it wasn’t visible on the floor having been dropped anywhere, nor did I take it out with me.

The reason for this post is that I didn’t cheat, the £20 genuinely went somewhere in that restaurant so either there is/was a poltergeist or, sadly, a quick handed thief. Not been back since and it will be embarrassing when I do.

A sad little event and all over an amount of money too small to even bother reporting as a crime.

Storm Angus/Legally Blonde

The Autumnal Equinox produced the usual storm, this year Storm Angus, and with it the usual trail of mayhem and destruction. As the local papers reported Swanage in particular got badly hit; that same night was not a good time to be trying to get a major theatre set loaded back into the truck following the run of the excellent WOW production of Legally Blonde. We coped, but only just, and I guess the set will eventually dry out again!

Could you write a novel in a month?

Continuing the theme of the creative arts writing a novel in a month seems a strangely masochistic pursuit. However, as the clocks go back and the dark evenings arise our writing juices are expected to burst into life. Yes, it is NaNoWriMo time again. The idea, write a novel entirely within the month of November.  I did think about it during October but the constraints of thrashing the word count in a month when I already had several major commitments was overpowering.

Perhaps the little cameo crime scene above will inspire for next year.

Warley Model Railway Show at The NEC

To round off the month an annual event for The Stephenson Locomotive Society and the first post BREXIT event. Lots of punters as usual but the general feeling amongst most of the traders and Societies we spoke to, little money being spent. There were some positives but on the whole a somewhat disappointing event this year. The foregoing was not helped by terrible traffic volumes on the journey up and a serious decline in food quality and service standards at the adjacent hostelry.  We had been looking forward to that as it had been good last year. Unfortunately big changes, the reality was cold food, slow service, less of the wood fires lit than previously so a touch in the cold side and I wasn’t entirely convinced the beer in the pump was the brew on the pump handle badge. All the atmosphere of an iceberg.

So now on to to December and another year almost done.